It’s Freezing Outside. Why did Charles Allen Just Vote to Limit Housing for the Homeless?

Rapid Rehousing is DC’s most acclaimed program for easing family homelessness. Through this program, DC provides temporary rent subsidies, typically for four months to a year, to homeless parents. This allows them to move into apartments with their children.

Residents utilizing the Rapid Rehousing program are required to pay between 40 and 60 percent of their income towards the monthly rent of an apartment or house, with the city picking up the rest. This gives families time to get back on their feet financially so they can keep the apartments after their subsidies are terminated.

In May 2017, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless published a 37-page report titled, “Set Up to Fail—Rapid Re-Housing in the District of Columbia”. The report outlined the program’s failure to meet its goals, explaining that it is cycling vulnerable people back into shelters or on to the street. Analyzing the experiences of over 100 families in the program, as well as data provided by the Department of Human Services and national sources, the Washington Legal Clinic concluded that homeless families in rapid re-housing struggle with housing conditions, are severely rent-burdened, and often are sued in eviction court while they are in the program. 

Additionally, the numbers show that the program is failing to truly help the people it intends to serve, since housing costs in DC far surpass monthly incomes for many homeless families, many of whom face gaps in education and employment that make it difficult for them to find and keep jobs that pay enough to afford market-rate rent. These families need more help from us, not less.

Councilmember Trayon White proposed an amendment to the Homeless Services Reform Act of 2017, which would expand the Rapid Rehousing program from 12 months to 18 months, in order to give families a fighting chance to remain in their apartments long enough to finding their footing.

The amendment failed by one vote. Charles Allen voted no.

Mr. Allen attempted to justify his shameful vote by questioning the fiscal impact of the amendment. In 2017, the rapid rehousing program is serving 135 individuals and 1,358 families (more than 4,000 children) at a cost of almost $35 million. Extending the program benefit by 50 percent would, presumably, increase costs by a similar number – in this case approximately $17 million. Alleged uncertainty regarding a $17 million expenditure was enough for Charles Allen to vote against expanded access to housing for our most vulnerable residents. Yet, shortly thereafter, he voted to provide a $36 million benefit to a developer who wants to build a parking lot.

The program needs improvements, and as a matter of basic human decency the apartments our city provides must be safe, clean, and livable. Yet, despite its limitations, the Rapid Rehousing program is providing homeless residents with an opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty, and provide a stable life for their families. Removing or limiting this program leaves families with no housing.

I have never met a Ward 6 neighbor who would vote against giving money to homeless neighbors, only to turn around and give twice as much to a wealthy developer, yet that’s exactly what our council member did. Given the number of developer executives on his political donor list, it is no surprise to see him vote against the interests of the most vulnerable members of our community while simultaneously diverting our tax dollars to wealthy developers.

We are better than this. On June 19, we have a chance to show it.