This winter, the need for affordable housing has become a major focus of city officials and the local media.
Residents of all backgrounds and income levels raised concerns about affordable housing at Mayor Gray’s One City Summit. The One City Summit was designed to collect input from District residents about their concerns and priorities. At the summit, residents identified “Lack of affordable housing/gentrification” as the number one concern raised by participants that would prevent DC from becoming One City. Mayor Gray has committed that the input from the event will shape his administration and this year’s budget.
Another major issue is the expanding crisis of family homelessness the District is facing right now. The city has seen a huge increase in family homelessness this winter and is scrambling to meet these people’s needs. They are doing so by expanding temporary housing solutions – increasing the number of families housed at DC General to 750 and housing about 200 families a week in hotel rooms.
According to a recent article in the Washington City Paper, Department of Human Services Director David Berns “attributes this year’s unforeseen spike in homeless families to economic forces above all of our heads, and the ‘changing face of homelessness’ that has more working families without a place of their own.…“The fact is that they’re still poor, the economy is horrible, they’re doubled up and people want them out,” Berns says. “So I think we need to concentrate more on the fact that it is poverty, a lack of jobs, a lack of housing opportunities.”
These issues point to the same thing: DC needs long-term affordable housing options.
Given the high numbers of homelessness individuals and families in DC it is crucial that the city maintain funds for shelter and other homeless services year-round.
At the same time, the city needs to invest in permanent affordable housing solutions that take people off the street in the long term and prevent more people from falling into homelessness. Permanent housing solutions for homeless populations are shown to be cheaper for governments. And of course, they are better for the individuals and families as well. Having stable housing allows adults to be better employees and parents, and improves student performance.
DC has valuable programs to develop more affordable housing and move people out of homelessness. The Local Rent Supplement Program and Housing First are designed to provide housing the lowest-income residents. Housing First also provides the services that many people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness need. The Housing Production Trust Fund increases the number of affordable units available all over the city for people at varying income levels.
With enough funding these programs can turn the tide on the rising homeless crisis and make possible the Mayor’s vision of One City. Funding these long-term housing solutions takes the emergency pressure off the shelter system, and gives families the opportunity to build more stable, valuable lives for themselves. It is time for the Mayor and the Council to address the concerns of District residents, and invest in creating a city we can all afford to live in.