Rally Brings Residents and Politicians to Speak Out for Housing

Hundreds rallied on Saturday at the Martin Luther King Library under banners reading "Housing For All: A Vision for DC" and "No one is homeless, rent is affordable, residents aren't displaced, homeownership is possible." More than 300 people packed the library's Great Hall in a rally organized by the Housing For All Campaign, a project of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. The event focused on committing more resources to affordable housing programs and brought together a diverse range of residents and key political leaders in D.C., including Mayor Gray and Councilmembers Jack Evans (Ward 2) and Muriel Bowser (Ward 4).

Finding housing that is affordable has become more and more difficult for District residents. D.C.'s homeless population is growing, with the last count at nearly 7,000 adults and children without homes. For those who do have homes, many are paying an unsustainable amount on rent. One in five households in D.C. are paying more than half their income in housing, including 7,000 seniors. At the same time, housing programs have been hit hard by the recession and a series of budget cuts. There has been an air of inevitability about these cuts, with much talk from elected officials about "tough choices" and "can't have it all."

So it was refreshing to hear the elected officials that attended being clear in their support of housing programs, and the need to expand these programs to meet the need. Mayor Gray didn't offer any concrete solutions, but promised a big announcement at the State of the District Address on February 5. Programs he touted included the Local Rent Supplement Program and Housing Production Trust Fund, both programs with long histories of success that local housing advocates would be happy to see expanded. Councilmember Evans and Councilmember Bowser also highlighted the Housing Production Trust Fund, a program which has seen $36 million in cuts over the last two years, but can be used to address a myriad of housing needs.

The next few months will be critical for housing funding. The mayor-appointed Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force is scheduled to release its report in the next few weeks, and Mayor Gray will announce his housing plan as it relates to that report. The mayor will then submit his budget to the D.C. Council, which many hope will offer increased investments that make housing affordable to District residents. "It is time to act," said Bob Pohlman, Executive Director of CNHED. "More than a thousand newcomers are flooding into the District every month putting more and more pressure on the cost of housing. If we don't face this reality and act now, affordable housing will be out of reach for tens of thousands of D.C. residents."

Just a few weeks into January, housing has already become a key issue in 2013.