New Initiative to Help Families Experiencing Homelessness Find Quality, Affordable Housing

Photo by PoPville flickr user John Sonderman

From Mayor Bowser’s office:

“Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser, Acting Director of the DC Department of Human Services (DHS) Laura Zeilinger, and Interagency Council on Homelessness Director Kristy Greenwalt held a press conference at the Virginia Williams Resource Center to announce an innovative initiative to help homeless families find quality, affordable housing.

The initiative allocates funding for a variety of programs designed to help families exit homelessness by providing the services and financial assistance needed to regain stability in housing.

The District will assemble a team of leasing specialists, inspectors, social service professionals as “housing navigators” who are charged with identifying housing opportunities and matching units to clients based on need.

“As part of my Administration’s effort to end homelessness, we are launching an initiative to help give families who experience homelessness a fresh start. We will bring on professionals to increase the District’s capacity to quickly connect families experiencing homelessness to housing opportunities in the private market,” said Mayor Bowser. “Family homelessness is a city-wide problem that affects every part of our city. We will make sure families experiencing homelessness have the resources they need to find quality, affordable housing. My administration is committed to tackling homelessness head-on: we will end family homelessness in the District by 2018, and all homelessness by 2025.”

The team will work to quickly connect families to housing opportunities by:

· Reducing the length of time that families experience homelessness
· Alleviating the need for overflow shelter capacity at motels
· Improving the District’s capacity to meet the needs of families who are experiencing homelessness

“We know that when a family experiences homelessness, leadership is critical in putting the right resources together to provide a smart, effective response. Often, this does not fall within the lines of one city agency, and that’s why we are taking a comprehensive approach to combat this issue,” said Acting DHS Director Laura Zeilinger.

The formation of this team will increase the District’s capacity to work across agencies to specifically place families experiencing homelessness in a permanent home. This team will engage landlords, help to complete timely inspection of properties, ensure that housing meets quality standards, negotiate rents and expedite the processing of paperwork to identify housing that is appropriate to meet the needs of families.”

13 Comment

  • Can someone more knowledgeable chime in on whether finding an apartment is the primary constraint? My understanding is that affording an apartment after the city’s subsidy ends is the issue, not identifying apartments.

    • I am hardly more knowledgeable, but imagine that one issue is being able to identify where there may be affordable, subsidized or otherwise affordable units around town. Although it’s obviously a very different situation, I think Friday Girl’s home search is an example of how challenging it can be to just figure out where you might be able to live for a certain price. It would be a huge service if the city had some kind of database or map with these properties on it and could use it to help people find matching homes. I imagine it’s especially tough to do a search like this on your own if you don’t have regular internet access, for example.

      • There actually is a database, but it doesn’t list all housing options — each property has to submit their own listing. And there are some listings on that database where the MINIMUM income requirement is in the $50,000s. I think there probably are problems matching affordable housing with people who are truly in poverty, and I think Sarah’s point is also valid. Additionally, even individuals who are VERY low income are concerned about safety and may be resistant to living in certain communities (for example, if they have children) — so “quality” is really a key word in that above press statement. Very curious about whether this initiative will actually be successful.

    • I rented 3 apts. to low-income/section 8/other program tenants for about 15 years – so I do have some insight. The problems are:

      1. Tenants experience homelessness because they aren’t able – for a variety of reasons – to which I am compassionate, but realistic – to function in the “real world.” When you rent them an apt. those issues come with them. You can rent to a mom with 2 kids with a voucher – but then her brother/cousin/ex-boyfriend/current boyfriend/boyfriend’s cousin/brother’s girlfriend and their 3 kids and 4 grandkids each move in/crash often/bring friends etc.

      2. Hopefully this has changed, but in my – costly – experience – If you rent to someone in a program like section 8 and they become ineligible for the program – due to failure to adhere to a variety of rules – the govt. portion of their rent (the majority) was simply cut off – with no notice – and the landlord left to evict with no support at all. It took me over a year, and over 8,000.00 in lost rent (while I was a starving artist/bartender) to evict.

      3. Sadly, a lot – of course not all – but a lot – of people in support programs become disconnected from the idea of personal responsibility. They don’t keep the apt. in good condition. There aren’t programs that teach them how to be good tenants.

      There are enormous “cascade effects. ” I’ve had tenants keep the heat at 90 degrees in the winter, then get behind in their Pepco bill (of course!) have a huge bill & the electric shut off, then use candles and set the curtains on fire.

      4. With more areas of the city becoming attractive for “regular” tenants, there is no incentive for a landlord in even marginally desirable neighborhoods to take even a 10% chance of getting screwed.

      • Fully agree with your point #1. Landlords are expected to fill-in for social service programs that governments and general population are unwilling to support. Sad case histories are all too common.

      • I Dont Get It

        Appreciate your *real world* update Victoria!

      • I have to echo what Victoria wrote. I rented an apartment to a section-8 voucher once and it was a complete nightmare. I’ll never do it again, nor will I ever accept some other assistance program. From now on, only “regular” tenants.

        • See, this is what’s a little frustrating though, because there ARE other “assistance” programs for people that earn anywhere between $35,000 to $60,000 a year (although maybe not the type of assistance you’re discussing, but inclusionary zoning, affordable dwelling units, etc.) and those are often reliable and hardworking people on government salaries or teacher salaries. And I’m sure there are instances in which voucher applicants really really try hard to be good tenants. If only there were a way to tell ahead of time….

      • HaileUnlikely

        I wonder what proportion of all units rented to recipients of public assistance are rented by “small” landlords (sorry, I don’t have an operational definition of “small,” but basically, a homeowner with a rental unit or two) vs. big management companies that own hundreds or thousands of units. I can sympathize with a normal homeowner not wanting to entrust their one rental unit, or one of their two rental units, to individuals on public assistance. I think it is admirably brave and wonderful that you did. However, I’d like to think it is a more reasonable ask for a management company who owns hundreds or thousands of units.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Also, should go without saying, but these issues are by no means unique to low-income individuals on public assistance. I became an accidental landlord when a friend, who I had known for years and who has a good job earning about $80K/year, asked me if he could rent a room in my house. (I previously didn’t have any tenants and was not looking for any). Big mistake. He has almost flooded the house and almost burned it down in ways that are too creative to make up, and routinely leaves the front door wide open (I don’t mean unlocked, I mean wide open) when he leaves the house. If you didn’t live with this guy, you’d never suspect that he might be the tenant from hell.

  • Is the proposal to use current funding to create this new initiative, or to increase funding to support this new initiative? I would question increasing the amount of funds that the city dedicates to this issue without first getting a handle on what homeless-outreach programs the city already offers. What works and what doesn’t? Are funds being used properly?

    The city allocated $124 million for services for homeless residents in 2015, and more than 25% of the nearly $7.8 billion DC budget goes to human services and other low-income programs. That’s a serious chunk of change.

  • I always wonder why stories about homeless families are accompanied by photos of individuals who are living on the streets. While I am compassionate to the lack of affordable housing, the limited support rapid rehousing programs can provide and the need for a conversation about affordable housing paired with living wages and entry level jobs, I am frustrated that we do not value the need for housing for individuals, particularly those who are the most vulnerable. The city has yet to adopt programs that would lessen the financial burden on the tax payer so that other populations could get support.

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