Strong DC Council resolution affirms Bread leaders’ public housing demands

In the first decade of DC’s experiment with public housing redevelopment, at least two of the New Community Initiative’s (NCI) four guiding principles have repeatedly been left by the wayside: Build First, and the right of residents to return to their communities.

A functional Build First would keep residents in quality affordable housing near their original homes during redevelopment; Right to Return would mean no new barriers on their ability to come back.

After a Public Roundtable on these issues last week that was powerfully charged by Bread for the City leaders’ testimony, the DC Council appears to be getting serious about a vision of NCI that truly works for public housing residents.

On February 2nd, less than a week after a dozen Bread leaders and staff testified on NCI, the Council unanimously introduced a resolution to:

“Define 100% Resident Success as ensuring that every resident has the opportunity to return and thrive as an important part of a new mixed-income community, has a clear and realistic path to return, and is offered the support required to do so.”

The rhetoric and urgency of the resolution seems to feed off of the powerful testimony given at the Jan 28th roundtable.

“I’m lucky to have a lawyer,” said Barry Farm resident Michelle Hamilton at the roundtable. “Many of my neighbors do not and are signing move-out agreements with no guaranteed right to move back to their homes. People should not have to get a lawyer in order to make sure they are able to return to their community. The right to come back should be standard for all families living in public housing.”

“When residents are coming back after redevelopment, please don’t discriminate because of criminal history, poor credit history, or family size,” said Chearie Phelps-El, client leader with Bread for the City. “Physical redevelopment should include mental redevelopment. Our communities can only grow together if everyone feels they’re being treated equally and fairly.”

The resolution echoes Phelps-El’s and many other Washingtonians’ sentiment:

“It is the sense of the Council that the DC Housing Authority formulate and implement a relocation rights strategy for DCHA residents… that includes… not creating screening requirements such as work or service minimums, criminal background requirements, credit checks, and drug testing that are more stringent than DCHA’s requirements for tenancy in traditional public housing.”

As the resolution gives root to legally binding legislation and strong oversight, we hope to see additions in at least two areas:

  • Debt forgiveness: Recognizing through the near-universal neglect of tenants’ living conditions – described as “deplorable” by Councilmember Elissa Silverman during the roundtable – that DCHA has not done its job as a landlord, and recognizing that heavy debt burdens serve only to evict and make residents homeless, New Communities should include a wiping of any outstanding rent debt.
  • Financial incentives for Right to Return: Recognizing that the good intentions of DC government are not enough to incentivize New Communities developers to bring residents back, all NCI contracts should promise full payment to developers only once all residents who wanted to return to their original neighborhoods have done so.

On February 10th, Bread for the City leaders will join other public housing residents at a meeting of DCHA’s Board of Commissioners to demand an NCI that truly serves them.

Want to know more about how you can stand in solidarity with residents? Follow us on Twitter and contact Client and Community Organizer Sam Jewler at!

Can DC redevelop public housing without displacing residents?

Public housing residents filled the room to testify at the DC Council on January 28th about the ways the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) has betrayed them through neglect and dereliction of duty as a landlord.

Tenants noted systemic housing code violations like rodents, mold, leaking plumbing, and holes in ceilings and floors, as well as DCHA’s unwillingness to respond to requests for service. Residents also testified to the warm memories and positive communalism they’ve loved about their public housing neighborhoods at their best.

These stories came out at a Public Roundtable on the New Communities Initiative (NCI) held at the John A Wilson Building, where about a dozen Bread for the City client leaders and staff testified, many for the first time.

Michelle Hamilton testifies on her experience in public housing

Michelle Hamilton testifies on her experience in public housing and the need for Right to Return

New Communities is DC’s redevelopment program intended to turn public housing into mixed-income housing, through transferring ownership from the city to private developers. As federal investment in public housing has dropped precipitously, the city has turned to this mixed-income model as a way to make housing for the very low-income more financially sustainable. NCI includes four DC neighborhoods: Barry Farm in Ward 8, Lincoln Heights – Richardson Dwelling in Ward 7, Northwest One in Ward 6, and Park Morton in Ward 1.

