Thursday, October 23, 2014

Are plans to close DC General really going to solve the homeless crisis or just concentrate it east of the river?

The Advoc8te feels like death warmed over but I had to share this latest article from Aaron Wiener of  the Washington City Paper about the city's plans to close D.C. General and open smaller shelters around the city. I know I am not the only one who cringes when they hear DC government come up with a new "solution" to some unsightly problem -- because 9 times out of 10 that "solution" is based east of the river. If west of the river should ever come up with a motto it should say, "stays winning."

Who here DOESN'T think that most (if not all) of these new shelters are going to be located east of the Anacostia river? We know good and well that a developer/landlord west of the river in a hot (or even lukewarm) neighborhood is less likely to accept a 10 or 20 year lease to use their property as a homeless shelter. No one wants to lock themselves into that type of limited revenue if they even think they could do better on the open market. The only landlords this appeals to are east of the river slum landlords and the nonprofits that apply for grants to do work here.  As I look out of my window I can count five subsidized housing projects and group homes yet we only have one grocery store in all of Ward 8 and very few job opportunities.

Washington City Paper reporter, Aaron Wiener hits the nail on the head with this excerpt from today's article:

Is the plan to move people out of poverty or just move the poverty out of sight?

What would happen if government officials and agencies came up with REAL SOLUTIONS to these problems instead of just warehousing them or exporting them over the Anacostia river? If we as a city are really and truly dedicated to ending generational poverty wouldn't we move unemployed/underemployed people closer to jobs instead of further away?  Wouldn't we move those lacking a solid education closer to quality educational opportunities? Wouldn't we move families lacking good role models closer to healthy communities that can lead by example? When half of the families in DC General are headed by a single mother under the age of 24 why aren't we investing in proactive family planning and on the job child-care? It may not be politically correct but it would be practical.

DC we have a problem and it is not just housing.  Our priorities are all screwed up! We will give away millions of dollars in tax abatements and incentives for private companies (with deep pockets) to move in to "hot" neighborhoods but we can't "afford" to invest in low-income housing in neighborhoods that can absorb them and in the process get those families closer to self sufficiency. If our priorities were in order, the first Walmart to have opened in DC would have been east of the river where people need entry level jobs (even if Walmart is not the perfect solution). If Congress Heights residents have to cope with living in a food dessert, I am sure H street residents could have coped with not being able to buy toilet paper in bulk for a little while longer. As I write this, I am reminded that yesterday I had to order my groceries online for delivery because there wasn't a grocery store or food option near my home.

Why are we subsidizing what the private sector will do for free?! Why aren't we investing the money now into combating generational and concentrated poverty? Why are we pushing low-income families to the outskirts of the city? Why should west of the river landlords do what DC government is not prepared to do with their own properties -- forgo big upfront profits for the greater good? It's not just the humanitarian thing to do it is the smart thing to do -- we need to increase our tax base. Let's do that by moving people off of welfare and into living wage jobs. 

Is it any surprise that tenants in the Rapid Rehousing program have to move after the subsidy runs out?  People need jobs (preferably ones that pay a living wage)  -- and right now most DC jobs are located west of the river yet most (if not all) of the rapid rehousing properties are located east of the river -- in neighborhoods with the highest unemployment. 

The landlords get paid (at least for a while) and shelter residents get to live in an apartment (until they get evicted for nonpayment) and then the cycle repeats itself. As I write this I know several families in the apartment across the street in the rapid rehousing program who are in the process of being evicted already (some because of non-payment of rent, others for lease violations like fighting and drug dealing).

We are setting these families up for failure. Who is really winning here?!

The only people winning with these failed policies are the poverty pimps and boy are they winning big. The apartment building across the street from my house has been more than happy to accept the city's rapid rehousing dollars but the property management company won't invest in a part-time security guard, despite regular physical and verbal fights between their rapid rehousing tenants. When I asked the property management company to hire a $12/hour security guard after the latest brawl (see video above) they looked at me like I was crazy and then asked me to leave their office (which was located west of the river). 

I know these are complicated issues and the solutions aren't going to be easy but neither are they going to be cheap -- at least not in the short-term. But that shouldn't matter if we really are committed to giving every willing and able DC resident an opportunity to succeed. And lets be frank, some of these families have deeper issues than the lack of "affordable" housing, they have additional challenges that need to be addressed and all the low-income housing in the world isn't going to transform them. Problem tenants are problem tenants regardless of the cost of the rent.  Relisha Rudd's parental figures (because lord knows they weren't parents) are a perfect example of the challenges facing some of these families, some who have spent generations in the system. 

DC, stop saying you are committed to affordable housing for all yet you only want to put the affordable and low-income housing in places where the land is cheap (like east of the river). DC, stop selling your government owned properties in "hot" neighborhoods to private developers for luxury condos then sending the low-income housing requirement east of the river where there are no jobs or basic resources. Let's stop pretending that everyone is playing by the same rules when we know the deck is stacked against us.

If we were playing by the same rules some west of the river neighborhoods wouldn't have five new grocery stores and Ward 8 still only has one grocery store for 70,000+ residents. Stop looking at east of the river as the backyard, spare closet, and dumping ground of failed public policy.  Housing advocates, stop falling for the okie doke! Look at where the money is being spent. Look at where people are being pushed to and why.

