A tax cut D.C. doesn’t need

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY FRED N. REINER AND GERALD SEROTTA Fred N. Reiner is rabbi emer­i­tus of Tem­ple Si­nai in the Dis­trict. Gerald Serotta is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­faith Con­fer­ence of Metropoli­tan Washington.

Re­nee is a sin­gle mother who, like many, strug­gled to find an af­ford­able home in the Dis­trict. She en­dured do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and drug abuse and teetered on the edge of home­less­ness. But Re­nee was able to turn her life around at Si­nai House, a tran­si­tional hous­ing pro­gram that helped her cre­ate a sta­ble home, land a good job and re­unite with her chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

Hav­ing a home is a ba­sic hu­man need and the foun­da­tion for a good life. For D.C. res­i­dents in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions, a sta­ble and af­ford­able home means a chance to re­store their lives.

In the pro­posed fis­cal 2016 bud­get, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the D.C. Coun­cil com­mit­ted strongly to end­ing home­less­ness and pre­serv­ing and cre­at­ing af­ford­able hous­ing, ded­i­cat­ing nearly a third more dol­lars to these pro­grams than in the 2015 bud­get.

Still, more will be needed. Tens of thou­sands of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans are on the wait­ing list for hous­ing vouch­ers, and the list has been closed to new names for years. As re­cently re­leased data show, nearly 500,000 peo­ple moved out of the Dis­trict for hous­ing rea­sons be­tween 2000 and 2014. This tran­sience desta­bi­lizes neigh­bor­hoods and un­der­mines our so­cial, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal vi­brancy. It will take more than one year of strong in­vest­ment to turn the tide.

But a pro­posal by D.C. Coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son (D) threat­ens to cut short the Dis­trict’s progress. Men­del­son is seek­ing to make fu­ture rev­enue growth go au­to­mat­i­cally into tax cuts. This would un­der­mine the city’s abil­ity to fund pro­grams in end­ing home­less­ness, build­ing af­ford­able hous­ing, strength­en­ing ed­u­ca­tion and more. We know these pro­grams nat­u­rally cost more ev­ery year. Next year, for ex­am­ple, the Dis­trict’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer ex­pects that an ad­di­tional $200 mil­lion will be needed sim­ply to main­tain ex­ist­ing ser­vices, which means thou­sands of home­less peo­ple still look­ing for sta­bil­ity.

Rather than tax cuts, many of which would ben­e­fit those who don’t need them, many of us would be will­ing to con­trib­ute more. In a time of grow­ing in­equal­ity, the Dis­trict needs money to sup­port peo­ple liv­ing on low wages or fixed in­comes, who are caught in a trap of ris­ing rents, stag­nant in­come and a shrink­ing sup­ply of af­ford­able hous­ing — not tax cuts for the well-to-do.

How do our re­li­gious val­ues guide us to ad­dress these prob­lems? Jewish peo­ple have home­less­ness in our col­lec­tive mem­ory, from the Ex­o­dus story we retell each year at Passover to our fam­i­lies’ his­to­ries of dis­place­ment across Europe and else­where. As rab­bis, we feel it in our hearts when we hear about fam­i­lies pushed out of their homes, sleep­ing on rel­a­tives’ couches or in in­ad­e­quate shel­ters, work­ing mul­ti­ple jobs just to have a place for kids to lie down at night. No one should have to wan­der in that desert.

The city’s 2016 bud­get in­cludes im­por­tant in­vest­ments, such as $100 mil­lion in the Hous­ing Pro­duc­tion Trust Fund, $40 mil­lion to build new and bet­ter home­less shel­ters, hous­ing of the chron­i­cally home­less, rental as­sis­tance and re­pairs of public hous­ing. As mem­bers of Jews United for Jus­tice who have been sup­port­ing our neigh­bors on these and other hous­ing is­sues, we know that this money will be well spent and that it’s a great start. But in­vest­ments such as these must be made ev­ery year.

In­deed, know­ing the scope of our city’s chal­lenges, we are will­ing to con­trib­ute more. Those of us who are com­fort­ably housed and em­ployed can af­ford to pay our fair share and in­vest more to make sure no one is forced onto the streets or out of the city. We would be true “re­stor­ers of streets to dwell in,” as the prophet Isa­iah calls the right­eous. Let’s all do what we can to help our wan­der­ing neigh­bors find good homes here.

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