The problem is that, since the program’s start in 2004, many of the redevelopments have taken such a long time, or have been built with insufficient numbers of affordable units, that the original public housing residents have not been able to return. In some cases when they have returned, they’ve met new restrictions they didn’t face as original public housing residents.

Those restrictions have included barriers due to employment, credit ratings, or criminal history. In sum, the projects have resulted in the destruction of traditional public housing units, rather than their preservation for the long term, as the program promises.

Bread clients speak truth to power

Bread for the City clients gave some incredibly powerful testimony throughout the roundtable.

“I can’t afford to pay full market rent, and rely on public housing to live,” said Tyanna Dickey, who has three children as well as custody of her late sister’s three children. “There’s already so many people who are homeless. I was one of them, before I came to Barry Farms. I lived in DC Village where conditions were so bad they shut it down, and was thankful to have housing when I came off of the list and moved into Barry Farms. Imagine how mad I was when I arrived to find the conditions of Barry Farm were not much better than the ones I left.”

Dickey has had awful conditions there: a floor so soggy her 13-year-old fell through it, a bathtub so leaky you couldn’t bathe in it, and a bedbug problem the Housing Authority refused to resolve, forcing her to cough up $300 for it herself. Meanwhile, the Housing Authority is trying to evict her for a crime her grown son committed across the city – and she says they’re refusing to negotiate.

“If New Communities is able to build a Barry Farm that is healthy, safe, kid-friendly and most importantly, that I can afford,” Dickey said, “then I should have the right to live there.”

“I’m a returning citizen, but I’m not the same person I was in 1998 or 2006 when I got arrested,” said Bread client leader Chearie Phelps-El. “When residents are coming back after redevelopment, please don’t discriminate because of criminal history, poor credit history, or family size… Our communities can only grow together if everyone feels they’re being treated equally and fairly.”

Through discussions with resident leaders and other partners, Bread for the City’s housing advocacy campaign made seven demands of the city and the Housing Authority as they recommit to a New Communities Initiative without displacement:

  1. A real commitment to Build First, and when possible, building in phases. This means building nearby–or even on-site, affordable and dignified housing for residents where they can live while their homes are being redeveloped.
  2. A clearly stated and written date of eligibility for the right to return to the newly-developed property given to the resident. This date should be tied to something concrete, like the date of selection of a master developer for the project.
  3. Return criteria that maximize resident return, and prevent the “creaming” of residents that ultimately leads to displacement. This means no new criteria such as criminal background and credit checks, which ultimately restrict residents from returning to their redeveloped homes.
  4. In the mixed-income communities, public housing residents should be subject to the same rules as tenants at other public housing properties. High on the list in this category is that the Housing Authority continue to fund public housing resident leadership groups, especially since public housing residents will find themselves in the minority in the new developments.
  5. Residents of properties going through New Communities should have any outstanding rent debt wiped clean upon the initiation of the relocation process. DCHA is asking tenants to keep their end of the deal, while falling woefully short in so many of its obligations as DC’s biggest landlord.
  6. NCI and DCHA should partner with community organizations and other agencies to support residents during relocation.
  7. This strategy should be written down and codified.

During the roundtable, supporters from around the city tweeted with the hashtags #RightToStay and #DevelopWithDignity. One activist tweeted, “Public housing is most of DC’s last truly affordable housing. Don’t let New Communities mean MORE displacement.”

If you want to watch the hearing, see the video here. To be part of another big affordable housing hearing, join us this Thursday, February 4th, at 5pm at the Wilson Building for a hearing on protecting the rights of tenants at Congress Heights. And stay tuned for more opportunities!

Connecting Childhood Trauma and Diabetes

Research shows that those who experience trauma as a child have a greater likelihood of developing chronic health problems as an adult: diabetes, heart disease, COPD, and more.

Adverse Childhood Experiences – or ACE’s – refer to trauma that happens before the age of eighteen. Since the nervous system, hormonal system, etc. are all in development at these ages, they are more vulnerable to lasting damage from trauma.

