Sign up to get the latest updates

People's Progress Report 2013

The 2013 People's Progress Report is available! Check out the link below to find out what we have been up to for the past year.

2013 People's Progress Report

To check out past years, visit the People's Progress Report page.


Check out the powerful video from the People's Platform forum

Where does change come from? Politicians...? Or the People?


Direct Action Organizations Host People's Platform Mayoral Forum -- This Saturday

WHO:               Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE DC), Barry Farms Study Circle, Empower DC, Our DC, Working Families, Fair Budget Coalition, DC Jobs with Justice, ROC-DC, DC residents, Mayoral Candidates Bowser, Evans, Lewis, Orange, Shallal, Wells, Majors, Gray

WHAT:              Mayoral Forum

WHEN:             Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 4:00 PM

WHERE:           THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20020


(Washington, DC) — Native Washingtonian Sylvia Brown-Carson dedicated years of time and energy to her government job, only to be embroiled in a worker’s compensation battle due to her work-related injury. As a result, she was evicted from her home and is now living with and caring for her elderly mother in a small one-bedroom apartment. Due to the lack of affordable housing in the city, she has been unable to find a more suitable unit that is both reasonably priced and accessible to her mother, who is disabled. Sylvia, a ONE DC member, expressed her frustration with the situation: “the amount of units being built just doesn’t meet the need, and there are even fewer units available in my case,” she said, referring to her struggle to find an accessible unit. Though she has repeatedly sought housing that meets her family’s needs – a basic human right – she has not found such a place. Furthermore, she cannot put her name on the waitlist as it was closed in April of 2013 due to extremely high numbers. She continued: “It’s just saddening to see how politicians have neglected the affordable housing crisis to the point where it’s this bad, with over 70,000 families on the waiting list and more who can’t sign up now that [the list] is closed.” Like Sylvia, each of these tens of thousands of DC residents has a unique story, and each one has the right to quality, truly affordable housing. “Whoever the candidate is,” Sylvia said, “has got to vouch to clean up [the units] and house all the residents who need it.” We agree. It is time for long-time low-income DC residents of color to have their voices heard and their advice heeded. It is time for The People’s Platform.


Unlike other mayoral forums, ours is run by and for long-time DC residents of color who recognize that there are long-term consequences to candidates’ short-sighted decisions. The co-sponsoring organizations have a long history of organizing DC residents around truly affordable housing, income equity, and education reform using direct action, forcing politicians to not only talk the talk, but also to walk the walk. Instead of listening to the candidates repeat the same stale promises, this forum will feature the innovative voices and ideas of those who know the city best: its long-time residents of color. Through years of discussion and outreach, all contributing organizations and individuals have a strong working knowledge of residents’ needs and demands, and are ready to hold those in power accountable. 


The forum will include an opportunity to learn exactly what those who are running for mayor know about the city. The audience is encouraged to participate actively in asking the candidates to think critically about their own platforms and how they can bring about deeper, structural change that promotes equity. Just as direct action has played a crucial role in our work in the past, we plan to utilize similar strategies to ensure that candidates are present and engaged during the forum, and true to their word moving forward.

Given the challenges facing DC and the possibilities for positive change, we challenge candidates to stand for:

  • Deeper Affordability in All New Units: Affordable housing means affordable to all. Given that current commitments to the construction of affordable housing meet only 2% of the need for those earning less than 30% of the AMI ($32,250/year), funding for these units must increase.
  • The Protection and Preservation of Public and Project-based Section 8 Housing: Public and project-based section 8 housing provide community, stability, and one of the only affordable housing options for DC residents. The government has a responsibility to debunk the negative myths around public and project-based section 8 housing, halt demolitions and ‘opt-outs’, and restore and develop more units.
  • A Minimum Wage That Is Truly a Living Wage: To afford a two-bedroom apartment, a family must earn $27 per hour: 3.3 times higher than the current minimum wage ($8.25), and still 2.3 times higher than the coming 2016 increase to $11.50. A minimum wage increase to at least $15 is necessary, including $15 per hour for tipped workers.

For interviews and media credentials, please contact:

ONE DC (formerly Manna CDC) was founded in 1997 to help organize long-time, low-to-no wage income DC residents to exercise their political strength to address structural injustices in their neighborhoods, including gentrification and inadequate employment opportunities. ONE DC’s campaigns include the right to land, housing, and jobs.  For more information on ONE DC, please visit

Barry Farm Study Circle organizes public housing residents to protect their human rights and challenge the systems of oppression that impede their physical and mental health and wellness. They organize and educate public housing residents to advocate for themselves while also collaboratively working with like-minded organizations and individuals to address the social injustices that impact our families and communities.

Empower DC, founded in 2003, is a citywide membership-based organization dedicated to effecting social change through a democratic, self-help empowerment approach to community organizing. They work to support low and moderate income District residents in raising their voices and building their collective political power.

