On July 11th, Council members Anita Bonds and Brianne Nadeau chaired a joint hearing of the Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization and Human Services committees. The topic: the “On-site Services Act of 2019.” This bill would require that landlords or management companies provide on-site support services to all residents of buildings with at least 20 units, and with at least 30 percent of residents receiving housing vouchers.
This bill was being considered, in part, due to issues arising in Ward 3 from an influx of previously homeless voucher renters.
Both Council members were clear they were holding a hearing on this bill to improve it. They wanted critical feedback. And they got plenty.
Nearly all the witnesses who testified were critical of the bill, but many supported pilot programs to test some of the ideas. They represented constituencies including the housing industry, nonprofit social service and legal aid providers, and tenant associations and ANC commissioners from Ward 3.
The hearing video.
The first witness thought the requirements (on-site services, office space, and at least one social worker staffing the office) and funding sources (a competitive grant) might discourage housing providers from renting 30 percent or more of their units to subsidy holders.
Scott Bruton, vice president of housing policy at the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, also wondered “what would happen if a housing provider fluctuated between meeting and not meeting the 30 percent of units trigger for compliance. And “how the mandated services, the contractors providing the services, and the on-site social worker would integrate with the case managers and other service providers already included with the housing rent subsidies of some tenants.”
He proposed instead two pilot programs, one involving resident services on-site or within one quarter mile of qualifying housing providers, the other involving training courses in trauma-informed care and intervention and services referral for property owners, managers, and staff.
Damon King, senior policy advocate at the DC Legal Aid Society, wanted to see a “tenant-led process for deciding service needs and delivery.” He explained that tenants know better than building managers what they need. He also recommended “coordination across buildings in service selection and delivery, rather than the building-by-building approach.”
Lisa Mallory, CEO of the DC Building Industry Association, also advised centralizing services by neighborhood, not by building. She pointed out that management companies do not have expertise in providing social services and ascertaining what services are needed. Drawing on her years of experience both in the public and private sector and on the federal and local level, she suggested taking a look at the programs that HUD has tried and their evaluations.
Randi Marshall, vice president of government affairs for the Apartment and Office Building Association and Patrick McAnanay, project manager of Somerset Development Company for affordable housing were also critical, but said they have provided effective support programs in some of their buildings.
Marshall mentioned partnering with the DC Department of Human Services to provide space for a case manager, which had provided relief to property managers. McAnanay described Somerset’s support of the property managers through training and resident services managers, but said the latter is not without its issues. He supported Bruton’s proposals.
McAnanay was most concerned that a mandatory program without full financial support could jeopardize private investment in developing affordable housing projects. This could require more public funding to support for such developments and could end up being very expensive to the city.
Witnesses representing resident concerns included Carren Kaston, the president of the Sedgwick Gardens Tenants Association. Kaston’s testimony was presented by George Hoffman, a resident of the Brandywine Apartments.
Kaston’s prepared testimony said some of the ideas in the bill had already been given a February-through-May “trial run” in the Sedgwick. The theory, she said, was that “those who were troubled or needed help would visit the social workers.” But at a May 30th meeting with Sedgwick tenants, she said DHS officials admitted the social services program hadn’t worked. “The reason is that those who needed help didn’t come.”
According to her testimony, Kaston also learned in a June 12th meeting with Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger that “if a would-be voucher holder is assessed, for whatever reason, as not being ready for independent living and needing a period of time in supportive housing, that person will still receive a DHS voucher to live in independent housing.”
“I don’t believe the proposed bill by itself will advance the urgently important ideals of the city’s voucher programs – to help those who’ve been homeless or have very low incomes to, in a sense, start over, by living in more stable and prosperous areas of the city,” Kaston said in her testimony. “In my view, only a bill that fixes the defects of the city’s voucher selection method will advance the programs’ ideals.”