- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2014


Affordable housing means different things to different people.

There are so many variables that come into play when it comes to housing — from income, age, religion and gender to employment status, the type of housing, disability and geopolitics, to name a few — until it’s pert near impossible to pin down a definition.

There are apartments in some parts of Southeast where rents are as low as $1,140, while in Georgetown the rent could be than double that, with the average $2,824.

Which is why it has become absurd that voters are trying to pinpoint candidates by asking them what they plan to do about affordable housing.

There are no new answers, there is no correct answer and it is impossible to put a dollar amount on the issue of affordable housing.

And when it comes to candidates, there’s nothing distinctively new either.

You know what I mean — same script, different election.

In Maryland it’s the white guy trying to make sure the black guy doesn’t become governor.

In Virginia, it’s the liberal Democrat trying to make sure a Reagan Republican doesn’t unseat him.

And in D.C., it’s every man for himself and where more than one gal is trying to prove that pistachios don’t only grow on trees.

Of course, that sort of makes the seasonal D.C. script similar to the original Mickey Mouse Club, when Wednesday was Anything Can Happen Day. The difference is that next Tuesday, Election Day, will claim Wednesday’s spot.

That’s because there is no defining issue, or even issues, to distinguish one candidate from the other when it comes to the congressional, mayoral and council races.

There are candidates with likable personalities. There are candidates who are approachable and accessible, and have been for quite a while. There are candidates who are considered perennials, like Faith, the one-name horn-tooter. And there are candidates who are spoilers, and if you follow sports you get my drift.

But regardless of the category candidates may fall into they’ve all got one thing in common: Like the students who don’t study, they all crammed.

You know, like summer school. In summer school, students are supposed to learn in six weeks or so what they did not grasp over 10 months, four advisories or two semesters.

So the candidates give pat answers. For example, in the mayor’s race, candidates have come to recite a pat answer, and that answer turns on the $100 million figure, a figure that magically is supposed to inject the city with enough affordable housing to wipe out the housing problem. No more homeless veterans. No more homeless domestic abuse victims. No more housing-starved HIV/AIDS patients. No more housing-deprived poor folks. No more “victims” of gentrification.

And if you believe that have I got a snapshot for you.

D.C. residents and advocates played knock-knock at city hall on Monday, prepared to deliver to a Democratic mayoral candidate their list of affordable housing solutions and demands.

At Union Temple Baptist Church on Monday evening, council candidates were scheduled to be grilled on displaced poor people and gentrification.

In forum after forum, and debate after debate this election season, affordable housing became a key issue.

Also, just this weekend The Washington Post published an expose on the tens of millions of dollars the city is owed in delinquent housing loans.

Haven’t we learned yet? Have we not yet learned that there is no answer.

Have we yet to learn from Franklin Roosevelt and his public housing projects?

There he was, already a two-time president, pledging to spend $13.8 million on a public housing project called Terrace Village in the Hill District in 1940. It was the second-largest such project in the nation. And then, bam. Because of the public dollars continuously poured into FDR’s and other similar administrations’ affordable housing projects, the term “projects” became a synonym for neighborhoods of poor, black folks who can’t, don’t or won’t take care of themselves or their families.

Things have changed a little. Housing policies today allow those with federal housing vouchers to use them for single family homes, and the vouchers are portable — as good in Portland as they are in Pittsburgh, my hometown. And policies have been reworked to include grants and loans for businesses and landlords, as well as potential homebuyers.

What has yet to change, however, is the mindset of affordable and public housing. D.C. does what states do — set-asides. Developers get tax breaks, credits and/or public dollars for setting aside a certain number of units for seniors, veterans, poor people or some other potential vote-rich bloc. The renters often receive a voucher to pay all or part of the rent. Some consider this dipping double, and many a liberal and conservative wouldn’t argue with that perspective.

So now what? New apartments are rising at a fast clip in D.C., and foreclosed and renovated single-family homes are, too. Meanwhile, the city is putting homeless families in motels, our shelters runneth over and the affordable housing waiting list is as aged as Methuselah.

How far is that $100 million going to go with rents as high as the cranes dotting the city’s landscape?

It’s a gimmick.

The businesses and organizations that built and managed the housing projects have already gotten their share of the get-rich-quick pie, and now the “new” politicos, advocates and poverty pimps are trying to hoodwink voters into thinking this is a new day, and that now is the time.

Don’t cram, dear voters. Affordable housing means different things to different people.

Fact: FDR wrote the book on affordable housing.

Myth: All affordable housing projects succeed.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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