Housing in Brief: Tenant-Owned Housing Gets a Boost in D.C.

Also, unsheltered L.A County residents are being forced into the desert.

(Photo by Frank McKenna/Unsplash)

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$30 Million for Tenant-Owned Housing in D.C.

An apartment complex purchased by residents under Washington, D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act has locked down financing from the city, the Commercial Observer reports. Support for the project will come from $16.3 million of tax-exempt bonds issued by the District of Columbia Housing Finance Agency, which also underwrote $1.8 million of Low Income Housing Tax Credits. D.C.’s Housing Trust Fund will provide an additional $11.7 million loan. The housing complex, in the Shepherd Park neighborhood of D.C.’s Ward 4, will consist of 64 apartments renting to people between 30-60% of Area Median Income. Under an agreement with the developer overseeing the building’s rehabilitation, tenants’ relocation and return will be paid for.

In 1980, D.C. became the first city in the nation to enact a Tenant Opportunity To Purchase Act, which allows tenants first right of refusal when their landlords sell residential buildings. Other cities have begun enacting similar legislation in recent years, including San Francisco, which passed a Community Opportunity To Purchase Act in 2019.

Texas Employment Program For Homeless Residents to Expand

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia announced last week that the county will be expanding a pilot program that employs unhoused Houston residents using American Rescue Plan dollars, according to the Houston Chronicle and Governing. Employ2Empower was launched in 2021 with a budget of $150,000, paying unhoused Houston residents $15 an hour to clean county-owned buildings, perform graffiti removal and other tasks. It currently employs 20 people daily; 79 people have been paid through the program since it began. The program’s budget will expand to $21 million, Garcia announced, following a unanimous vote from the county’s commissioners. The program also connects residents with social services and housing support, but a lack of affordable housing and long waitlist still hinders participants; only 19 of those hired through the program have been housed.

Houston was the subject of a recent New York Times feature looking at how the city reduced its homeless population by 63% over a decade using a housing first approach and greater coordination between government agencies, nonprofits and businesses.

Unhoused L.A. County Residents Forced Into Mojave Desert

In a bleak example of what happens when unsheltered homeless people are driven from encampments, criminalized and not offered housing, The Guardian reports that over 200 people are now living in an encampment in the Mojave Desert, north of Los Angeles County. Water is in short supply and there is little protection from this summer’s heat waves, increasing the risk of heatstroke and death. Most residents were driven out of Lancaster, a city in L.A. County north of the city of Los Angeles. They were effectively banished through encampment sweeps, camping bans and citations for loitering, The Guardian reports.

The repercussions are grim for residents who are now camped in the desert in tents and trailers. The Guardian says 29 unhoused residents of Lancaster and the surrounding area have died so far this year, with causes including “heatstroke, hypothermia, homicide, heart disease and overdose.” The number of fatalities has been trending upward, from 25 in all of 2018 to 57 in 2021.

“Instead of providing aid, law enforcement displaces them to remote areas so far away from resources that it’s a danger to their health and their lives,” Eve Garrow, a policy analyst with the ACLU told The Guardian.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

Tags: jobswashington dclos angeleshomelessnesstexas

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