In the house for a≠ord­able housing

Rally at church draws hun­dreds of ad­vo­cates and of­fi­cials

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY MICHAEL LARIS michael.laris@wash­post.com

Jeanette Bright watched her mother work two jobs, some­times three, to raise five daugh­ters and fi­nally buy a home. She is close to liv­ing up to that ex­am­ple.

But on Satur­day, sur­rounded by four soar­ing stained-glass win­dows and em­braced by hun­dreds of housing ad­vo­cates in the packed Foundry United Methodist Church, it was al­most too much to bear.

“My mother has passed, sev­eral years ago, but I know that — ” she said, be­fore tears shut her down. She fi­nally added, “I know that . . . when I have my own home . . . it will be like walk­ing in her foot­steps and be­ing in her arms once more.”

As D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) puts the fi­nal touches on her up­com­ing bud­get re­quest and city of­fi­cials gird for ma­jor cuts pro­posed by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, hun­dreds of ten­ants, home­own­ers, so­cial ser­vice providers and ac­tivists gath­ered less than a mile from the White House to nudge, per­suade and pres­sure of­fi­cials to spend more on af­ford­able housing in the boom­ing city.

Bowser has placed housing at the top of her agenda, and she and the other of­fi­cials who ap­peared at what has be­come an an­nual rally voiced sup­port for beefed-up spend­ing. But a strug­gle is ex­pected on the D.C. Coun­cil over tax cuts and duel­ing pri­or­i­ties.

The mayor also used the oc­ca­sion to make a sharp-el­bowed de­fense of her ad­min­is­tra­tion’s per­for­mance, af­ter an au­dit re­leased last week de­scribed broad prob­lems with the fi­nan­cial man­age­ment of the city’s big­gest af­ford­able-housing pro­gram.

The Housing Pro­duc­tion Trust Fund has paid out hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars over the past 15 years. But the Of­fice of the D.C. Au­di­tor said the city has often failed to col­lect loan re­pay­ments and had not done enough to make sure de­vel­op­ers cre­ate housing for the low­est-in­come res­i­dents.

“Now, some of you may have seen that the coun­cil’s au­di­tor put out a re­port on the Housing Pro­duc­tion Trust Fund. Did you see that? Who saw that?” Bowser asked. “Didn’t you think it was cu­ri­ous that it dropped right be­fore the bud­get? I know I thought it was cu­ri­ous.”

The mayor also said she found it “cu­ri­ous” that “13 out of 14 projects re­viewed were all in place be­fore I was the mayor.”

“I don’t know what depart­ment they’re talking about. They’re not talking about my housing depart­ment, be­cause Polly Don­ald­son is turn­ing it around,” Bowser said, re­fer­ring to the depart­ment’s direc­tor.

Asked later about over­sight of projects de­vel­oped on her watch, Bowser re­ferred ques­tions to Don­ald­son.

Don­ald­son said her depart­ment is fol­low­ing more strin­gent ac­count­ing re­quire­ments and tak­ing other steps to en­sure that rules are fol­lowed. She said the depart­ment has hired an out­side au­di­tor to look at projects from 2016 and will make the find­ings pub­lic.

Don­ald­son said cuts in Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­posed bud­get would be “dev­as­tat­ing” to housing and other projects.

Bowser raised the idea of adding to the $100 mil­lion the city spends each year on the housing trust fund. “You want me to ex­pand it again?” she asked the crowd, to cheers.

Ad­vo­cates said they wanted to keep the heat on lo­cal and fed­eral of­fi­cials.

“If we blink for a sec­ond, there’s a chance we can lose vi­tal re­sources,” said Stephen Glaude, who heads the Coali­tion for Non­profit Housing and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, which helped or­ga­nize the rally.

“We’ve had his­toric in­vest­ments in the last sev­eral years. But it’s not enough,” said an­other or­ga­nizer, Jesse Rabi­nowitz, of Miriam’s Kitchen, a home­less-ser­vices provider, who pointed to dozens of deaths among the home­less last year.

Jen­nifer McLaugh­lin, 40, spent three years in a Dis­trict home­less shel­ter start­ing in 2004. For some of that time she worked on an af­ter-game cleanup crew for the Washington Red­skins.

She has strug­gled with men­tal­health is­sues, and her fam­ily didn’t want to deal with her, she said. On her first night in the shel­ter, she made a rookie mis­take.

“I didn’t know not to take my shoes off,” McLaugh­lin said.

They were gone. Later, her ID and coat were snatched. Now she’s in a housing pro­gram that pro­vides an apart­ment and helps her deal with her de­pres­sion. She also as­sists in get­ting other home­less peo­ple off the street.

“It’s great,” she said, “just lay­ing down and not be­ing around a lot of peo­ple and a lot of noise.”

Lis­ten­ing to Bright talk about near­ing the pur­chase of a home, with help on clos­ing costs from the Dis­trict, McLaugh­lin was en­cour­aged.

“Some­day,” she said. “Some­day.”

PHO­TOS BY JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Dis­trict res­i­dent Cecelia Thomp­son, 79, and oth­ers in the crowd in­di­cate their sup­port for af­ford­able housing in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal dur­ing a com­mu­nity rally at Foundry United Methodist Church.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is putting the fi­nal touches on her bud­get re­quest. She backs ad­di­tional spend­ing for housing.

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