July 2017 marks the 7th month of the Trump presidency. This federal landscape set the stage for what FBC hoped would be an FY18 budget season that asserted DC’s values that stand in stark contrast to those being shopped around on The Hill and in the White House. These federal policies could have devastating ramifications for the District of Columbia, particularly low-income communities of color that have already been teetering on the edge as the city has pursued an agenda of massive development. As the District saw record revenues, Mayor Bowser and the DC Council had an opportunity to present a progressive, proactive agenda that ensures dignity for all DC residents.
In addition to these looming federal threats, DC’s history has also set the stage for this year’s budget fight. Over the past 20 years, drastic racial and socioeconomic demographic changes have been enacted through policies that prioritize attracting white, college educated millennials to the District over providing basic human needs to low-income communities of color. As we see the tenants of Brookland Manor and Barry Farms fight to stay in their homes, as we see shelters and motels overflowing with people experiencing homelessness, it is clear that the word gentrification, could not begin to describe the harsh reality that continues to tear apart families and communities.
This year, Coalition members continued to pursue an agenda that fought for policies to support long-time DC residents and begin to halt the extreme gentrification machine that has made DC one of the most income unequal cities in the country and displaced more than 40,000 DC residents of color.
Rather than giving tax breaks to wealthy estate holders and businesses and subsidizing more development projects, we called on the council to address basic human needs. We pushed for housing security for DC residents, economic justice through good jobs, income support, and removing barriers to education, civil rights by fighting discrimination against returning citizens and enhancing language access, access mental and physical healthcare, and food security. You can view our full list of recommendations here.
These measures represent a small snapshot of the policies changes and budget investments needed to meaningfully create a more equitable city and change policies that create the crises of poverty in the first place.
We have moved the needle in many regards. We were pleased to see our economic justice and food recommendations fully funded. It is imperative that the Executive Branch begin to rigorously implement these measures so families can have access to paid leave, TANF, and transportation benefits as soon as possible.
However, both the Mayor and the DC Council fail to meaningfully fight the root causes of poverty or the drivers of income inequality. This year, with our coffers full, DC had the opportunity to present a radically transformative vision for the District that would have stood in contrast to the truly draconian policies coming from both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. Instead, both branches of government delivered a budget that maintains the status quo: more condos and more poverty.
The Fair Budget Coalition is dismayed at the spending priorities reflected in Mayor Bowser’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018. Despite having explicitly expressed concern at the threats to DC values by the Trump Administration, Mayor Bowser has proposed a budget that fails to adequately protect the lives and basic human needs of DC residents most at risk—low-income people.
DC has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the nation. A minimum wage worker in DC must work 17 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rate. In the midst of this affordable housing crisis, and with cuts to vital safety net programs looming at the federal level, Mayor Bowser’s budget proposal prioritizes the District’s high income residents and businesses over working class and poor DC residents who struggle to make ends meet even as DC flourishes economically.
This budget proposal fails to expand and strengthen tools to create more housing for extremely low income people, and guarantees that the District’s goals of ending homelessness will not be met on time. Despite the fact that 8,500 people experience homelessness on any given day in the District and 40,000 households are on a waitlist for affordable housing, the Mayor’s proposed budget provides permanent housing subsidies for fewer than 500 households in FY18. There are no new investments to repair DC’s dilapidated public housing stock, and for the second consecutive year, Mayor Bowser has put forth a budget that does not create additional vouchers to move households off the DC Housing Authority waitlist.
The Mayor’s proposed budget does not include start-up funding for DC’s paid family leave insurance program, transportation subsidies for adult learners, or implementation funding to fight housing discrimination for DC’s returning citizens. Although the Mayor added $8 million to reform DC’s rigid TANF time limit policy, the funding is not sufficient to fully support children experiencing poverty. Instead, the Mayor has prioritized $18.8 million in tax cuts for estates worth between $1-5 million, $23.8 million in tax breaks for businesses, and invests almost $400 million to support development projects like DC Streetcar, a new Wizards practice facility, and luxury condominiums at McMillan Park over the critical human needs of District residents.
At first glance, this budget proposal does not reflect the DC values the Mayor has promised to champion. FBC will investigate and monitor new programs included in the proposal. When the Mayor presents the budget to the DC Council on Thursday, we believe that they will face a heavy task in making this proposed budget reflect DC values. This is a difficult but vital task - as Martin Luther King Jr. said in the context of the Poor People’s Campaign, “a budget is a moral document.”
Quotes from members:
“The administration’s proposed budget would do nothing to stem the tide of President Trump’s proposed housing cut. Though the administration talks about ‘inclusive prosperity’ for all, its proposed budget would undermine the well-being and access to opportunity of the tens and thousands of Washingtonians living on low incomes who are served by Bread for the City. The budget offers not prosperity, but austerity,” says George Jones, Executive Director of Bread for the City.