Maybe it is time for a new plan? Improve the quality of life east of the river and make it attractive for more investment and more working class residents who can support new businesses that can lead to more employment opportunities here. Invest in new jobs, businesses, amenities, quality education, and public transportation in Ward 7 and Ward 8.  Then promote that investment, show people interested in living in DC that east of the river is a great place to live and should be considered! And thus, decrease the sky-high demand for the same trendy neighborhoods  west of the river that are pushing out low-income and working class families. Let's invest in JOBS east of the river and not just more low-income rental housing and transitional housing programs. Provide a path for low-income families to become self-sufficient so they can move from living in the shelter, to becoming responsible renters to empowered homeowners. Because if we do not move some of our lower and middle income residents into homeownership now they stand an increased chance of being "pushed out" in the future --- only this time there will be pushed right out of the district all together. 

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is just madness.

Unless that was "the plan" all along. 

P.S. The Advoc8te totally expects that this post is going to result in some name calling, controversy and accusations of being a cruel gentrifier. 


ron-g said...

Love your post! You're only speaking the truth. It's time to remove our East of the Anacostia River elected officials out of office.

Anonymous said...

This is all well and good, but this is pie in the sky idealism. Why should we house the homeless in U street or DuPont Circle when I can't afford to live there? Or should the plan be to place all of this planned housing in the up and coming neighborhoods of Ward 4 and Ward 1, which would significantly stifle improvement in those neighborhoods. You admit that crime and drug dealing are associated with the Rapid rehousing, but of which can bring the death of a neighborhood.
And why would Walmart want to build a store in Ward 8? They are not running a charity. The people who live there don't have enough people with money to keep it profitable and people from other places are not going to shop in that neighborhood.
And you ask for the city to invest in jobs and development east of the river. The only way to pay for this is to grow the tax base by having affluent people move into the trendy neighborhoods instead of Arlington or Bethesda. And these people do not want to live in a crime ridden neighborhood.
This is a complicated issue, and I agree that investment needs to be put east of the river.
But you are not going to do it by killing your tax base and placing people in areas they could not afford to live in otherwise. That is what's unsustainbale in the long run.

Mari said...

The DC Government owns a lot of property west of the River, but a lot of it is in bad shape. What few parcels the city is willing to give up to developers has to have a percentage (30%-20%?) dedicated to 'affordable housing.' This type of housing is not the kind of housing for the kinds of folks found in DC General. One has to have an income, so it is not an option to deal with the homelessness problem.
You said it right when only the poverty pimps are winning, and they will keep winning because we keep buying what they are selling.
People need jobs, but people need to be employable. DC schools have failed residents when we fail to give skills people can use in the marketplace. Not just the how to do X (VAC, office work, etc) but how to stay employed by not mouthing off, showing up to work high, calling in to say you're going to be late/not there.

SWag said...

unfortunately, every city needs a "Ward 8". dc has a horrible homeless issue, and we REALLY need to start addressing it. there is NO reason we should allow our fellow humans of ANY background to suffer through the cold. with no food. it's inhumane. I have friends and family who work with the homeless, and it's really sad what they have to put up with. if dc has a responsibility to house lower income residents - who often don't reciprocate value to their surrounding neighborhoods - then we should have a responsibility to house the homeless.

with that being said, where else can DC put all of the homeless? DC General in its current condition will literally crumble soon. so where can we quickly find already built buildings with low vacancy rates? with lower monthly rents? you guessed it.

Ward 8 is an unfortunate necessity. over time this will change, but not because Ward 8 itsself will experience a a renaissance, but because there is literally no more space WotR.

and i don't blame any of Ward 8's problems on the residents. (well I shouldn't say any - but not the majority). a lot of it is systematic. and lack of funding. but DC's hands are tied. and as everyone else mentioned. they certainly aren't going to start putting homeless people in Logan Circle...

Anonymous said...

First of all, thank you for posting that video of Oakwood St SE! I saw quite a few places go up for sale over the past year there and wondered what the problem was.

Now on to rapid rehousing. That is the biggest joke ever. I went to the kickoff for the mayor's push to house 500 families in a short amount of time. They sell you wolf tickets about how you will be paid on time, provided inspection assistance, etc, but the glossed over the fact that while the tenant signs a one year lease, the tenant's funding is only guaranteed in short increments, not to exceed 4 months. Given this, if the city decides not to renew someone or that person just fails to apply for renewal, you will get no rent and will become a fixture in rent court. Why would the city trap people that are homeless into making a 12 month financial obligation when both the city and the renter both have no idea when the renter will be able to land a job that pays adequate wages to afford the rent?

The city does have an excellent program with UDC entitled Workforce Development, that trains residents in multiple career fields, giving them national certifications, etc. However, this program is not linked to any job placement program. If the city is serious about making a strong effort to eradicate homelessness, bridge the gap and reserve a percentage of DC government entry level jobs for people that complete the Workforce Development program. The WD program is free of charge and if vacant positions in DC government were reserved for WD graduates, that is as clear a path as any to bring the homeless back up into the financially able, taxpayer status.

Ward 8 he also needs a real councilman. I am disgusted with he lack of results coming out of that seat. We need to engage our youth that are new voters and all of the e siting voting demographics in our area on the importance of holding local government office holders accountable.

I cannot be mad at those that live in Georgetown, Logan Circle, Van Ness, etc. They would not tolerate one iota of the shit that Ward 8's constituents have tolerated for decades. When will we ever collectively wake the hell up?

Anonymous said...

Truth be told it's time to make the DNC here in D.C. actually work for our votes and tax dollars. We have been seeing the same failed policies and broken social contracts for to long now. Maybe the RNC has a point about breaking out of the DNC poverty cycle. This is absolutely sickening how we are treated as second class residents due to an area code.