As our CEO George Jones explained, “We have long known that early experiences of trauma— whether from physical violence or the complex suffering caused by poverty and racism— negatively impact a person’s whole health.”

TRAUMA-INFORMED PRIMARY CARE INITIATIVEAnd that is why we are proud to be one of fourteen community groups working with The National Council for Behavioral Health on the Trauma-Informed Primary Care Initiative. As part of this initiative, we launched a new trauma-informed care pilot last July to provide behavioral health supports to 50+ patients with uncontrolled diabetes.

The goal after nine months is to screen these patients for early trauma, and provide those who screen positive with case management support and brief, ego supportive therapy that teaches coping skills. The hope is that this trauma-informed behavioral health treatment, along with social services that help patients address their most basic needs, will help patients manage their diabetes. These efforts will also help Bread’s medical clinic explore additional ways that we can integrate a trauma-informed approach throughout the clinic–from front desk staff to doctors. And if it goes well, we will expand the model with a goal of universal screening of all our clients.

And beyond the life-saving care for the patients being treated, there are potentially significant cost savings to the larger health system when appropriate, comprehensive, and accessible care is provided to survivors of trauma. CNBC highlighted these findings in their January 21, 2016 piece, “Can treating past trauma lead to big US health savings?”

Cost savings aside, we are excited for what we are witnessing seven months into this initiative. We have screened and educated more than 50 patients on the impact of childhood trauma, empowering them to begin to heal old wounds that continue to impact them today. We have also redoubled efforts to educate our staff on trauma and on ways to best work with people who have experienced early childhood trauma–including providing appropriate space for reflection and self care to mitigate vicarious traumas’ impact on staff.

You can learn more about our integrated behavioral health model on some past blog posts here and here, and can learn more about the Trauma-Informed Primary Care Initiative, funded by Kaiser Permanente, on The National Council for Behavioral Health’s website.

Take a minute to support public housing residents today!

Since its inception in 2004, the locally funded New Communities Initiative (NCI) has struggled to differentiate itself from the many housing redevelopment programs known more for displacing low-income people than for improving their quality of life. But with a new mayor, a new DC Council Committee on Housing, and a new head of New Communities, the potential for change is in the air.

Can the new New Communities – DC’s public housing redevelopment program – be pulled off in a financially sustainable way, without displacing anyone or restricting them from returning to their homes with new post-development rules? Yes, if the people make our voices heard!

Today, Housing Committee Chairwoman Anita Bonds (D, At-Large) is hosting a Public Roundtable on the program, and a dozen Bread for the City client leaders and staffers will be there calling for equitable and dignified redevelopment.

Even if you can’t make it to the Wilson Building today, there are a few easy ways you can get involved:
  • Check out the hearing on the Council’s live feed here.
  • Email your thoughts on New Communities redevelopment to Council staffer
  • Join us on Twitter! Follow our new handle @BFCorganizing and tweet using the hashtags #RightToStay and #DevelopWithDignity, and consider using the sample tweets below:
Public housing is some of DC’s last truly affordable housing. Don’t let New Communities mean new displacement. #RightToStay


Make New Communities but keep the old; one is silver and the other is gold! @AnitaBondsDC


Thank you @AnitaBondsDC for looking into New Communities. Please start a new course for redeveloping public housing – no more displacement!


DC’s lost half of its affordable rental units since 2000. Make New Communities stem the tide rather than add to displacement. @AnitaBondsDC


40,000 Black Washingtonians have been displaced since 2000. Who will New Communities be for? #DevelopWithDignity


BFC Celebrates MLK Day Through Service!

MLK Day 1Bread for the City volunteers showed up in strong numbers on Monday, January 18th to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through two service projects!

At our NW Center, volunteers from Amalgamated Bank and Wiley Rein helped to sort and pack hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables, including sweet potatoes, cabbage, and onions, all of which are being distributed to clients through our food pantries this week.

Additionally at the offices of Skadden Arps, over 90 volunteers helped to pack 3,000 toiletry kits for our clients in one hour – amazing!

