Community Requests Support for Small Business in D.C. Housing Plan
A plan that will serve as the District’s application for federal housing development funding needs more support for small businesses, testified members of the public at a July 27 meeting. The plan is meant to support affordable housing and the revitalization of neighborhoods. Business owners say that small businesses can contribute to those goals by providing employment and expanding the tax base.
The Five-Year Consolidated Plan from the Department of Housing and Community Development is a blueprint for how the District plans to spend more than $284 million in funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The funds can be used to support buying and building affordable housing to rent or own, rental assistance, emergency services for homeless individuals, and housing programs for low-income people with HIV/AIDS.
For the first time, the plan includes money from the newly-established National Housing Trust Fund, which supports housing for extremely low-income households, defined as earning less than 30 percent of area-median income.
“That’s a great new source, and we have a plan for how we want to allocate that,” Polly Donaldson, the DHCD’s director, said at the meeting’s outset. The District plans to use that money to support the developers of new low-income housing.
The largest source of the funds is the Community Development Block Grant program, which District officials anticipate will award the city $13.7 million per year that can be used not just for housing, but also economic development and assistance for small businesses.
That support can come in the form of technical assistance programs, such as helping new business owners navigate the purchase or lease of a commercial property, or the improvement of storefronts and facades. Over the next five years, the District wants to use $6.2 million in block grant funding to provide 150 businesses with technical assistance along with 175 storefront improvement projects.
But business owners say this is not enough. The new plan represents a drastic reduction from the previous five year goal, which sought to rehabilitate 280 storefronts and provide technical assistance to 4,750 small businesses between 2010 and 2015. In the past fiscal year, the goal was to provide assistance to 1,500 businesses, and in 2014 alone, 2,488 small businesses benefited from that funding, combined with assistance from numerous local economic development organizations.
At the meeting, about a dozen representatives from those organizations and the small businesses they support urged District housing officials to increase the number of businesses supported with the block grant.
“DHCD is actually the biggest funder for technical assistance in the city,” said Harold Pettigrew, executive director of the Washington Area Community Investment Fund. “We hear the impact of those dollars on the organizations that help to support the businesses that are important for job creation as well as income preservation and creation throughout the city.”
The plan aims to address a variety of issues, including substandard housing and overcrowding. But the expense of housing is the biggest concern, with more than a third of households considered cost-burdened, paying 30 to 50 percent or more of their monthly income on housing. These problems disproportionately affect households with extremely-low income.
The federal funding can be used for renters’ assistance or rapid rehousing when a family loses their home. It also supports the development of public housing and housing vouchers. With 42,000 applications for subsidized housing, the District’s supply of 7,900 public housing units and 11,500 vouchers is easily outpaced by demand.
To prevent homelessness, the District plans to use the federal funding to help engage the homeless and connect them with support services, create a daytime center for homeless individuals, and contribute to the development of the family shelters that will replace DC General.
The plan is a product of input from numerous District agencies and nonprofits, including the Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Human Services. Those agencies and others provided guidance on goals related to the needs of the homeless and ending homelessness
DHCD accepted additional public comments through August 10. The plan must be submitted to HUD by August 16.
“Your voice will help refine the draft to ensure that the plan is an accurate representation of the city’s needs,” Donaldson said.