High rent forcing low-income D.C. residents out

Eve of destruction or renovation

D.C. Council votes to limit access to emergency housing

Even though public-private partnerships such as the New Communities Initiative offers a wholesome approach for select District of Columbia residents, there are too many low-income tenants falling through the cracks.

D.C. Housing Authority estimates there are 42,000 people on its waiting list—so many the agency stopped accepting applications in April 2013.

DC residents, some working two jobs, such as Charles Crews, who ran as a write-in candidate for the D.C. Council in 2013, are being told they must move out of D.C. to find more affordable home rentals.

How many former long-time residents are forced to move out is directly proportional to the number of new luxury condos and private sector redevelopments popping up in old historic neighborhoods.

To make matters worse, for those who occasionally need to check into transitional housing, Mayor Muriel Bowser proposes raising eligibility restrictions at D.C. shelters. This would increase the proof of residency needed for D.C. families to stay at emergency shelters, despite rising rates of family homelessness.

Workers who commute from Maryland to work in D.C. but whose circumstances are dire may no longer be able to stay in local area shelters, for instance.

Freezing weather, and transients must sleep outdoors

Many transients lack a bed for some reason

There are also fundamental discrepancies between the numbers claimed to be homeless and housed versus the reality on the ground. For instance, on any given night, area parks such as Franklin Park, have all benches filled with homeless sleepers. The overflow extends out to doorways and ventilation grills, called warming grills, for men swathed in insulation blankets.

Record number of professionally managed luxury apartments

According to RentCafe, whose data is from Yardi Matrix, Washington region expects 18,027 new apartments units completed by the end of 2016. Single bedroom apartment-homes with extensive amenities and services comprise 56% of total new units. Only 5% are new studios.

Two-bedroom units in revitalized neighborhoods can range from $4000 to $6000. Factoring in amenities and extras, area residents are gradually priced out of their homes as rents increase since many professionally managed buildings fall outside rent-control mandates.

In fact, a recent glut in apartments has led to a number of empty unoccupied units; however, private developers often rather the apartments remain empty than lower monthly rates—a factor in why according to a 2016 national study there are severe gaps in affordable rentals.

According to the 2016 State of the Nation’s Housing Report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies, over half of very low-income renters cannot locate affordable rental units and are spending upwards of 50 percent if their income in apartment housing. The median rates have exploded in regions such as San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle, and Washington.

Developers, hoping to realize a quick return on investment, are also reluctant to build small affordable studios, contributing to the demand for low-cost rentals far outstripping supply.

Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless conservatively estimates “the majority of people in Washington, D.C. pay 50 percent of their income on apartment housing and above, leaving 15,000 households on the brink of homelessness every day.”

“A miracle is needed; there is a need for profound change for D.C. to live up to its reputation as a Human Rights city” warned Patty Mullahy Fugere at a town hall meeting on homelessness late last year.

In fact, D.C. Council declared Washington a “Human Right City” in 2008, but it appears that human rights for the poor takes a backseat to profits and pandering to the rich.

According the the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in and out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

At the homelessness town hall attended by a small crowd of homeless regulars and just over a dozen grassroots organization professionals, its evident that few (if any) upscale apartment-home tenants and leasing agents care much about the rights of the homeless as much as the rights of their pet dogs (who defecate and smell up the sidewalk that homeless people sleep on).

New Urban Apartment Dwellers Rootless Lifestyle

Transient low-income housing cooperatives face many challenges, according to ONE DC especially in an era when “market-rate cooperatives” vie with legitimate historic tenant organizations. Luxury apartment dwellers are frequently detached from the heritage of their neighborhood, instead, indulging in a rootlessly ostentatious lifestyle. New classes of displaced row-house tenants are being created as public housing projects and housing in low-income neighborhoods fall prey to hostile buy-outs and forced evictions.

Thanks to Street Sense, the DC Metro Area Street Newspaper, Washington Legal Clinic, Church of the Epiphany, and countless dedicated vendors/writers to buy the newspaper from. (Photos by AGN)