We thank the volunteers who contributed their time and energy to make the day of service a success!MLK Day






Thank you, WilmerHale!

As we close out Holiday Helpings and kick off 2016, we can’t tell you how grateful we are for all of our corporate and community partners. We do a lot here at Bread for the City, but none of it would be possible without awesome people backing us–like our friends at WilmerHale LLP!

For more than ten years, WilmerHale has supported us in so many ways. The firm has led the pack in its financial support of Bread for the City, and also through the staff’s commitment to our work.

Clothing room volunteers 1.9.16Year after year, the WilmerHale team rallies together to support Bread for the City by hosting an extraordinary Holiday Helpings fundraising drive. In 2015, they raised an incredible $35,000! On top of that, collecting boxes and boxes of much-needed items is a piece of cake for the WilmerHale team. This summer, they organized a fantastic toiletries drive and collected a whopping 1,586 items. Now that’s a lot of shampoo!

But they don’t stop there. Team WilmerHale spends their time sorting mountains of clothing donations, harvesting at City Orchard, packing food in our pantries, and, of course, providing hours and hours and hours of pro bono legal support that allows us to fulfill our mission of service with dignity and respect.

WilmerHale, our partnership means so much to us.  Many thanks for all that you do to support Bread for the City!

Thanks for an amazing Holiday Helpings season!

With our Holiday Helpings campaign now closed, we can’t tell you how proud we are of our staff, volunteers, donors, and community partners. Together, we provided 10,021 free holiday meals–we’re talking turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, AND sweet potatoes straight from City Orchard–for our clients to enjoy at home. How awesome is that?!

During Holiday Helpings 2015, 387 volunteers worked alongside staff to serve our clients with dignity and respect, and we raised more than $400,000 for our Food Program. WOW!

031It takes a village to make this work possible, and we’re particularly grateful for the 100+ corporate and community partners who rallied together to sponsor Holiday Helpings and coordinate company-wide drives.

From companies large and small, to nonprofit and elementary school groups, to neighbors and BFC staff members, our supporters came out in force to spread the word about Bread for the City’s good work. A special “thanks” goes out to our top Holiday Helpings fundraisers: WilmerHale LLP, Perkins Coie LLP, Alston & Bird LLP, Jones Day, Dickstein Shapiro LLP, Wiley Rein LLP, and Bates White.

Tough times do not rid our clients of the desire to share in the joys of the holiday season. Thank you for helping us ensure that these traditions are available to all!


Barriers to Obtaining Identifying Documents: Potential Solutions (Post 4 of 4)

In spring 2015, Kathleen Stephan, Community Resource and Quality Assurance Coordinator, began looking into why so many Bread for the City clients were suddenly struggling to obtain an ID. This blog series explores how the system disadvantages people of color living in poverty, and proposes possible improvements to policies that are currently preventing many DC residents from obtaining identification documents.

We’ve explored how DMV policies favor applicants with personal wealth, documented employment and private, stable housing privilege – and how this disproportionately impacts people of color in DC.  There are however, some potential policies that agencies could adopt in order to rectify these barriers:

Ask the DMV to expand the list of acceptable proofs of eligibility — Other REAL ID compliant jurisdictions accept more expansive proofs of social security number and DC residency.  Several states allow applicants to prove their residency with proof of public assistance (like food stamps or Medicaid enrollment), rent receipts, or letters from transitional housing programs. In some states, recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can already use Social Security Administration documents or their Medicare cards as proof of Social Security Number. Implementing similar policies in DC would expand access for those in need.

Part 4_ Barriers to Obtaining IDs - Potenial SolutionsAsk the DMV to collaborate with with key agencies serving communities that have difficulty securing identity documents — Some government programs may already have verified participants’ information before they receive services.  The DMV currently has such an arrangement with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  The DMV should explore more relationships in order to lower the runaround for marginalized groups that are already closely linked with government services.  