“As a native Washingtonian, it is hurtful to see one of our own being an instrument of our destruction and building her pathway to reelection of the backs of the few remaining natives who live here and the least privileged people who want to stay,” says Aiyi’nah Ford, Executive Director of the Future Foundation.
“We are disappointed that this budget does not include the resources needed to end homelessness, as outlined in Homeward DC. We are counting on the Council to fund the gap and to house our most vulnerable neighbors,” says Jesse Rabinowitz, Advocacy Specialist at Miriam’s Kitchen
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the residents of the District of Columbia—who overwhelmingly opposed the presidency of Donald Trump—are shaken and deeply concerned about the future of this country and of this city. Multiple communities, including Black people, Latinx, and other people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community have already seen a significant increase in assaults, hate crimes, and a general sentiment of hatred and bias.
With a President-Elect who has not only promulgated racist, misogynist, and xenophobic rhetoric throughout his campaign, but has now appointed and nominated individuals to serve in his cabinet with long, proven track records of openly oppressing marginalized people, there is a very real possibility that federal policy and budget decisions will threaten to destroy our already inadequate social safety net for generations to come. We, as a city and as a society, all depend on this safety net in various ways throughout our day-to-day lives; however low-income people, seniors, and a disproportionate share of people of color are particularly vulnerable and would experience the most dire consequences.
We, the DC Fair Budget Coalition and all signatories of this letter, are prepared to resist these threats. We are proud of being a Sanctuary City, and we appreciate your reinforcement of that commitment. The District of Columbia should be a safe place for all people to live and work, particularly people of color who have been historically disenfranchised and targeted by discriminatory policies. We strongly urge you to affirm your willingness to fight to protect DC residents—and all who dwell, work, and visit here—against the threats that will likely soon come.
Our city has a long and proud legacy of being a national leader on civil rights, workers’ rights, immigrant rights, women’s reproductive health, and LGBTQ rights. As the nation’s capital, DC needs to maintain this standard and never waver in our steadfastness to protect our safety net, or in our determination to fight for our residents, particularly those who face the greatest threats under this administration. This includes fighting for the District’s right to create and enforce our own laws, as well as manage our own budget without undue federal influence. We trust that you are prepared to lead this fight.
Now is the time to invest in policies that will ensure that all people and families have the social, physical, and financial security that they need to navigate the immediate and long-term impacts of a Trump Presidency. As a first step, we ask that you, our elected leadership, pledge to replace any federal dollars—taken from public housing or other affordable housing, homeless services, healthcare, public benefits, transportation, education, workforce development, women’s healthcare, or any other of the vital services our residents depend upon—with local funds.
That may ultimately require a significant output of local dollars, however we believe you could raise additional revenues by taking some of the following measures:
The Fair Budget Coalition will release our Budget Report in early 2017. In this report, we will outline a list of investments DC can make that are critical to protecting low-income residents and people of color within the District. Now, more than ever, we must double down on our commitment to addressing the fundamental racial, economic, and social inequity in our city and ensuring that everyone who lives and works in DC has access to basic necessities and can feel safe throughout the city.
Amidst the echoes of the chant to “Drain the Swamp,” we have an opportunity to show the country and the world the true character of our great city. We urge you to demonstrate your leadership and fight for DC and all of its residents.
To add your signature, visit bit.ly/ProtectDC
By Monica Kamen
Each year, The DC Fair Budget Coalition puts together a policy platform that calls on the city to both protect prior investments and substantially increase investments across a range of human services. While we craft this agenda, we always navigate a challenging philosophical problem: do we ask for what we think we can win, or do we demand what is truly needed to address poverty in the District? On one hand, it’s important to recognize the political and fiscal realities of our city in order to actually secure investments in critical programs. But on the other, a politically realistic ask will never do the job of bringing justice to the people of our city.
The FY17 Budget Campaign was no different; we crafted an ambitious yet reasonable policy agenda. And now that the FY17 budget has been finalized, it is clear that we were able to secure undeniably critical funding for programs that will help thousands of DC residents.
Collectively, our coalition and its members won funding for programs that will provide housing for 569 individuals and 304 families. Our advocacy helped secure $15 million to repair dilapidated and decaying public housing, protected and expanded programs that provide access to healthy and affordable food, protected funding for services for survivors of domestic violence, and extended TANF benefits for another year for families who would have otherwise been cut off from all cash assistance and services. If we compare this year’s budget to that from even two or three years ago, it is clear that we are slowly forcing the city to grapple with some of its biggest problems and start prioritizing investments in affordable housing, adult education, jobs, and health.
And yet, when we take a step back, these victories seem to pale in comparison to the sobering reality of poverty in the District. In this city, there are almost 8,000 people experiencing homelessness on a given night and over 38,000 people waiting on a closed waitlist for housing. One in three children live in a household struggling with hunger, and over 33,000 domestic-violence-related calls are made to the police in a given year. Roughly 60,000 adults lack a high school credential, and one in four adults with a high school credential are unemployed. These statistics go on and on. This gross lack of access to economic, housing, and food security is highly concentrated in communities of color, making the budget an issue of basic racial justice when the city prioritizes the needs of its White residents over Black and Brown citizens.
