Hundreds rallied on Saturday at the Martin Luther King Library under banners reading “Housing For All: A Vision for DC” and “No one is homeless, rent is affordable, residents aren’t displaced, homeownership is possible.” Over 300 people packed the library’s Great Hall in a rally organized by the Housing For All Campaign, a project of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. The event focused on committing more resources to affordable housing programs and brought together a diverse range of residents and key political leaders in DC including Mayor Gray and Councilmembers Jack Evans (Ward 2) and Muriel Bowser (Ward 4).
Finding housing that is affordable has become more and more difficult for District residents. DC’s homeless population is growing, with the last count at nearly 7,000 adults and children without homes. For those who do have homes, many are paying an unsustainable amount on rent. One in five households in DC are paying more than half their income in housing, including 7,000 seniors. At the same time, housing programs have been hit hard by the recession and a series of budget cuts. One person who told the story of that need was Housing For All: A Vision for DC Writing Competition winner, Tyrone Lewis. This 12-year-old won first place in the youth category. In his winning poem he said, “People feeling angry, people feel depressed, I’m one of those people I’m just like the rest. Families on the edge, we have to back them up, everyone should have a bed, and pay little every month.” (We will publish the full poem next week.)
It was refreshing to hear the elected officials that attended being clear in their support of housing programs, and the need to expand these programs to meet the need. Mayor Gray didn’t offer any concrete solutions, but promised a big announcement at the State of the District Address on February 5. Programs he touted included the Local Rent Supplement Program and Housing Production Trust Fund, both programs with long histories of success that local housing advocates would be happy to see expanded. Councilmember Evans and Councilmember Bowser also highlighted the Housing Production Trust Fund, a program which has seen $36 million in cuts over the last two years, but can be used to address a many types of housing needs.
The next few months will be critical for housing funding. The Mayor-appointed Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force is scheduled to release its report in the next few weeks, and Mayor Gray will announce his housing plan. The Mayor will then submit his budget to the DC Council, which many hope will offer increased investments that make housing affordable to District residents. “It is time to act,” said Bob Pohlman, Executive Director of CNHED. “More than a thousand newcomers are flooding into the District every month putting more and more pressure on the cost of housing. If we don’t face this reality and act now, affordable housing will be out of reach for tens of thousands of DC residents.”
Just a few weeks into January, housing has already become a key issue in 2013.