DC Housing Finance Agency Requires FOIA Before Releasing Public Information
by Larry Janezich
On May 29, Capitol Hill Corner contacted the DC Housing Finance Agency (HFA) to request certain specific information related to how Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) are awarded in DC. We asked for a list of Low Income Housing Tax Credits awarded for the past five years, including the addresses and amount of LIHTC equity; the board minutes for the meeting which found the Hine and West End projects eligible for bond financing; and an explanation of how the DC Housing Finance Agency is funded.
Despite being informed that the independent agency is funded through fees charged to developers in order to process their applications for tax credits and award their financing, a brief review of their website indicated that the agency only receives a small amount of money from service fees (ranging in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars), and much more money from interest generated from their investments as well as a category simply called “Other” ($11 million).
The response we received was that the information regarding the first two requests is available but the HFA legal team said that a FOIA request would be necessary to release it. Regarding the question as to how the agency received its financing, CHC was offered a verbal explanation over the phone. When we pressed for a written explanation, we were told again that this would require a FOIA request.
CHC is in the process of filing the request. It is unclear if there is any precedent for a public, independent agency requiring a legal filing in order to obtain information about their sources of revenue. The HFA’s position seems to underscore what has been noted as a general lack of transparency in District government, particularly in those agencies which deal with development within the city.
DC Housing Finance Agency is the local agency that administers the federal program which awards lucrative tax credits to developers, who then trade these credits on Wall Street to obtain equity for construction. The program’s generous nature is intended to prod developers, big and small, to invest in renovating and constructing housing aimed at low-income Americans.
8 responses to “DC Housing Finance Agency Requires FOIA Before Releasing Public Information”
Fascinating. Odd interpretation of the FOIA statute. I am sure if the agency wanted to release the information, they have the authority to do so without a FOIA request. What they imply by their policy of requiring a FOIA request is that they don’t want to make anyone angry by making an informed decision to release requested information–in other words, “Don’t be upset with us for releasing this information. FOIA made us do it.”
Even with a FOIA request agencies can determine that some information can not be made public. FOIA does not equal all information available to me if I request it. There’s also certain kinds of information that are FOIA exempt. Filing a FOIA is also a matter of public record and is searchable.
Good point Marian. Still, it’s remarkable that a public agency is not forthcoming about its own budget.
Is there no end to the obfuscation by our elected and appointed officials? Muriel Bowser chairs the Committee on Economic Development, which oversees the Housing Finance Agency; the other members of the committee are Anita Bonds (firstname.lastname@example.org), Kenyan McDuffie (email@example.com), Jack Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Vincent Orange (email@example.com). How can we trust our government to do the right thing if they conduct business in secrecy? Please e-mail or call these folks and tell them voters value transparency more than we value their holding a seat on the Council!
The Housing Finance Agency makes decisions about who gets generous financial support to supply affordable housing units in a housing development. The affordable housing units proposed for the Hine School development are (a) pretty well segregated away from the market rate units; and (b) hardly affordable for families who might need them — the families of, say, policemen or firemen or clerical workers or sales personnel. Politicians rail against DC government workers who do not live in DC — but of course, increasingly, DC rents and housing sales prices are not affordable by middle class people of modest incomes. Increasingly, developers of “high end” housing complexes (shops, condos, offices) do still get generous housing subsidies for the so-called affordable housing the law mandates they supply. So it is not as though developers suffer in order to provide this “affordable” housing — it is itself subsidized. BUT THE PUBLIC DC AGENCY THAT OVERSEES THIS SUBSIDIZED HOUSING REFUSES TO DISCLOSE THE TERMS OF ITS GRANTS WITHOUT A FOIA. Outrageous. But no one is overseeing this outrage.
So…Councilmember Muriel Bowser (Democratic Party candidate for Mayor) chairs the Council committee (Economic Development) which oversees the Housing Finance Agency. Interesting. Particularly in light of Mayoral candidate David Catania’s recent comment — that Councilmember Bowser has been chair for 16+ months of this committee that is responsible for all the DC government’s housing programs, 16+ months in which Bowser has not initiated any legislation to deal with the District’s housing problems. Mr. Janezich, perhaps you should ask Councilmember Bowser and Council Chair Mendelson for the information you are seeking. Should one or both fail to respond to your request, you should publicize that inaction.
This seems like a cynical attempt to try to find another reason to publish anti-hine stories. Let us remember some of the respondents here are the ones appealing and delaying the project. for shame.
frichard, I’m not a respondent in the case, and I live across the city, but I have an abiding interest in good government. Your argument employs the straw man logical fallacy by attacking the opinion holders instead of the opinion. In my book, that’s cynical.