Ward 4 and Ward 7 Housing Town Hall Meetings Show Need for Affordable Housing Across DC

March 6, 2012

There is power in numbers. We need our voice on affordable housing to be heard, especially by the Mayor and City Councilmembers. We need the $18 million that was taken out of the Housing Production Trust Fund returned. I ask for the citizens of Ward 4 not to give up your power. You are powerful. So exercise your voice and support affordable housing – for everyone to make the city truly one city, with safe, decent, affordable housing for all. – Juanita McKenzie, Petworth

Juanita McKenzie has been a Petworth resident for almost 40 years

All over the city, we hear from residents about the need for affordable housing in their neighborhoods. Over the last week, we have had the opportunity meet with great organizations and residents in Ward 4 and Ward 7 at Housing Town Halls. Dozens of residents came out to each of our Housing Town Hall meetings to share their success and struggles around affordable housing.

In Ward 4, over 50 people came out to Christ Lutheran Church to our event co-hosted with THC, and nearly 70 joined us in Ward 7 at Marshall Heights Community Development Organization. The stories we heard highlighted the needs for affordable housing around the city.

In Ward 4 we heard from four women who shared their struggles finding and keeping decent affordable housing. Juanita McKenzie spoke to the needs of seniors living in Ward 4. Juanita is a long-time Petworth resident whose building was recently sold. The tenants in Juanita’s building had hoped they could access Housing Production Trust Fund dollars to purchase their building when it was up for sale last year, but because of the low funding for the Trust Fund they were not able to. The new owners promised to keep the rents low for the next four years, but Juanita is still worried. She said, “I know I cannot afford market rent. I have lost my job. I cannot tell you how many times I look around me in amazement to see all of the new development in my neighborhood and wonder if I will have to move…Who would not want to live where I live? The native Washingtonians such as myself who have worked in the community should be able to stay. I have lived here for almost 40 years.”

It’s not just seniors like Juanita who are concerned. Cardell Bryan was the youngest person to speak at the Ward 4 Housing Town Hall.  She is 25 and a resident in transitional housing at THC’s Partner Arms II. Raised in Ward 4, Cardell has also been unemployed, and has struggled to find housing, including spending some time in a shelter. She appreciated the opportunities she has had being in transitional housing, but also acknowledged the struggle to move on to housing that is affordable after leaving Partner Arms II. She related to the other speakers at the town hall. “Our stories are similar,” she said.

Cardell Bryan (center) with Rev. Renata Eustis of Christ Lutheran Church (left) and Polly Donaldson of THC

“I feel as though I am also a representative of a people. Not only are we are having housing issues for senior citizens, but also for young adults who are growing and coming into adulthood. Many have children – I have a five year old – and are raising their children independently. We struggle with the same things.”

Across the city in Ward 7, we heard a similar story. Many of the speakers there were also helped by their relationship with a CNHED member organization that has helped them stay in a home that is affordable to them.  A widow and life-long Ward 7 resident, C’ora Reynolds almost lost her home to foreclosure.

C'ora Reynolds almost lost her home to foreclosure

With the support of the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization that she was able to stay in her home and in the neighborhood. “I am so grateful to God, Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, and most of all, the very patient Mrs. Mildred Harris for the work they do with compassion for those of us who otherwise would not be able to stay in our homes, sleep more than two hours at night, or maintain some level of dignity after having lived as upstanding citizens in our neighborhoods.”

Councilmember Bowser addresses the Ward 4 Housing Town Hall

The ward council members in both wards also joined in the Housing Town Halls. Ward 4 Councilmember Bowser greeted the town hall in the ward she represents. She acknowledged the work of THC and others in creating and protecting affordable housing in Ward 4, and committed to help continue to make this possible saying, “the things that these folks are doing aren’t happening by accident. They happen with significant investment, many times by the city…. So we need to make sure our agencies [that provide funding for housing] are funded. We have in the District a Housing Production Trust Fund, but we can’t take it for granted.

Councilmember Alexander also joined the Ward 7 town hall, and stayed to answer questions from the community. When asked what she would do to support the Housing Production Trust Fund, she said that she had counted on the Trust Fund to launch a project in Ward 7 – Victory Square in Parkside. She committed herself to supporting the Trust Fund in the budget. Referencing the fact that it takes 7 votes on the DC Council to reach  majority, she said, “it takes seven votes, and I’m committed to be one of those votes.”

The stories from participants were moving and inspiring as people expressed their need for housing that they could afford and the desire to stay in the communities where they had grown up, raised children, volunteered, and built community. Brenda Jordan, member of Pleasant Park Co-op, a successfull tenant-purchase project in Ward 7 summed it up saying, “The big picture is, we need affordable housing for everyone.”

Brenda Jordan and her tenant association were able to purchase their building and create Pleasant Park Co-op using funds from the Housing Production Trust Fund

 

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