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The InTowner
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When the City Council acted in November to address the projected budget shortfall of considerably in excess of $100 million, one of the decisions that was made was to find a way to further beef up the city’s cash reserve as a hedge against going into the red. In this space last month our headline said it all: “We Applaud The City Council’s Firm Action On Limiting Spending.” This did not, however, mean that we agreed with every detail.

One of the programs for which funds were in the budget but were then moved out to be added to the cash reserve was the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP). While the sequestered $11 million was not officially eliminated from the budget, but merely stashed outside to be added to other such funds in case needed later to keep the city solvent, the action taken nevertheless meant that the program is now effectively on hold.

This three-decade-old program — one of the city’s true success stories — has made it possible for thousands of first-time buyers to purchase their starter home or condo who otherwise did not have sufficient up-front money for their down-payments.

We are not suggesting that the $11 million be taken from elsewhere to bring HPAP back to being whole. However, we are suggesting that the Council should enact Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham’s proposed parking meter fee increase, including charging at meters downtown on weekends, as the solution for where to find the funds to restore, if not all then at least close to all, the HPAP money. According to the council member, additional revenue that could be raised by the end of the current fiscal year would be between $8 and $10 million.

But why do this? Fair question.

The answer boils down to the fact that the more people who are in a position to be able to purchase homes in the current market in which mortgage lending has nearly dried up the better it will be for the city’s overall economy — and our local economy needs all the help it can get. Beef up the number of real estate transactions and that will help not only agents and brokers who are hurting by putting money into their businesses — and, of course, the prospective buyers, but it will generate an infusion of real estate transfer and other tax revenues for the city. The real estate sector here is such an important engine for DC’s economic health and this could be one important way to help pull us out of the doldrums.