To Achieve True Public Safety, Bread for the City Demands DC Council Prioritize Investments in Affordable Housing over Policing

This post was written by Erin Shields. Erin is a Community Organizer with Bread for the City’s Community Lawyering Project.

In the midst of a housing, homelessness and displacement crisis, the DC government is spending about three times as much on jails and policing as it is spending on housing. Bread for the City organizers and community members demand the council prioritize funding for affordable housing in the city.

On Tuesday, Councilmember Vincent Gray along with co-introducers Jack Evans (Ward 2), Trayon White (Ward 8), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Anita Bonds (At-large), and co-sponsor Mary Cheh (Ward 3), filed emergency legislation to increase funding to DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) by nearly $63 million. Submitted as emergency legislation, the bill would double select police officers’ salaries in efforts to keep them on the force.

In response to more than $60 million proposed by Councilmember Vincent Gray for increased Metropolitan Police Department salaries, Bread for the City amplifies community members’ demand that the DC Council rethink what true public safety means in the District.

Recent studies show that access to immediate, permanent, low-barrier supportive housing is associated with decreased time in jail, as well as reduced use of emergency medical services. Numerous studies show that homelessness increases the likelihood of recidivism. When people have access to basic needs such as housing and jobs, crime rates fall and our city becomes safer.

Out of a $13 billion FY17 budget, DC is spending $235 million of local funds on affordable housing, compared to approximately $700 million on jailing and police programs, infrastructure and staff. Though Mayor Bowser’s commitment of $235 million is more than her predecessors have spent on housing, it still is not nearly enough to stem the housing crisis for tens of thousands of DC residents in communities of color, and certainly not enough to make good on Bowser’s promise to end chronic homelessness.

Ultimately, we must begin to consider the government’s investments not on the basis of what has been done in the past, but rather, we must demand investments that move us closer to meeting the actual need–a number closer to $5 billion. Homelessness is killing people. The People for Fairness Coalition has held vigil for nearly 100 homeless individuals who have died on the street. It is not enough for this Council to simply invest more than previous administrations. A billion dollar crisis will require annual investments of hundreds of millions of dollars. The District government needs a plan that will get it to the point of making the necessary investments in deeply affordable housing, and spending $63 million on incarceration and policing does not move the city any closer to its goal of housing all of its residents.

Last Fall, residents facing homelessness or housing instability and their supporters, rallied to demand greater support from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s FY2018 DC budget. The residents spoke out about their negative experiences with incarceration and housing struggles, and decried a city budget that puts three times more money into jails and police than affordable housing. They called on the mayor to put more money into housing – vouchers, construction and preservation – than she puts into jails and police. How the government spends our money is a good way to tell what their priorities are – what does DC’s budget tell us? They aren’t invested in our futures; they’re invested in our incarceration.

Bread for the City amplifies community members’ demand that the DC’s Council rethink what true public safety means in the District. Safety is dignified housing, access to preventative healthcare, jobs with living wages, and access to healthy food. Bread for the City community leaders call on the DC Council to treat affordable housing with an urgency matching the intensity of the housing crisis in people’s everyday lives.

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, written and spearheaded by At-large Councilmember Anita Bonds, 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 sjewler@breadforthecity.org!

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 omontiel@dccouncil.us.
  • 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

CAPL_@_WASHJEFF.EDU / CREATIVE COMMONS