On Saturday, December 10, hundreds of DC residents gathered to show their support for Housing for All.
Over 250 people filled the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Library’s Great Hall demanding that mayor Gray and the DC Council invest in affordable housing programs. The diverse event included resident stories, powerful calls to action, comments from elected officials and presentation of awards to the winners of the “What Home Means to Me” writing competition. (Watch this space! All the winning entries will be available on the blog over the next few weeks)
Reverend Jim Dickerson, founder of Manna, Inc. started the program off by welcoming the audience. He also explained the idea of the Continuum of Housing, the concept behind the multiyear platform this campaign seeks to win. “What are we doing with this Continuum of Housing campaign? We want to restore all the housing funds that we’ve lost in the last few years. We want to again make housing and affordable housing a top public priority. We want a continuum, a system, of housing and support services that allows people to achieve their greatest and highest good in this city.”
DC housing programs have suffered in the last year. Most recently, in the current budget, $18 million was cut from the Housing Production Trust Fund. These funds were then used to pay for the Local Rent Supplement program, which had previously been paid for using the General Fund like most other DC programs. The $18 million loss from the Housing Production Trust Fund will prevent 788 families from accessing affordable housing through this program.
Brenda Jordan spoke out for the Housing Production Trust Fund. An owner and board member at Pleasant Park Co-op, Ms. Jordan shared how funds from the Housing Production Trust Fund helped her and her neighbors purchase their building using the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Pleasant Park Co-op tenants are still waiting for rehabilitation funds the city committed to them years ago. The loss of $18 million from the Housing Production Trust fund will further delay Pleasant Park Coop and others from receiving the funds they need – and the city committed – to make needed improvements in their building.
In addition to the support of the Housing Production Trust Fund, voices were also raised for key housing programs: Home Purchase Assistance Program, Local Rent Supplement Program and Housing First. Without additional funding, Local Rent Supplement Program and Housing First cannot serve new residents and cannot achieve their goals of ending homelessness and taking people off the DC Housing Authority waiting list.
Local Rent Supplement recipient Gilma Merino, who lives at Jubilee Housing, testified to the value and importance of the
Local Rent Supplement in her life and in the lives of her children. “My dreams came true last year seeing my daughter go to college. My other children have a good education.… Housing is changing my life. I love the Local Rent Supplement Program. My clinic is around the corner, my children’s school is around the corner. I invite all Councilmembers to stick with us – and don’t forget us when the budget comes. We need your help. We are vulnerable people. We need your help to get housing, especially for our children.”
Ralliers were joined by Councilmembers Barry, Thomas, Graham and Michael Brown as well as David Berns, Director of the Department of Human Services; John Hall, Director of the Department of Housing and Community Development and Adrianne Todman, Executive Director of the DC Housing Authority. Director Todman acknowledged the difficulty her agency will face if DC does not dedicate additional funds to the Local Rent Supplement Program. “We are handicapped here in DC because we can’t build new affordable housing because there’s just not the funds to do so.”
Jos Williams, president of the local AFL-CIO, lent his voice of support. Reiterating the sentiments of the residents who spoke before him, Mr. Williams said, “I am here to say to you on behalf of the working families of this city…. Housing is a right, not a privilege.” The local AFL-CIO represents 48,000 DC residents who are union members, and has supported affordable housing programs such as inclusionary zoning and the Housing Production Trust Fund in their long history of advocacy and organizing.
Residents left the event excited and empowered to continue to fight for affordable housing. Hundreds signed holiday cards that read “Mayor Gray, this winter Restore the Commitment to Affordable housing!” David Bowers, Vice President of Enterprise Community Partners challenged the audience to carry the message from this rally with them. He asked District officials, and called on the audience to ask their elected officials, “I want to know, what have you done to make sure there’s access to housing that’s affordable in the District of Columbia?”