On Thursday April 11, over 100 people came out for affordable housing at the Ward 2 Housing Town Hall, hosted by Foundry United Methodist Church. Participants included faith communities across the ward, some of Ward 2’s affordable cooperatives, and residents who use services provided by key Ward 2 organizations – N Street Village and Miriam’s Kitchen. They were joined by Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds. Through stories, testimonies, and questions to Councilmembers, all voiced a strong vision of Housing For All, where our neighbors can stay and we can end chronic homelessness. (See more pictures)
Preserving affordable housing through tenant purchase
Successful limited equity coops highlighted the possibility of affordable housing preservation, even in Ward 2! The 1417 N Street Coop, better known as the Norwood, is one of DC’s most recent successes of organized tenants purchasing their building to keep it affordable. Last year, they purchased the building with $11 million of support from DC government, including funds from the Housing Production Trust Fund. Tenant association president Silvia Inez Salazar and youth from the building told how they fought and won against the conversion of their building to expensive condos. Now – as owners – adults and youth are taking their stewardship of the property. As the coop board works hard to fix the ongoing problems left by the previous owners, the youth are leading a recycling program and other activities.
They were joined by Alma Reyes, president of a nearby cooperative, the 1425 T Street NW Coop, which is the first Latino-owned coop in the District. Located in the heart of the U Street corridor, the 1425 T Street NW Coop has seen the neighborhood change dramatically in the 20 years of their existence. They are an anchor in their community, and a demonstration of how successful coops can be for keeping people in changing neighborhoods and preserving affordable housing. “We want people to know that limited equity coops can function in the long-term and low income residents can control our housing.”
Housing is Healthcare
Kurt Runge, Advocacy Director at Miriam’s Kitchen, focused on another area of the Continuum of Housing, saying “we can end chronic homelessness in DC.” He advocated for Housing First, the housing program which provides affordable housing as well as wrap-around services for frequent users of DC’s shelters and emergency rooms. He told the story of Mr. “Smith,” a regular guest at Miriam’s Kitchen, who he fears will die before reaching his 50th birthday this summer because of his chronic health condition, which could be alleviated if he had a place to stay and elevate his feet.
Another Miriam’s Kitchen guest, John McDermott, was formerly homeless and related how he successfully used Housing First to stabilize his health. He has continued to advocate for others to be able to access the program, which currently serves 1,500 people and has a 90 percent success rate. “We need money in Housing First to get people off the streets,” said John. “We gotta stop that ‘no room at the inn’ stuff and start doing right for our community!”
CNHED, along with our members like Miriam’s Kitchen are advocating for $4.3 million in the Housing First Program in this year’s budget as part of a 5 year plan to end chronic homelessness.
Commitment and Accountability
The Councilmembers echoed residents’ concerns about the high cost of housing and growing homelessness.
At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds asked, “What are we going to do to finally chip away at poverty? We have to start with affordable housing.” She also argued for ongoing commitments to the Housing Production Trust Fund, recognizing that the current commitment of $87 million is mostly a one-time investment.
Councilmember Jack Evans started out with a key idea: “People who lived here [in the District] deserve to live here during the prosperous times.” A long-time supporter of the Trust Fund, Councilmember Evans highlighted his key role in creating the ongoing revenue for the Trust Fund. He also argued for affordable housing matched with services. When asked if he would support an expansion of Housing First, he said “Housing First is a very important program and if we can get the funding for it, we’ll do it.”
The evening was closed by Rev. Mike Angell from St. John’s Church. He called on those in the room to continue to connect with Councilmembers, and hold them accountable to our vision of affordable housing in this year’s budget. “We have agency in this city,” he reminded the audience.