Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: A taxing time for affordable housing … !


The building at 2233 M St. NW features a ground-floor firehouse, the “Squash on Fire” athletic facility, and affordable-housing units. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)

Since 2010, D.C. has added more than 9,000 units of affordable housing in the city. Nearly all of it depends upon subsidies achieved through federal tax breaks.

Meanwhile, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration has separately budgeted $100 million in each of the last three years for housing.

This may all amount to an impressive sum, but housing activists say it’s far short of what’s needed in a city experiencing a boom in expensive housing amid rising costs for both homeownership and rental units.

Now, the federal tax cuts being considered by Republicans on Capitol Hill could strike another hard blow. Some provisions would eliminate federal housing tax breaks that developers use to build affordable units for seniors and low-income people.

“We are not going to wait to see what happens to affordable housing,” Bowser insisted on Monday. The mayor announced the city would issue a record $500 million in new bonds to fund more than 4,000 new units of housing. The bonds are to be sold by the end of December in order to qualify for federal tax programs.

“I’m taking this action to ensure that we can produce and preserve 4,000 more units of affordable housing regardless of how these tax reforms end up,” said Brian Kenner, deputy mayor for planning and economic development. Kenner said that means the city will go ahead with the ramped-up program even if the House and Senate back off eliminating the breaks during the tax bill’s reconciliation conference process.

“The conference may decide they have a heart, that they are going to be compassionate,” said at-large D.C. Council member Anita Bonds, chair of the council’s housing committee. “But you and I doubt that.”

Monday’s news conference was held outside of Delta Towers, a 147-unit senior citizen home run since the 1980s by a nonprofit arm of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, whose members serve without pay to run the project. With housing funds from the mayor’s plan, the Florida Avenue NE tower is to be replaced by a new building next door. The new facility will have 179 units for seniors.

“The city is very much under attack as far as the real estate and the cost of living here,” said Toni White-Richardson, president of the Delta Housing Corp.

“And these are seniors who were born here, raised here and they were having a hard time staying here,” White-Richardson told NBC4. “So it’s our intent to make sure they can live in the city where they were born.”

Subsidized housing can be found all over the city. The need is great.

Delta Towers is in a gentrifying part of the city near the “Starburst” intersection of Florida, Benning Road and H Street NE.

“When this building was built, we were the flagship on this corner when this area was considered to be blight,” White-Richardson told us. “And we kept it moving, and we’ve never turned around. What [the new funds] mean is that we get an opportunity to put in more affordable housing for the seniors!”

Taking its toll. Monday’s inaugural day for new charges on Virginia’s Interstate 66 within the Beltway didn’t go as well as planned.

The new variable toll system hit $34.50 at the peak of the morning rush. That’s almost four times what the state’s highway officials had suggested might occur at peak traffic.

The high tolls got a quick response over in Maryland, where the Transit Opportunities Coalition slammed the costly rates in Virginia and warned it could wind up across the Potomac.

“Thirty-dollar toll lanes are truly Lexus lanes,” said coalition leader Ben Ross. The group warned that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s toll plans for I-270 could result in even higher prices between Frederick and Shady Grove.

In September, Hogan proposed a $9 billion transit relief plan for the District’s Maryland suburbs, including toll lanes on I-495, I-270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Hogan called it the largest public-private partnership for highways in the nation and said the tolling would make the additional roadways possible without raising taxes.

Critics have jumped on the $9 billion outline, saying many details are left for later and work would be done after Hogan’s 2018 re-election bid.

“This will cost drivers of our state enormous amounts of money,” said Maryland Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, who was quoted in The Washington Post. Madaleno is a candidate for the Democratic nomination to challenge Hogan and is vice chair of the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Madaleno said based on Virginia’s experience with tolling, rates in Maryland could be as high as $40 an hour.

Pearl Harbor. With all the world events going on, it sometimes feels lost in history, but Dec. 7 is a date worthy of respect and remembrance.

That day in 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, drawing the United States into World War II. The Japanese attack killed more than 2,300 Americans, and destroyed or damaged 19 ships and over 300 aircraft.

The following day, President Franklin Roosevelt called Dec. 7 “a date which will live in infamy.” Congress declared war on Japan. Within days, Japan’s allies Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

On Thursday, the National Park Service and the Friends of the National World War II Memorial will remember this terrible day and honor all those who died in the attack, those who fought and those who assisted. The special event will take place at 12:53 p.m., the time the attack occurred. The ceremony is open to the public.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.