Everyone deserves a safe and stable home. As a city, we ought to prioritize the housing needs of people who have the least resources.
The District is a decade into an affordable housing crisis that means that poor and working-class residents are increasingly pushed into run-down, distant, and overcrowded housing – if they can even find any. Middle class residents end up paying enormous proportions of their income for housing. More than 40% of District residents spend over a third of their monthly income on housing. The District has relatively strong laws in place to ensure that residents experiencing homelessness have a right to shelter, but in practice many struggle to access support. Over the past two years the Council has taken some steps to invest in affordable housing, prevent rent hikes, and help those experiencing homelessness, but has also given away millions of dollars in taxpayer money to developers building luxury housing and missed opportunities to prioritize ordinary people’s housing needs.
This category covers seven votes affecting access to safe, stable, dignified, affordable housing.
To move the District in the right direction, Councilmembers needed to vote to:
Support closing the unsafe DC General shelter
DC’s primary family shelter is currently in the old DC General hospital building in Ward 6. This facility houses hundreds of parents and children, in unsafe, unsanitary conditions. In 2016, DC Council voted unanimously to close this dangerous shelter and replace it with smaller family shelters in each Ward of the District. [B21-0620]
Support guaranteed access to in-suite bathroom for shelter residents
The issue of private bathrooms for families in shelter became a contentious aspect of the family shelter plan. Families with children feel unsafe in dirty, shared bathroom facilities in DC’s homeless shelters. Small children especially cannot go use a shared bathroom without adults accompanying them, and many people need more frequent and private bathroom access due to health issues or illness. In 2015, DC Council rejected an amendment that would have provided safe, private bathrooms in new shelters. [B21-0352 – amendment 2]
Support extended access to shelters for families in need
Currently families in the District’s Rapid Re-Housing program are expected to afford market rent after twelve months, but not every family is able to find other supports or earn enough to afford rent in that time. In 2017, the Council rejected an amendment to provide an additional six months of emergency shelter to families who need it. [B22-0293 – Amendment 12]
Support access to housing for returning citizens
DC residents who have served their time and return from incarceration (“returning citizens”) struggle to find good jobs and decent housing, as many employers legally discriminate against them, and many public housing and housing assistance programs bar them from participating. In 2016, DC Council passed a law preventing landlords from putting up additional barriers by asking about renters’ incarceration history before renting them an apartment. [B21-0706]
Support protection for elderly and disabled renters
DC’s rent control law was originally passed in 1975 and has been amended several times since. Broadly, it stabilizes rent increases on rental units built before 1976. In practice it has too many loopholes allowing landlords to squeeze tenants or push them out. In 2016, DC Council voted unanimously to support legislation to strengthen protections for seniors and people with disabilities living in rent controlled apartments. [B221-0173]
Support preventing catastrophic rent hikes
Under our rent control laws, landlords can request permission from DC government to raise their tenants’ rent higher than would otherwise be allowed, if they think their profits aren’t high enough. Until 2016, they could preemptively raise the rent in order to obtain a 12% profit before the District even responded to these requests. In 2016, DC Council passed a law preventing these catastrophic rent hikes and helping tenants afford to stay in their homes while these requests are under review. [B21-0146]
Oppose restricting shelter access for people experiencing homelessness
In 2017, DC Council passed a law that restricts people’s access to shelter by requiring certain types of proof of residency. According to longtime advocates and people who are themselves homeless, these requirements may deny shelter to people who need it – and those in crisis may not have the right paperwork on hand. According to the bill’s proponents, this law ensures that homeless services only go to legitimate District residents, not those entering the city from Maryland or Virginia. But homeless people and their allies feel the bill will limit access even for Washingtonians by denying shelter to families if they cannot prove that they have nowhere else to go, or if they have inadequate proof of residency. [B22-0293]