In response to the daunting problem of affordable housing in DC, our Mayor has mounted an admirable 82.2 million dollar effort to preserve and create approximately 804 units of affordable housing. This housing is designed for residents making between 30-80% below the area median income.
The Mayor’s plan is certainly better than nothing and will help those who are lucky enough to be first in line and eligible for the housing offered. However, many, many more will be left behind without even the hope of being able to work their way out of their circumstances.
For example, the city’s Point In Time count of homelessness in 2015 estimated 6,500 people who were currently homeless. While we applaud the effort to increase affordable housing for even one family, we have to understand that these housing units represent a mere drop in the bucket of required assistance.
Even if every unit of new housing established by the city were dedicated to the homeless community, this would only help 12% percent of the identified homeless persons in DC.
In other news, a new study published by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) shows it is impossible for an individual working full-time at minimum wage to rent even a basic apartment. The NLIHC found that individuals working in the District of Columbia would need to make $23.65/hour to afford a one bedroom. Someone making our current minimum wage at $10.50/hour would need to work two full time jobs just keep a roof over their heads.
For poor individuals, let alone single mothers with children, it is simply not possible to work hard enough to afford adequate housing.
This study represents a very sad truth that even 82 million dollars is not enough to solve our housing problems. The approach to solving housing instability has to be multifaceted and include elements which allow individuals the ability to become self sufficient.
First, we as a city (and country!) must decide that people deserve to earn a living wage. We must also commit to creating ample opportunities to earn that living wage, and we must insure that there are sufficient affordable and decent dwellings in which to live.
Finally, we must provide the necessary and consistent supports for people to achieve and maintain their lives. It makes no sense to provide a person transitioning from homelessness or housing instability a beautiful new home if they do not have what they need to maintain it. These kinds of support range from ongoing case management, to accommodations for physical disabilities, to job development and more.
Thrive DC believes that every individual deserves a safe place to sleep at night, employment that allows them to afford that place, and external support to help when times get rough. The District’s new commitment to affordable housing is commendable, but will be ultimately insufficient without broader systemic change.