Expand the DMV (ID, license) and DC Vital Records (birth certificate) fee waiver program for anyone whose income falls below the poverty line — A means-based, fee waiver program (cost is waived for anyone with proof of being below a certain income threshold) would lower the financial barrier to obtaining identifying documentation. Employers, housing programs and even education systems require proof of identity – creating a waiver would go a long way to assisting those in need with moving forward.

Read Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3!


Barriers to Obtaining Identifying Documents: Stable Private Housing (Post 3 of 4)

In spring 2015, Kathleen Stephan, Community Resource and Quality Assurance Coordinator, began looking into why so many Bread for the City clients were suddenly struggling to obtain an ID. This blog series explores how the system disadvantages people of color living in poverty, and proposes possible improvements to policies that are currently preventing many DC residents from obtaining identification documents.

The DC Department of Motor Vehicles is authorized to issue IDs and driver’s licenses to current DC residents. Their policies favor applicants with stable, independent housing over individuals experiencing housing instability &/or homelessness.

In the midst of a severe housing crisis, the DMV’s policies have limited official recognition of DC residency to individuals who possess the privilege of a private address. In DC this continues to impact people of color, particularly black residents, at much higher rates than white residents. The 2015 Point in Time Homelessness Survey notes that African Americans comprise 29% of the DC regional total population, but 72.3% of single adults and 84.9% of adults in families experiencing homelessness.ID policies

The extreme housing crisis in DC has been well documented; thousands of DC residents are living on the street, in shelters, staying doubled up in overcrowded homes, or ‘couch surfing’ with friends and family from night to night. However, the DMV approved proofs of residency are almost entirely based on owning or renting private property: approved home lines of equity, home security system bill, property insurance, property tax bill, and a deed, mortgage or settlement for residential property, a lease, or utility and telephone bills.

The DC DMV requires that someone applying for an ID be able to prove that they are linked to a physical address in DC. If someone cannot provide private proof of residency they are directed to use the address of an approved social services agency. Unfortunately, there are less than twelve approved groups that are appropriately set up to receive and process anyone’s mail. This process is cumbersome and limits client choice in how to receive their mail.

It’s important to have access to a valid, government issued identity card. Without an ID, the most marginalized DC residents face additional barriers to accessing crucial resources. An ID may be required when applying for housing or employment, opening a bank account, registering for school, and even entering many government buildings. The current system is not serving all DC residents. As long as many of the documents an individual needs to prove their identity are linked to wealth, employment, and stable housing, the system continues to unfairly limit access to identity documents for poor black residents in DC.

*Continue Reading: Part 1, Part 2


Barriers to Obtaining Identifying Documents: Documented Employment (Post 2 of 4)

In spring 2015, Kathleen Stephan, Community Resource and Quality Assurance Coordinator, began looking into why so many Bread for the City clients were suddenly struggling to obtain an ID. This blog series explores how the system disadvantages people of color living in poverty, and proposes possible improvements to policies that are currently preventing many DC residents from obtaining identification documents.

Privilege makes it easier to build an officially recognized ID paper trail. I’m still me and you’re still you without bank statements, pay statements, and a current lease, but the system wasn’t built to recognize someone without them.

The identifying documents system gives greater access to those with documented employment.

In 2014, DC had an annual average unemployment rate of 2.9% for white residents and 15.4% for black residents. In 2015 DC had the highest unemployment rate for people of color in the entire country. Yet, in this economic environment, three of four allowed proofs of Social Security number at the DC DMV are tied to employment (federal tax documents, pay statements). We need to be purposeful about examining policies to make sure that they do not create or perpetuate unjust barriers for people and communities of color. At Bread for the City, we call that our Racial Equity Lens.

These policies also impact residents receiving non-employment based income. For example, many elderly and/or disabled individuals rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to meet their needs. SSI is a financial benefit, based on age or disability, that is available to US citizens and qualifying immigrants with little to no income. Recipients do not receive annual tax forms or pay statements and the DMV does not currently accept their proof of benefits as proof of Social Security number. This privileging of employment based on income very often leaves an SSI recipient with no way to obtain an ID. unemployment rate


*Continue Reading: Part 1, Part 3