“Affordable housing helps kids like me reach our goals. … I hope to go to college one day too. Without affordable housing that would not be possible for me.”
“Permanent Supportive Housing provides stability and has saved my family from homelessness.”
“The house of my dreams is not a mansion; it’s a cozy little place where my family is safe from harm.”
“A home grounds us. It is what we yearn for…We are the home. The home is us.”
These were some of the amazing voices we heard on Saturday, February 1, 2014, when a record crowd participated in the Housing For All NOW rally! Elected officials joined us, including Mayor Gray and Councilmembers Bonds, Bowser, Evans, Graham, and Wells, as did two agency directors.
Father John Adams of SOME welcomed all the participants, noting the recent successes in gaining funding for housing and exhorting the crowd to “Remove the yoke of injustice!” Our fabulous MC of the day, Renise Walker of Jubilee Housing, kept the program moving and the energy high, getting some special help from Housing For All Resident Team Leaders Tom Wilson and Venus Little who truly revved up the event. With their incredible passion, we got on the same page with Who We Are & What We Want. Read the ask here.
LaToya Thomas, Weincek + Associates, Architects + Planners, presented the winners of the writing competition: Home is Where the Heart Is. In the upcoming week, we’ll be posting the winning essays and poems; those who attended got to hear many of the winners’ heart-felt submissions first-hand. Two of the winners this year are with Calvary Women’s Services, affiliated with the church hosting us – purely a coincidence! [Pictured: youth category winners – Alaya Barnett, Jabari Jefferson, Gabriel Merino; adult category-Elsie Collins, Judith Overbey; not pictured -Samar Chatterjee]
And the incredible stories continued – with testimony from residents who have benefited from the housing programs we fight for.Directors Michael Kelly, Department of Housing and Community Development and Adrianne Todman, DC Housing Authority shared their support and enthusiasm, with Director Kelly saying “Like air, water and food, housing is critical! …We need permanent, sustainable funding” and Director Todman urging residents to not give up, saying “I need your voices and passion so we can house you, and your neighbors!”
Anthony Davis, there with his six year old son and his son’s mother to related their multi-year struggle with homelessness and their path to THC’s Permanent Supportive Housing program where they now thrive in a ”safe, affordable and stable home”
Gabriel Merino, just 11 years old, told how the Local Rent Supplement Program helps his family and how much Jubilee Youth Services has helped him. “With it as cold as it has been lately, we are thankful that we have an apartment with heat that my mom can afford.”
Renee Sumbly on behalf of Manna, Inc. gave testimony on her experience with the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP). Ms. Sumbly spoke of how important it was for her to return to the District, as a homeowner, the place where her family was from. “If it were not for HPAP, I would not be living here.”
Margarita Menhibar, speaking through a Spanish interpreter, relayed how the Housing Production Trust Fund and the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act are enabling her tenants association to purchase the building after suffering through horrible conditions for years. [Feb 10 they will sign the paperwork to officially purchase and become a cooperative.] “We know there will be no better owners than us!”
The Elected Officials – Where Do they Stand on Housing?
The Mayor answered questions collected from the audience after speaking for several minutes about affordable housing. Each of the Councilmembers present then gave short statements about affordable housing, followed by a Q& A session. Each segment was moderated expertly by MC Renise. What follows is a selection of highlights; the recording can be found here and the transcript will follow.
Mayor Gray spoke about the DC Housing Plan that commits to creating 10,000 affordable homes by 2020. To help reach that goal, he shared the agreement reached the day before with Councilmember McDuffie (who had previously introduced a bill on funding the Trust Fund) and Council Chair Mendelson that 50% of the unencumbered budget surplus would go to affordable housing via the Trust Fund.
Councilmember Evans offered that the Housing Trust Fund, is “I truly believe, the best vehicle we’ve ever had that produces affordable housing.” He cited the incredible prosperity of the City but that the prosperity comes at a cost of keeping housing affordable.
Councilmember Bonds urged advocacy for seniors, noting the older population of the city, and that rent control isn’t enough. She told the audience that “the day has come when you know your elected officials have heard you and are working with you.”
Councilmember Graham spoke of the continuum of housing, and how we have to think about extremely low-income persons and those with no income and no place to go, particularly those with families. “You can’t raise a child in a stairwell; you can’t raise a child in a bus station …” He also noted the crucial role of activists & resident advocacy.
Councilmember Bowser spoke of the affordable housing crisis, noting progress in getting some funding but that we can’t be satisfied and need to hold officials accountable for real, intentional policies. She said “we talk about affordable housing, but the question is affordable for whom?”
Councilmember Wells told the crowd “These are your victories!” [related to increased attention and funding for affordable housing]. He raised the importance of how the money is spent, saying “Housing First works and it needs to be expanded.”
Next Steps and Closing
Elizabeth Falcon, Housing For All Campaign Organizer exhorts all of us the crowd to stay involved, and invites participation in upcoming Advocacy training sessions, one series in NW and another in SE.
Finally, with urgent oratory using imagery of a raging river, David Bowers of Enterprise Community Partners (pictured right) made sure we ended the rally feeling invigorated and knowing that our efforts must continue: Our neighbors are drowning – reach your hand out to help!