Public Rallies for Affordable Housing

Kate Glantz

Nearly 7,000 people have no place to call home in Washington D.C. At first glance, you might not realize Cardell Bryan and her daughter have been among them.

An articulate young woman with an easy smile, Bryan found herself on the streets raising a little girl. Living out of her car, then “sofa surfing,” she became an unlikely face of the homeless.

Today, Bryan and her six-year-old daughter live in permanent housing, with assistance from the D.C. Transitional Housing Center. Their future is bright, but Bryan wants to “drop a bug in someone’s ear” about the need for housing support, aware that others are still without a solution.

With more than 66,000 households currently on city waiting lists for affordable housing and the wait for a subsidized studio apartment estimated at 43 years, the District of Columbia Housing Authority announced plans late last year to freeze the housing waiting list.Meanwhile, thousands more renters households are struggling with monthly payments that amount to more than half their income.

With such pressures in mind, hundreds of Washington residents gathered January 26 at the downtown Martin Luther King, Jr. Library to push for more affordable housing. Under the banner “Housing for All”, housing and development organizations, policy makers and residents sent a direct and spirited message to Mayor Vincent Gray: more affordable, quality housing is needed.

The “Housing for All” coalition has called on the District government to adopt and finance a $255 million comprehensive housing strategy that encompasses the entire continuum of housing. The continuum consists of every degree of need: emergency shelter, supportive housing for people with special needs, rental housing that bridges the cost of what people can afford and the high price of rent, and helping families buy their first home.

The two-hour event included testimony from affordable housing residents and local leaders.

City officials were also present. Mayor Vincent Gray took the stage briefly, noting that recommendations made by the city’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force, a 35-member team that represents housing specialists from all sectors, would be announced soon.

Task force member Polly Donaldson, who also serves as executive director of the D.C. Transitional Housing Center and as president of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) offered the audience a glimpse of the report’s findings.

“We [the Task Force] made some very serious recommendations and there is capacity there to do it. Anyone who needs housing gets it. That’s the ideal.”

Donaldson went on to explain that there is no one size fits all solution to ending homelessness, but that housing and other supportive services are most successful when matched with the specific needs of families and individuals.

“If you give people the tools they need,” she said, “it leads to empowerment and self-sufficiency.”

Although Mayor Gray offered little by way of solution, he told the crowd that there would be a “hugely important announcement” to make at the State of the District on February 5.

Gray said, “We will stand up and make the investments we should make.”

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser also addressed the crowd. Bowser recognized winners of “Housing for All’s” writing competition. First place adult and youth prizes were awarded to Street Sense vendor, John “Mick” Mathews and Tyrone Lewis, respectively. Both winners read their poems to raucous audience applause.

Affordable housing proponents and beneficiaries alike will be listening closely on February 5. But for now, it remains to be seen what Mayor Gray’s announcement will entail and whether it will be backed by the dollars needed to make a meaningful difference.

Bryan, who now considers herself an advocate for affordable housing explained, “We want to lead the way for our children and their children. We just need a little more help.”

Issues |Housing

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