Chairman’s Corner: Two Worlds of Housing
Welcome to “Chairman’s Corner”, where our Board Chair, Paul Taskier, will write about a variety of topics that impact Bread for the City and indeed the community and nation at large. We invite you to Read, Enjoy and Share!
Economic viability in our society rests on three legs: education, employment, and housing. Of the three, having housing is arguably the most important. Without a place to live, achieving an education or retaining a job poses an almost insurmountable obstacle.
When the waitlist for public housing was closed in April 2013, there were 72,000 names on the waiting list. After conducting an extensive outreach campaign to locate and update the information for these individuals and families, DC Housing Authority reported in May 2015 that it has been reduced to 41,000. Regardless, the list still remains closed at this time. Concurrently, opportunities for housing have shrunk dramatically as the city continues to price longstanding residents out of the market.
The fact that the number of affordable housing units has dropped by 50%–less than a quarter of which qualify as “low cost” housing–coupled with the fact that the city is seeing an unprecedented boom in luxury buildings means there really should be no surprise that our homelessness crisis is so expansive.
Indeed, in Bread for the City’s Northwest neighborhood the changes are mind-boggling as I look back on the 20+ years I have volunteered at Bread. Kelsey Gardens, the Section 8 building once across the street is gone, replaced by a huge luxury apartment building – complete with restaurants, a pet supplies store, and a gym. The O Street market one block south is now a massive luxury apartment complex. The laundromat next door to our property, which was also an informal gathering place for folks in the neighborhood, is now a coffeehouse that is packed mostly with newly-arriving, white millennials.
All of this development, while aesthetically pleasing to some, destroys the long-standing fabric of our neighborhoods, and has driven out families — usually Black families who have lived here for generations–because they can no longer afford the places they’ve known as home.
Market rents are so high that working families at the minimum wage cannot afford a two bedroom apartment for a family of four. Even with the DC minimum wage rising in July to $11.50 an hour or the Mayor’s call for a $15.00 minimum wage by 2020, the fast-rising market rents require two-income households, and for both people to earn almost $30 per hour.
So we are confronted with two worlds of housing: a world where people who can afford to do so, get to live in modern housing at market rates, and a world where people who the system has forsaken are increasingly marginalized and forced into homelessness or substandard housing.
The answer is clear: we must make systemic changes to the quality and amount of housing in DC. Over 60% of people living on extremely low incomes spend more than 50% of their income on housing. That is nearly double the 30% that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development sets as the standard measure of affordability. Obviously, that is economically unsustainable.
The lack of affordable housing in DC is a billion-dollar problem that will take us years to fix. To make serious progress towards bottom-up economic growth and an overall reduction in poverty, the District needs to develop and preserve housing for residents living on low and moderate incomes.
Safe and secure housing is a critical piece in the success of communities, and we at Bread for the City, through our Advocacy Program, are committed to doing our part to change the dynamic and take the key steps needed to fix the problem.