- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2017


D.C. needs to look at projects like the makeover of Brookland Manor Apartments to reform its housing stock.

D.C. has fallen to the bottom of the housing barrel, and cannot expect the Trump budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help the city to market.

The predicament is one part false expectations, one part political rhetoric, one part mismanagement and one part lack of oversight.

Indeed, as D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson explained Thursday afternoon, the D.C. Housing Production Trust Fund was set up with taxpayers’ dollars in 2001 to provide loans to companies that would create affordable housing for low-income seniors and others.

But fund keepers failed to ensure that tenants’ income met the threshold and that owners/managers adhered to the rules and regulations.

The audit came to light after D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie introduced legislation titled the Family Unit Amendment Act of 2017.

The bill would refocus affordable housing efforts to ensure families are regarded by mandating a biennial report on the District’s need for three-, four- and five-bedroom apartment units and requiring that at least 10 percent of rental units created via the Housing Production Trust Fund be set aside for families instead of single people.

Both the legislation and the audit follow Part Two of the predicament, which includes Democratic mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser pledging to boost affordable housing.

Well, D.C. never was floating at the top of the barrel, and it’s sunk further down she took office in January 2015.

What’s worse is, not only are the folks hired to mind the piggy bank not paying attention but the council, which has legislative oversight, isn’t either.

It’s an unconscionable state of affairs for taxpayers, who are disappointed with elected leaders’ failure to effectively and efficiently deliver.

Why the government should not be a housing producer should be obvious:

1) Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal locked generations of Americans into housing “projects” that have since been torn down or remain blighted.

2) The idealists’ notion of those failed “projects” remains the guiding light of politicians who buy into governments creating more “affordable” housing.

It is the job of local elected officials to deliver to the people they work for, which means the elected officials must listen to those people to determine how to spend public dollars, when to spend public dollars and on what they propose to spend public dollars.

We need to rethink “housing.” It’s a word that means different things to different people.

For the rich and famous, it entails, well, more than the average U.S. homeowner or apartment dweller can imagine. For many others, it simply means a roof over their and their families’ heads. For others, unfortunately, it means braving the outdoors and Mother Nature’s tender mercies.

The problem isn’t those housing situations. The problem is what happens when the adjective “affordable” is thrown into the housing equation and the poor are categorized as “low income,” “very low income” and “extremely low income.”

Poor people will always be among us, and making sure that they can have a roof over their heads would be far easier if D.C. leaders wouldn’t try to fit a circular housing peg into the federal government’s square coffers, which are covered with endless streams of regulars and rhetoric like “extremely” poor.

Oh, wait. The newly released Trump spending proposal might help solve the District’s problem. The president has proposed to end HUD’s Community Development Block Grant.

The possible loss of the federal money should force D.C. officials to look at Brookland Manor because the redevelopment also could solve another predicament — the one of great expectations of residents who think and sometimes demand that they are due a right of return to the new program.

And while the federal Community Development Block Grant money doesn’t flow into all housing projects, it certainly has been flowing freeing into the city’s piggy banks.

Guess it’s back to square one.

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

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

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