What does political will to end homelessness in DC look like? Not this.

Below is an excerpt from a blog originally posted at The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

“Ending homelessness just takes political will.” – Mayor Muriel Bowser

This simple, and in our view, correct, statement came from Mayor Bowser at the March 18th affordable housing rally organized by The Way Home Campaign and the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED). Mayor Bowser uttered these words before hundreds of rally attendees, many of whom have faced or are facing homelessness and housing insecurity. Only a few weeks later, her words ring hollow. On April 4th Mayor Bowser unveiled her Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget proposal (“DC values in action, a road to inclusive prosperity”) which leads us to conclude that she does not possess the political will to end homelessness in the District of Columbia.

DC coffers are flush with cash. DC expects to have an additional $600 million in FY18, as compared to FY17. Of that $600 million, the Mayor’s budget proposes adding only around $8.7 million to permanent affordable housing programs that end homelessness. That’s just 1.5% of DC’s extra money. As Fair Budget Coalition states: “Instead, the Mayor has prioritized $18.8 million in tax cuts for estates worth between $1-5 million, $23.8 million in tax breaks for businesses, and invests almost $400 million to support development projects like DC Streetcar, a new Wizards practice facility, and luxury condominiums at McMillan Park over the critical human needs of District residents.”

The Mayor knows how to end homelessness. The Bowser Administration finalized and adopted this plan to end homelessness by 2020: Homeward DC. Mayor Bowser said it best in her introduction to the plan in 2015:
“When I entered office on January 2, the District’s homeless crisis was at the top of my priority list. I knew this was a problem that could not be fixed overnight.


A letter to Mayor Bowser: We are proud to be a Sanctuary City

Below is a letter penned by DC Fair Budget Coalition (signed by Bread for the City) and sent to Mayor Bowser and the Council of The District of Columbia asking them to keep DC a safe sanctuary city.

Fair Budget logoIn the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the residents of the District of Columbia—who overwhelmingly opposed the presidency of Donald Trump—are shaken and deeply concerned about the future of this country and of this city. Multiple communities, including Black people, Latinx, and other people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community have already seen a significant increase in assaults, hate crimes, and a general sentiment of hatred and bias.

President Trump not only promulgated racist, misogynist, and xenophobic rhetoric throughout his campaign, but he has now appointed individuals to serve in his cabinet with long, proven track records of openly oppressing marginalized people. On January 25th, 2017, he signed an Executive Order that threatens to strip the District of federal funding because of its status as a Sanctuary City. Additional, there is a very real possibility that federal policy and budget decisions will threaten to destroy our already inadequate social safety net for generations to come, including the repeal of The Affordable Care Act. We, as a city and as a society, all depend on this safety net in various ways throughout our day-to-day lives; however low-income people, seniors, and a disproportionate share of people of color are particularly vulnerable and would experience the most dire consequences.

We, the DC Fair Budget Coalition and all signatories of this letter, are prepared to resist these threats. We are proud of being a Sanctuary City, and we appreciate your reinforcement of that commitment. The District of Columbia should be a safe place for all people to live and work, particularly people of color who have been historically disenfranchised and targeted by discriminatory policies. We strongly urge you to affirm your willingness to fight to protect DC residents—and all who dwell, work, and visit here—against the threats that will likely soon come.

Our city has a long and proud legacy of being a national leader on civil rights, workers’ rights, immigrant rights, women’s reproductive health, and LGBTQ rights. As the nation’s capital, DC needs to maintain this standard and never waver in our steadfastness to protect our safety net, or in our determination to fight for our residents, particularly those who face the greatest threats under this administration. This includes fighting for the District’s right to create and enforce our own laws, as well as manage our own budget without undue federal influence. We trust that you are prepared to lead this fight.

Now is the time to invest in policies that will ensure that all people and families have the social, physical, and financial security that they need to navigate the immediate and long-term impacts of a Trump Presidency. As a first step, we ask that you, our elected leadership, pledge to replace any federal dollars—taken from public housing or other affordable housing, homeless services, healthcare, public benefits, transportation, education, workforce development, women’s healthcare, or any other of the vital services our residents depend upon—with local funds.

