“Permanent” and Sustainable Housing for Families Living in Deep Poverty

On January 21 Mayor Bowser announced that DC General will close permanently in Fall 2018. Everyone applauds closing this structure, which is totally unsuitable for families. Most current residents at DC General will move to “permanent” housing through the Rapid Re-Housing program (RRH), the program the city uses almost exclusively to move families from shelter to housing.

RRH is a one year rental assistance program. The RRH tenant pays at least 40% of their income for rent. The city pays the remainder of the rent monthly for the program year. After the year, the tenant as lease holder is responsible for the full rent at market rate ($1746 per month for a 2 BR apartment on average).

The question debated extensively in the Council in recent months is whether the housing provided through RRH is indeed “permanent” housing as the Department of Human Services contends. There was no agreed upon definition of “permanent”, nor was a successful outcome for program participants defined.  The council voted 11-2 in December to validate RRH as a one-year program to be used for shelter exit.

According to the Department of Human Services 20 to 25% of the households in the RHH one-year program will not be able to pay full-market rent in the following year. The housing is not “permanent” for these households. They will either move out at the end of the year or be evicted. In the short to mid-term, these households will more than likely be on the road to homelessness – again.

For these families living in deep poverty there is no quick solution to their housing instability.  If household income is entirely from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF pays $504 a month for No Trespassinga family of 3) as is the case for many shelter residents, it is unlikely that one year of rental assistance is going to lead to sustainable, “permanent” housing. The Chair of the Council Committee on Human Services says the city can’t provide housing vouchers for everyone who is rent burdened.  Based on the cost of long term rental vouchers and the lack of political will to fund additional vouchers, she is probably correct.  But then, what? A repeating cycle of homelessness?

In a recent article in the Washington Post (Metro, 12/18/17) former Mayor Anthony Williams reflected on the city today: “We have to keep the city growing, but we have challenges in terms of making the city more inclusive, increasing affordable housing and improving social services.” Mayor Williams championed the real estate market in the 1990’s as the answer to city’s future. As he looks at situation now, he continues: “But there was a flip side: That wave was not lifting all boats, but battering the heck out of the poor.”

But then, what? The Mayor’s FY2019 proposed budget will be delivered to the Council on March 21st.  The Mayor speaks frequently about  a ‘Pathway to the Middle Class’ for everyone. RHH is not a rental assistance program that works for everyone in shelter.  More needs to be done for those living in deep poverty so that their boat is lifted and truly “permanent” housing is the successful outcome that the city’s intervention achieves.                                                                            

–   17% of DC residents lived below the poverty line in 2015: $24,600 for a family of
–   30% of DC children live below the poverty line, with more than 14,000 of these
children living in deep poverty in households earning less than $12,000 per year.
–    On a single night in January 2017, more than 7,000 persons in the city were counted as homeless, at least 800 were unsheltered and living on the streets.
–    On January 1, 2018 there were more than 600 families with over 1300 children in DC shelters.
More than 1600 single adults slept in shelter.
–    DC’s public housing stock has decreased by at least 4,000 units since the 1990’s to
only 8,000 units remaining in the inventory. Since 2002 the number of low-cost rental
units in DC has dropped by more than 50%, while the number of more expensive
housing units rose more than 155%.
–    DC has a deficit of more than 30,000 affordable and available units for people with
extremely low incomes.
We pray for those in positions of civic authority, servants of all the people. May their
compassion, understanding and just actions lead to a city that measures its
greatness by the care it provides for its people in need.
Rev. John Graham, Grace Episcopal
Church, Georgetown
Point in time count 2017.  Fact Sheet.

Newsletter current and previous.
Biblical Roots of Justice – Foundation of the Journey for Justice:  an interfaith conversation on homelessness and the Journey for Justice for our neighbors who are without homes (10 minutes).