Fair Budget Coalition advocates for budget and public policy initiatives that address poverty and human needs in the District of Columbia by leveraging the collective power of its member organizations, including working with social service providers to empower those directly affected by poverty to participate in the advocacy process.

Our DC is a not for profit organization working to connect people, communities and organizations to Bring Good Jobs to the District of Columbia. They are dedicated to ensuring that the voices of unemployed and under employed city residents are heard in local and national dialogs on jobs and job creation, and to supporting enforcement of living wage laws and first hiring rights for District residents.

D.C. Working Families, an affiliate of the national Working Families group, is a coalition of progressive labor unions and community-based organizations, which aims to combine efforts to bring about meaningful change in regards to employment justice in the District.

ROC-DC, founded in September 2009, is a local restaurant workers’ organization dedicated to improving working conditions in the restaurant industry. ROC works with its over 500 members and broader DC community to build, develop, and lead the worker center.

DC Jobs with Justice is a dynamic coalition of labor organizations, community groups, faith-based organizations, and student groups dedicated to protecting the rights of working people and supporting community struggles to build a more just society. 


  • “A Decade of Progress: Investing in Lives and Neighborhoods through the Housing Production Trust Fund,” a Report by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, 2012
  • DCFPI Report: DC’s First Right Purchase Program Helps to Preserve Affordable Housing and is One of DC’s Key Anti-Displacement Tools, September 2013
  • Housing Wage from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2013 DC State Profile

Equitable Development Symposium Update!

Together with The George Washington University, ONE DC invites you to attend the inaugural equitable development symposium, Is Equitable Development Possible in the 21st Century? Prospects and Possibilities for Washington DC. This symposium will provide the opportunity for you to actively engage in debate and discussion with organizers, public officials and other DC residents on the prospects for equitable development.  This symposium, which we expect to become an annual event, is intended to emphasize the need for equitable development across the nation in general and within the DC region in particular.

Is Equitable Development Possible in the 21st Century? Prospects and Possibilities for Washington DC Agenda:

8:30 - 9:15 - Opening Reception/Continental Breakfast

9:15 - 9:30 - Short Documentary: There Goes The Neighborhood, a film produced by Al Jazeera English.

9:30 - 10:00 - Keynote Speaker: Angela Glover Blackwell - Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink

10:15 - 11:15 - National Panel Moderator: Gregory D. Squires - Professor of Sociology, and Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University


  • Amanda Huron - Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University of the District of Columbia
  • Rosemary Ndubuizu - Local Organizer at ONE DC and Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Women and Gender Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • Greg LeRoy - Executive Director, Good Jobs First
  • Jessica Gordon Nembhard - Associate Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development at John Jay College of the City University of New York
  • Marisela B. Gomez, Director and Founder of Social Health Concepts and Practice

11:15 - 12:15 - Local Panel on Equitable Development in the DC Region

Panel Moderator: Linda Leaks, Executive Director and Founder of Justice Advocacy Alliance (JAAA)


  • Sabiyha Prince - Research Analyst at the Anacostia Museum (AM) Smithsonian Institution
  • Ed Lazere - Executive Director and Vice President at DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI)
  • Derek S. Hyra - Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech
  • K. Nyerere Ture - Executive Director and Founder of Teaching, Urban Research and Engagement (TURE) and Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology at American University, Washington, DC
  • Parisa Norouzi - Executive Director and Co-Founder of Empower DC

12:30 -1:00 - ONE DC's People's Platform

1:05-1:35 - Closing Remarks and Reception

Reserve your seat - RSVP here.



New Partnership with Georgetown University's Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor

From Nick Wertsch, Program Coordinator from the Kalmanovitz Initiative:

Georgetown University's Kalmanovitz Initiative (KI) for Labor and the Working Poor develops creative strategies and innovative public policy to improve workers' lives in a changing economy. We conduct research, develop policy ideas, and facilitate student programs.

The Kalmanovitz Initiative is grounded in a commitment to justice, democracy, and the common good. We draw on Georgetown University's tradition of excellent scholarship in the service of the common good, in Jesuit and Catholic social teachings, history of inter-religious cooperation, global reach, and prominence as an arena of policy debate in the nation's capital.

We are thrilled to be working with ONE DC, and we believe this will create a stronger connection between Georgetown and the larger DC community. By collaborating with ONE DC, we hope to support their efforts to promote a more fair and equitable DC for all of the city's residents.


Public Meeting to Discuss the Fate of Parcel 42

From Ivan Matthews, the project manager at DC's Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development: 

As you may know, the District owns two lots, 0106 and 0803, in Square 0442 on the corner of 7th and Rhode Island NW, which are collectively called Parcel 42. As part of the Districts redevelopment process, the property must be declared surplus by the D.C. Council. Declaring a property surplus means that it is not required for a public purpose.


