Bowser’s proposed budget would invest in affordable housing, public safety, health services

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled her proposed $17.5 billion budget for fiscal 2022 to the D.C. Council Thursday afternoon.

The mayor’s budget focuses on funding affordable housing initiatives, public safety measures, health and childcare resources and economic recovery.

The American Rescue Plan will add more than $1 billion to D.C.’s budget.

“In this proposal we are using significant federal investments to provide relief, recovery and growth opportunities and invest in an equitable recovery across all eight wards,” Bowser said.

Bowser calls the proposal the “Fair Shot Budget,” and said it aims to help residents recover and find relief from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Affordable housing initiatives

In the proposed budget, a hefty $400 million would be added to the Housing Production Trust Fund — a program created to “produce and preserve affordable housing” in D.C. A at least half the fund’s spending goes towards helping households with incomes “below 30% of the area median income.”

The proposal would devote $352 million in rent and utility assistance in order to prevent evictions at a time when many D.C. residents fear eviction from their homes.

Public housing development and rehabilitation would gain $113 million.

“We’ll invest $67 million to acquire properties across the District and turn them into affordable housing,” Office of Budget and Performance Management Director Jenny Reed said. “This can either be deeply affordable housing; it could be permanent supportive housing. And the $67 million includes $17 million for purchase of emergency housing for our domestic violence victims.”

An additional $42 million would be allocated under Bowser’s budget towards “project-sponsor vouchers” that would aim to make housing more affordable for low-income D.C. residents.

Bowser plans to use $273.3 million in federal money — nearly double last year’s federal allocation — toward affordable housing initiatives in the District.

Public safety measures

Bowser is proposing to dedicate a total of $83.8 million in federal money toward gun violence prevention, oversight, accountability and efficiency and alternative 911 response.

The fiscal 2021 budget only gave $9.5 million in federal money to gun violence, whereas for the next year $59.3 million would be allotted.

“We must reduce gun violence; our residents, our children, our families deserve to be safe,” Bowser said.

Additionally, the mayor’s budget would allot $11 million to help formerly incarcerated residents transition back into the D.C. area.

More violence interrupters would be added under the budget and $4.5 million would go to help 100 more people who are at risk of gun violence through the DC Pathways program.

More than $5 million would go to fund 110 new employment openings through the Department of Public Works for people at risk of gun violence. And $2.2 million would be allocated for safe temporary housing for those involved in gun violence.

Almost $7 million would go to the Department of Behavioral Health, the District Department of Transportation and the DPW to respond to 911 calls for mental health and traffic and parking issues, replacing the police for these situations.

Health and childcare resources

Nearly $70 million would go to increasing access to childcare.

“It will include $8 million of new back to work, childcare grants. This will help facilities with some of the increased overhead costs that they’ve been experiencing get back open,” Reed said.

And $46 million for prenatal medical leave and domestic violence, stalking or sexual abuse recovery leave.

Bowser’s budget would allot $13 million for mental health and substance abuse services and $8 million to expand mental health services in all D.C. public and charter schools.

And $18 million would go towards creating a new “sobering center” to move low risk cases from ERs, expanding telehealth services for those with disabilities or behavioral health and offering doula services for lower income individuals.

Economic recovery

Under the proposed budget, Bowser would allocate $345.3 million in federal money towards economic recovery for businesses and residents. This is a major increase from $115.5 million for 2021.

“We are going big on employment and on the job training,” Reed said. “We’ll be investing nearly $50 million in FY 22 to dramatically expand our subsidized employment and training programs, adding 2,400 slots for the DC Infrastructure Academy, Project Empowerment and WIC partnerships to help get our residents connected to employment.”

Reed said she knows businesses were hit hard during the pandemic, and that the mayor’s proposed budget has a series of investments to help promote growth and recovery.

“The first investment is $58 million over three years, to provide access to grocery stores and sit down restaurants in Ward 7 and 8,” she said.

To offer more financial support, Bowser is proposing $15 million for cash assistance to those who don’t qualify for federal unemployment.

“We maintain a strong financial foundation in this budget for our future of growth, we invest in our high priority needs to solve our city’s biggest issues,” Bowser said.

Reactions to proposed budget

While the majority of the D.C. Council has yet to react to Browser’s budget, Ward 5 Council Member Kenyan McDuffie released a statement applauding the proposed investments in small businesses and public safety. He also praised proposed funding for a community and recreation center at the Crummell School.

However, McDuffie called on the mayor to take bold steps to eliminate the District’s racial wealth gap.

“Our city has one of the worst racial wealth gaps in the country; not funding programs that intentionally address this disparity defers the dream of real racial equity for another year,” he said. 

The Defund MPD Coalition said on Twitter that the proposed budget is a step in the right direction but “doesn’t go nearly far enough toward truly defunding the D.C. police.” The group added that $514 million is too large of a budget for the department.

In a press release, the organization urged the council to review the public safety portion of the proposal, consider cutting the police budget by 50% over three years, and moving some of its functions to other city agencies.

Defund MPD is organizing a demonstration demanding the city to divest from the police department on June 5 at 2 p.m. on Black Lives Matter Plaza.  

WTOP’s Alicia Abelson contributed to this report.

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