We may have scored a few touchdowns this budget season, but it is clear that we have a lot of work to do to win the game. We look forward to crafting a policy agenda and running a budget campaign that makes the work of justice an inevitable political reality.
By Monica Kamen
On Monday, June 13, Mayor Bowser signed a bill that will allow the city to finally close DC General and replace it with smaller, more dignified shelters throughout the city. The plan, which was brought to the Council in February, underwent substantial changes as the bill made its way through the legislative process, but ultimately was passed unanimously.
Due in large part by the efforts of Chairman Phil Mendelson, ward councilmembers, and the Council budget office, the Council identified three alternative sites for the proposed shelters in Wards 3, 5, and 6. The bill provides the required finances and allows the city to use eminent domain to purchase these new sites, meaning they will be District-owned. This will help save the city approximately $165 million, ensure that the shelters will remain in the District’s inventory indefinitely, and address community concerns, particularly in Ward 5, with regard to the environmental safety of the site and proximity to transportation and grocery stores.
The $50 million identified to purchase these new sites will come out of the District’s capital budget, rather than the operating budget. Because it is often more difficult to identify operating dollars for many of the programs for which Fair Budget advocates year after year, there will hopefully be more operating dollars to invest in permanent housing solutions for families who are housing unstable.
The Fair Budget Coalition congratulates the Council and the Mayor for working quickly to identify the right plan to finally actualize the goal of closing DC General. We hope we will continue to work with both branches of government to ensure that these sites are developed as quickly as possible and that the designs of the shelters maximize safety and security for families.
By Monica Kamen
On a cold day in February, a group of advocacy leaders from Isaiah House gathered to discuss some of the biggest challenges they face in the city’s shelters for homeless singles. Isaiah House, a day program run by So Others Might Eat, provides a therapeutic space for people who have been impacted by homelessness. It is also a space for individuals to come together to learn how to best advocate for themselves and their communities.
Those gathered on that February morning shared stories about what life in shelters is really like. Bed bugs. Rodents. Moldy food. Being put out of shelter when it’s raining or only a few degrees above freezing. Absentee or abusive case managers. Staff who seem to not care for them and often abuse the power they have in their roles.
Whether old or young, male or female, the themes were the same. Residents of our city’s shelters feel they are not valued as human beings, that their concerns aren’t being appropriately addressed, and that they are living in unhealthy and inhumane conditions.
Much attention has been paid to the homelessness crisis among families, but homeless singles in the District often feel left out of the conversation about problems and their potential solutions. To help remedy this, on March 3rd, Fair Budget Coalition, So Others Might Eat, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and the People for Fairness Coalition hosted an issue briefing at the Wilson Building to bring these concerns to the attention of the city’s elected leadership.
Over 30 people gathered to hear a panel of experts both discuss conditions in DC’s shelters for homeless singles and explore potential solutions. Advocates Reggie Black and Carol Dostert shared their experiences living in shelter and navigating the homeless system for our city’s singles. Among the audience were Brenda Donald, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, as well as representatives from the Department of Human Services, the Community Partnership, the Department of General Services, and city council staff.
Panelists, along with 120 respondents of a survey circulated in local shelters, confirmed what Isaiah House advocates had initially expressed. The physical conditions are neither healthy nor safe, the institutions are not adequately supporting recovery, and staff are not offering solutions to residents’ dire economic situations. Most importantly, shelters aren’t effective at finding permanent, affordable housing for residents.
Samantha Davis (SOME) and Kristi Matthews (SOME & WLCH), offered their expertise, contributing stories they’ve been hearing over years of working with residents in shelter.
Luis Vasquez, a former social worker and current Director at Catholic Charities, one of the main operators of the single shelters, shared his perspective on the major issues. Vasquez said that because shelters are strapped for cash, residents can outnumber case managers 100 to 1. This makes it extremely difficult for residents to meet with a case manager even once, let alone on a consistent basis. As such, people can live in shelters for years before finding stable housing. Vasquez articulated a willingness to work with residents to address these concerns by creating a client council where residents can voice their concerns directly.
Contact us here to learn more about how to get involved in advocacy for real solutions to our affordable housing and homelessness crisis.
With a new mayor and several new councilmembers, we have an opportunity to make sure that the city’s budget works for all DC residents!Join members of the Fair Budget Coalition and Councilmembers David Grosso, Elissa Silverman, and Charles Allen for the release of our annual budget report. We’ll release our recommendations for how to make DC a more just and inclusive city by protecting workers, getting DC residents into affordable and dignified housing, and getting more DC residents the jobs and incomes they need to support themselves.