Bread for the City CEO George A. Jones testified before the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development on August 13th and 19th about the need for the next round of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to include competitive funding for community facilities. Below is a excerpt of his testimony, which has been submitted in its entirety to the public record.
Today, Washington, DC looks very different from the city that existed when Bread was founded in the mid-1970s. In many respects, the District is now a city of “haves” and “have nots” to an extreme that has never existed before. In one report, it was stated that the average household income in Ward 3 is $240,000, while the average household income in Ward 8 is $43,000. (The average BFC client has a household income of less than $7,000.)
DC has lost 50% of its affordable housing stock over the past decade. According to a recent report from the Urban Institute, by 2020 there will be 22,000 to 33,000 more households that need units at 30% (or less) of Area Mean Income (AMI), than there will be units. This is why a steady stream of people come to Bread each day seeking assistance in finding affordable rental units and access to our holistic array of programs: food, clothing, healthcare, social and legal services.
The struggle to afford housing in DC, and to easily access healthcare and food compels me to urge DHCD to prioritize the development of rental units that are affordable at 30% or less of AMI. I also urge you to assist with the development of facilities that can help those with low incomes access the kind of holistic services Bread for the City provides.
It is also important to note that the vast majority of those struggling to find affordable housing and who turn to organizations like Bread are people of color. There is a troubling socioeconomic divide that falls along racial lines in DC. This is the same kind of divide that has been at the epicenter of the cases of civil unrest that other major urban areas have experienced across the country. There still may be time for DC to proactively address the systemic issues that have fueled unrest in other parts of the country, but I fear that time is running out.
I applaud DHCD’s recent RFP, which specifically targets the creation of units at-or-below 50% of AMI, and look forward to seeing more evidence of your commitment to our neighbors living on very low incomes. While it seems clear that DHCD will provide immediate funding aimed at addressing the affordable housing crisis, it is less clear when or if the agency will provide Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds for new community facilities. Because of the link between housing needs and basic services needed by so many residents, I urge DHCD to offer a round of CDBG dollars, ASAP.
Recently, I mentioned to a client that we plan to build a new 25,000 square foot community center in Southeast DC. The new center would replace our current 9,000 square foot Good Hope Road facility that is bursting at the seams. “But,” the client asked, “shouldn’t we try to put ourselves out of business [rather than build a new Center]?” I quickly agreed with her premise, but I told her that until our city can adequately address the affordable housing crisis, the historic income disparity and double digit unemployment rates affecting people living East of the River, I’m afraid facilities like the one Bread plans to build will be vital resources for those trapped by those poverty statistics. The new Center will not only provide the food, clothing, legal, social and medical services we have offered for more than 40 years, but will also boast dental, wellness, and commercial retail space, while expanding our Pre-Employment Program. It will also provide ample space for our client-led classes, our community organizers, and community members with limited access to meeting space.
Ultimately, our hope is that we DO run out of business as the level of poverty doesn’t just move out of DC, but actually diminishes in a meaningful way. Perhaps at that time, this new facility can be re-purposed into a shopping center or housing.
In recent years, the DC government has created for the haves, a city that is pristine and laden with all the residential and commercial amenities that privilege could desire. Now is the time for DC to create equitable access to basic necessities like quality affordable housing and service enriched facilities so that all DC residents can enjoy life in DC.
Want to learn more about Bread’s new strategic plan and hopes for expansion? Email George directly at GJones@BreadfortheCity.org.