So said Ward 1 Councilmember, Brianne Nadeau, chair of the Committee on Human Services regarding the time-limit for the District’s Rapid Rehousing Program, a highly criticized program that places families from shelter into temporary housing. When the subsidy cuts off, families often find themselves unable to afford the market rent of the unit they occupy and soon end up in eviction court, and then circle back to the shelter door with a new eviction on their rental history.
During debate on the proposed changes to the Homeless Services Reform Act on Tuesday, November 7, Ward 8 Councilmember, Trayon White, introduced an amendment that would extend the rapid rehousing time-limit and introduce common sense measures to assess whether a family received proper case management services or is financially stable enough to afford their unit. However, this amendment was rejected 6-7, with Anita Bonds casting the deciding vote because, as she put it, “I was told to vote no.” (The Councilmembers who voted against extending people’s time in rapid re-housing under these circumstances were Mendelson, Nadeau, Todd, Allen, Cheh, Evans and Bonds.)
Though earlier this year, Nadeau championed the legislation that ended arbitrary time-limits for the District’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), she took a hard line on extending the temporary housing subsidy for the 1300 families currently in the program. “I understand your compassion,” she says, “but at some point we have to draw the line. This is a short-term program. We have other programs.”
A quick review of the housing programs funded in this year’s FY18 budget, reveals that this is not exactly the case.
There are currently 1166 families experiencing homelessness, according to the annual Point in Time Count. Additionally, there are over 1300 families in our rapid rehousing program, and an additional 40,000 families on the DC Housing Authority’s waitlist for housing.
In FY18, there was funding to support 174 families in the Permanent Supportive Housing Program and 186 families in the Targeted Affordable Housing Program and approximately 250 families from off of the waitlist. That means that there are permanent housing opportunities for about 610 families of the 42,266 families in the District who are not stably housed.
This basic math problem cuts to the core of our affordability crisis. Families don’t make enough money to afford market rate housing. The District has lost its stock of market-rate affordable units. Our Mayor and Council have not allocated enough money in the budget to provide housing for those who need it.
Rather than voting for solutions that would help solve this problem (funding more affordable housing), the Council took a punitive approach by supporting changes to the Homeless Services Reform Act that would make it more difficult for families to get into shelter, make it easier to get kicked out from shelter, and institute arbitrary time limits for the rapid rehousing program.
And to make matters worse, right before this vote, the Council voted to give $82 million away to developers to build around Union Market, including $36 million to fund a parking lot, with no evidence whatsoever that this huge subsidy was even needed. There was not a single requirement that the jobs created are good quality, or that the developers subsidize affordable housing. All while claiming that we don’t have enough resources to serve the families in our “hemorrhaging homeless services system.”
In reality, it is this kind of unchecked development that drives up the cost of housing and ultimately push people out of their homes either into homelessness or into more affordable regions like Prince George’s County. It is District residents who have been displaced because of publically subsidized development that are flooding our homelessness services systems. By continuing to fund development while narrowing the door to shelter, the Council is exacerbating the problem, not fixing it.
When At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman tried to redirect the parking lot funds to support affordable housing and transit options, she only got support from At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, and was repudiated by the rest of the Council. Chairperson Phil Mendelson referred to the affordable housing crisis as “rhetoric,” and the rest of the council rolled their eyes. They funded luxury housing instead of affordable. Then they pivoted to blame homeless people from outside of the District for flooding our system, and disparaged the homeless families who they claim are lying to get into shelter when they have safe places that they could otherwise go.
This post is about accountability. It’s about the fact that the Chair of our Council does not believe that there is an affordable housing crisis and propagates the stereotype that poor Black people are lying to get into shelter, taking advantage of the system, and don’t know what’s best for their families. He re-introduced a harmful provision of the HSRA that was removed during the Committee mark-up that creates a “presumption” that families are lying about needing shelter if they are on a lease or “occupancy agreement” and demands that homeless families provide “credible evidence” that they have no safe housing to get shelter on a freezing night. He believes that the Mayor knows better than they do that they have a safe place to go, and this harmful philosophy was supported by Councilmembers Nadeau, Cheh, Evans, McDuffie, Todd, Allen and Bonds.
What we saw at the Council was an affront to progressive values. To vote to give away that sum of money to developers while claiming there is not enough money to support homeless families was a slap in the face to every single District resident who has struggled to find affordable housing, who has come out to support homeless services, and who voted for “progressive champions” who would advance an affordable housing agenda. Hundreds and thousands of emails and phone calls and tweets, countless letters supported by scores of organizations throughout the city urged councilmembers to vote “no” on this bill. Elissa Silverman told advocates that she had not received a single e-mail telling her to vote for this bill. Yet, at the end of the day, the bill passed 11-2, with only Councilmembers Trayon White and David Grosso opposing.
In just a few hours, our Council drew the line by prioritizing corporate subsidies over the lives of homeless children.