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Barriers to Obtaining Identifying Documents: Stable Private Housing (Post 3 of 4)

In spring 2015, Kathleen Stephan, Community Resource and Quality Assurance Coordinator, began looking into why so many Bread for the City clients were suddenly struggling to obtain an ID. This blog series explores how the system disadvantages people of color living in poverty, and proposes possible improvements to policies that are currently preventing many DC residents from obtaining identification documents.

The DC Department of Motor Vehicles is authorized to issue IDs and driver’s licenses to current DC residents. Their policies favor applicants with stable, independent housing over individuals experiencing housing instability &/or homelessness.

In the midst of a severe housing crisis, the DMV’s policies have limited official recognition of DC residency to individuals who possess the privilege of a private address. In DC this continues to impact people of color, particularly black residents, at much higher rates than white residents. The 2015 Point in Time Homelessness Survey notes that African Americans comprise 29% of the DC regional total population, but 72.3% of single adults and 84.9% of adults in families experiencing homelessness.ID policies

The extreme housing crisis in DC has been well documented; thousands of DC residents are living on the street, in shelters, staying doubled up in overcrowded homes, or ‘couch surfing’ with friends and family from night to night. However, the DMV approved proofs of residency are almost entirely based on owning or renting private property: approved home lines of equity, home security system bill, property insurance, property tax bill, and a deed, mortgage or settlement for residential property, a lease, or utility and telephone bills.

The DC DMV requires that someone applying for an ID be able to prove that they are linked to a physical address in DC. If someone cannot provide private proof of residency they are directed to use the address of an approved social services agency. Unfortunately, there are less than twelve approved groups that are appropriately set up to receive and process anyone’s mail. This process is cumbersome and limits client choice in how to receive their mail.

It’s important to have access to a valid, government issued identity card. Without an ID, the most marginalized DC residents face additional barriers to accessing crucial resources. An ID may be required when applying for housing or employment, opening a bank account, registering for school, and even entering many government buildings. The current system is not serving all DC residents. As long as many of the documents an individual needs to prove their identity are linked to wealth, employment, and stable housing, the system continues to unfairly limit access to identity documents for poor black residents in DC.

*Continue Reading: Part 1, Part 2

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