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Opinion

What Housing Means to Washington, D.C.

In November 2018, I had the pleasure of being named chair of the National League of Cities (NLC) Housing Task Force. The 22 members of the task force and I have worked diligently over the last six months to develop a set of recommendations based on concerns by mayors, council members and elected leaders nationwide on how to ensure all residents have access to quality affordable housing.

Rising housing costs have created new challenges for homeowners and renters alike, particularly for those on a fixed income or struggling to make ends meet. Nationally, housing continues to be one of the biggest barriers to economic prosperity for American families.

It has quickly become apparent that our nation’s housing crisis must be addressed from two fronts. Fast-growing cities like Washington, D.C., need additional housing units, while slower growing cities need to new ways to repurpose vacant and blighted housing.

The number one issue on the minds of Washingtonians is affordable housing. During my first term as mayor, I more than doubled the District’s investment in our Housing Production Trust Fund to $100 million annually — more per capita than any other jurisdiction in the nation. With help from a newly created Housing Preservation Fund, in four years, we were able to build or preserve 7,200 units of affordable housing.

In my current budget proposal, I created a new tool: a $20 million Workforce Housing Fund that will create and preserve affordable housing for residents with good-paying jobs who serve our city, such as first responders, teachers and social workers.

But there is more work to do. By 2025, D.C. needs to create 36,000 new units of housing, with at least 12,000 of them affordable.

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Today, I signed a Mayor’s Order directing District agencies to identify new policies, tools and initiatives that will get us there. It directs agencies to build a citywide solution to a citywide challenge.

But we know: Cities cannot do this work alone. The federal government must step up, treat our nation’s housing needs seriously and invest in solutions that will end our housing crisis.

For too long, the federal government has not fulfilled its responsibility to support housing, forcing cities and localities like the District to fill the growing gap. As Congress and the White House negotiate a new infrastructure package, we call on congressional leaders to focus on new and bold investments in our federal housing programs.

As the task force works to finalize our report of recommendations on housing policy and programs in June, we must continue to tell Congress and the White House: Safe and stable housing is the first step to a safe and stable life.

By Muriel Bowser

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