Testimony on the Washington Housing Conservancy

Testimony of Kevin Clinton, Interim Executive Director, Washington Housing Conservancy. Presented on April 23, 2019 at the Budget Oversight Hearing before the Committee on Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization.

Good afternoon, members of the Committee on Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization. My name is Kevin Clinton and I am testifying in my capacity as the Interim Executive Director of the Washington Housing Conservancy, a new independent non-profit organization focused on preserving affordable workforce housing in the Washington area.

I am here today to speak out in support of the Mayor’s commitment to workforce housing in the proposed budget.

Housing affordability challenges affect the livelihoods of all District residents and displacement of working families is a growing concern. We need to use all the housing tools available to us to ensure that families can afford to live and work in the District. Traditional federal housing programs, the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund, and zoning and regulatory reform are all important tools for promoting housing affordability. But more is needed to ensure that we are doing all we can to combat displacement.

The Mayor has correctly identified that there is also a need for tools aimed specifically at workforce housing. A family of four with two workforce professionals still struggles to find housing. Yet federal subsidies dry up for families making more than $70,000. Average monthly take home salary for daycare workers, security guards, bus drivers, and firefighters in Washington, DC ranges from $2,600 to $5,200. Meanwhile, the average monthly rent in the District is $2,305. As median rent continues to rise faster than median wages, working class families bear a disproportionate burden and income inequality worsens.

As such, it is difficult for the District’s working class families – its firefighters, nurses, and teachers – to find an affordable place to live on their salary in this region, especially one with great schools and neighborhood services. Public money is supporting lower-income housing and the private sector is mostly building luxury housing, pushing working families in the middle further away from their jobs and out of areas of opportunity. Unless we have new ways to combat displacement, this worrying trend will continue.

The Washington Housing Conservancy exists to address this exact need. We aim to acquire 3,000 units of workforce housing and serve as the long-term stewards for its continued affordability. We will be on the front lines in the communities where we invest, working to combat displacement, and helping build connected communities through partnerships and neighborhood services that our residents tell us are most important to them. We are well-positioned to help execute on the Mayor’s goal of preserving workforce housing for the public servants and families who have contributed to DC’s growth but are now struggling to share in its benefits. Through our model, we will be able to leverage $9 of private capital for every $1 contribution through donations from philanthropy or direct investments by the public sector.

The Washington Housing Conservancy is part of the broader Washington Housing Initiative, a new innovative market-based approach to addressing affordable housing needs.  The Initiative consists of three parts: the Conservancy, the Impact Pool – which is a new pool of social impact capital, and a Stakeholder Council for incorporating cross-sector feedback into our approach. The Stakeholder Council will be comprised of social impact experts, civic leaders, and residents, bringing community-wide input to the issue of affordable workforce housing. This model can be leveraged even further with an investment of public funds, allowing us to preserve affordable housing for working families, provide services that they need to thrive, and build durable, connected communities in DC’s rapidly changing neighborhoods.

The proposed fund for preserving affordable workforce housing will significantly enhance the Conservancy’s ability to make progress on these issues. I applaud the Mayor for proposing this fund and encourage the Council to support its inclusion in the final approved budget.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.