That may ultimately require a significant output of local dollars, however we believe you could raise additional revenues by taking some of the following measures:

  • Increase corporate tax rates for multi-national and multi-state corporations operating in the District;
  • Withdraw all subsidies and abatements from developers and corporations doing business in the District who are not complying with local hiring and affordable housing requirements or wage and other labor laws;
  • Eliminate District subsidies for housing providers and property owners who operate housing units with substandard or unlawful living conditions;
  • Increase taxes on developers building luxury and high-end condominiums;
  • Revisit the tax cut triggers that automatically spend any increased revenue over 3% on tax cuts;
  • Reconsider subsidized development projects that do not meet basic resident needs like the streetcar, soccer stadium, and Wizard’s practice facility;
  • Consider using money from the fund balance and reserve;
  • Raise taxes on wealthy individuals and families, particularly those whose federal income tax rates may be lowered in the next federal budget;

We strongly oppose any local dollars being spent towards the opening or operation of Muslim registration centers. We expect you to ensure that our local police do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement that may break up families or that targets racial/ethnic groups or religious communities and that you will support efforts to protect these communities against dangerous immigration raids.

The Fair Budget Coalition will release our Budget Report in February 2017. In this report, we will outline a list of investments DC can make that are critical to protecting low-income residents and people of color within the District. Now, more than ever, we must double down on our commitment to addressing the fundamental racial, economic, and social inequity in our city and ensuring that everyone who lives and works in DC has access to basic necessities and can feel safe throughout the city.

Amidst the echoes of the chant to “Drain the Swamp,” we have an opportunity to show the country and the world the true character of our great city. We urge you to demonstrate your leadership and fight for DC and all of its residents.

Delay the TANF Time Limit Cut & Protect 6,000 Vulnerable Families

In 2011, the District announced that it would implement lifetime time limits for receipt of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

TANF is a federal benefit intended to provide income assistance, job training, and other services to low-income families with children. Before 2011, D.C. used local money to continue to provide the benefit for needy families even after they reached the 60-month limit covered by federal dollars.

After a series of gradual reductions, by October 2015 the District plans to terminate all TANF benefits for households who have received TANF for more than 60 months over the course of their lives. Without further action, more than 13,000 children in the District will fall deeper into poverty.tanf

At the outset, it’s important to remember that TANF is a benefit that is only available for qualifying families with children. Bread for the City is concerned about this “TANF cliff” and the effects it will have on our clients and their children.

Families who have received TANF for more than 60 months have already suffered several reductions since 2011—a family of three that has received TANF for more than 60 months now receives a maximum monthly amount of $153; compared to a maximum of $434 per month for a family of three who has received TANF for less than 60 months.

Bread for the City has joined with a number of local organizations to ask the D.C. Council to delay this final cut for another year. Delaying the “TANF cliff” will give Mayor Bowser’s new administration time to improve services and design a reasonable time limit policy.

TANF is not a “handout” program. The government is supposed to provide support and services to TANF recipient families to help them reach self-sufficiency. While the District has taken steps to improve the program, there are still gaps in the screening process used to determine what services families need to become self-sufficient. Some families may need only job search assistance, and some may face serious barriers to employment, such as physical and mental health problems, low cognitive functioning, and low levels of education.

Some of these barriers, such as domestic violence, allow TANF recipients to “stop the clock” while they get services and support that will help them to move forward with their lives. In our experience, even with the improved screening process, domestic violence survivors have not always been directed to the appropriate services, which would exempt them from counting time against their 60-month lifetime limit.

Even for families who do not qualify for an exemption, many reached their 60 months before recent improvements in employment screening and services were put into place. Imposing the time limit now is unfair because many families still have not had the opportunity to receive the services they need to succeed.

Our clients use TANF primarily for rent, though even the maximum TANF benefit does not go far in D.C.’s costly housing market. For those families that do not need to use their entire TANF benefit amount on rent, TANF goes towards transportation costs, personal hygiene items, diapers, and clothing. We anticipate more housing instability and clients unable to cover their basic needs if the final cut is not extended.

Additionally, families who are cut off TANF will not only lose the (already reduced) money, they will also lose the job training and other support services (since they will no longer be TANF recipients, they won’t qualify for those other programs). So they will really be left with nothing–neither money nor support services.

Join Bread for the City and Mayor Bowser in asking the D.C. Council to delay the “TANF cliff” for a year.

The Bread for the City Legal Clinic’s work is funded, in part, by the DC Bar Foundation /DC Legal Services Grant Program – Private Grants.