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Barry to Hold Roundtable to Discuss Freeze in Housing Funds

Developers, potential homebuyers and housing advocates are still smarting over the council's decision to suspend the city's popular Homeowner Purchase Assistance Program a few weeks ago, and Councilmember Marion Barry (Ward 8) has scheduled a roundtable meeting tomorrow so they can air their grievances.

The rountable, to be held at 11 a.m. by the Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs, which Barry chairs, will feature up to 30 witnesses. Some will testify about the benefits of the program, known as HPAP, and others are expected to testify about the city's need to suspend it. HPAP provides up to $70,000 in individual loans that help low- and moderate-income applicants purchase homes they can't otherwise afford.

About two weeks ago, the council voted to freeze about a third of the program's $34 million budget. The trim was part of a government-wide cost-cutting effort propsed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in anticipation of a budget shortfall of more than $100 million. Because $8 million had already been allotted to people whose loan applications were approved before the Nov. 14 cutoff date, and another $11 million could be reassigned to the Department of Housing and Community Development. That would leave HPAP with about $4 million, essentially broke.

Barry's constituents benefit greatly from HPAP, and he's convinced that his council colleagues didn't comprehend the impact of their action. At the roundtable, participants are expected to say that without HPAP, some 400 people in the application process cannot get help to buy homes. As a result, developers who got government tax breaks to add affordable housing units to townhouses and condominiums will not be able to sell them, perhaps through next year. This would happen amid a housing crisis and a recession where banks are very reluctant to extend credit.

In blogs and letter-writing campaigns, applicants have challenged the freeze. But the District is one of many cities, including Philadelphia and Baltimore, facing major budget shortfalls and program cuts. Philadelphia, for example, closed libraries and trimmed a plan to add police who were needed to ease its homicide crisis.

Darryl Fears

By Marcia Davis  |  December 9, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Affordable Housing  | Tags:  
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