The District will conduct a public meeting to receive comments on the proposed surplus of Parcel 42. The surplus meeting is held in order to receive feedback from the community on the District's finding that the property is not required for public purposes. Comments collected at the public meeting will be submitted to the D.C. Council for their review. The surplus meeting is conducted pursuant to D.C. Official Code §10-801. Below, please find the date, time and location of the meeting:


Date: Monday, 3 March, 2014 

Time: 6:30pm 

Location: Watha T Daniel Library (WTD Meeting Room) 1630 7th Street NW, Washington D.C. 20001


Make your voice be heard! We are seeking both newer and long-time residents to testify on behalf of the need for affordable housing at the site. Public officials and local media are happy to divide and conquer wealthier newcomers and longtime low income residents - this is an opportunity to show we're united for a just and inclusive city.

Would you be willing to prepare a 2-3 minute testimony to share at this hearing? Do you have friends in Shaw who would consider this as well? Join us at 5:15 PM at the ONE DC office on Monday to prepare or at 6:30 PM Watha T Daniel Library (WTD Meeting Room) 1630 7th Street NW for the hearing.

Contact for more info.


New Partnership Between Washington Lawyers Committee & ONE DC

ONE DC is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Washington Lawyers' Commitee, a nonprofit organization established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address discrimination and entrenched poverty in the Washington, DC community. The WLC and ONE DC will collaborate to advance our shared goals of addressing issues of entrenched poverty and discrimination in the District of Columbia. Through this collaboration, the Committee will work with ONE DC to support its organizing efforts, offering representation to its members and/or the organization in matters of discrimination, as needed. Currently, the Committee and ONE DC are exploring opportunities to collaborate on ONE DC campaigns related to both housing and employment discrimination.


NEEDED: Troublemakers for Justice!

Justice has never been easily or smoothly achieved. When we all said goodbye to Nelson Mandela this year, we remember that he fought. He agitated. He organized. He strove to make his country more just, and won. The spirit that drove him was apparent early on -- when he was born, he was given the forename Rolihlahla -- Xhosa for "troublemaker."

ONE DC wants all of you to get out there and make some trouble.

In order to make our city a better place, we're going to need your help. Whether it's an ongoing commitment or a one-time engagement, we're happy with whatever level of help you're able to offer. Here's how you can get involved with our upcoming events and campaigns:

ONE TIME TROUBLE MAKERS - Needed only one time per event
  • Phone Bankers
  • Door Knockers
  • Newsletter Writers
SHORT TERM TROUBLE MAKERS - Needed monthly or for 
Showing some love to our Lincoln Westmoreland II trouble makers on Member Appreciation Day.
several months for the following events and campaigns:
  • The "From The Streets to the Rooftops" campaign, described further down in the newsletter.
  • The Solidarity Exhibit - we need an artist and organizer to coordinate fundraiser exhibits
  • The People's Platform event - we need long-time and new residents to do outreach, phone banking, and canvassing for the March 8th Mayoral Forum sponsored by ONE DC, Empower DC, Barry Farm Study Circle, OUR DC, and Working Families.
LONG TERM TROUBLE MAKERS - Needed weekly and monthly for either of the following campaigns and events:
  • Right to Housing 
  • Right to Income
Please email ONE DC at or MAKE YOUR SELECTION NOW! Make your voice heard. Make trouble.

DC's Poorest Residents Fight Displacement by Gentrification

Friday, 31 January 2014 10:42 By Rania Khalek, Truthout

Washington DC.(Photo: Ted Eytan / Flickr)

Barry Farm, a public housing complex in southeast Washington, "is the line in the sand," says Schyla Pondexter-Moore, a community organizer. "If you take away Barry Farm, you're basically just giving away the whole Ward 8."

Barry Farm is the latest battleground for grass-roots housing advocates in the nation's capital, where intense gentrification has altered the city's demographic landscape dramatically. Because Washington was America's first city to have a black majority, it came as a shock to many in 2011 when DC's black population dropped below 50 percent for the first time in more than 50 years. In the past decade, the district lost nearly 40,000 black residents, many driven out by skyrocketing rents fueled by an influx of mostly white professionals flocking to increasingly gentrified neighborhoods

Until recently, Wards 7 and 8 - the district's poorest, most segregated and longest-neglected wards - largely were untouched. But as developers become desperate for new real estate to flip, residents living east of the Anacostia River (the unofficial dividing line between the city's haves and have-nots) are seeing the beginning stages of gentrification take shape, starting with plans to demolish public housing, like Barry Farm. And if the past decade has taught them anything, it is that gentrification usually leaves longtime low-income residents out in the cold - literally. 

Demolitions and Broken Promises 

If the DC Housing Authority and developers have their way, all 434 public housing units at the Barry Farm complex will be razed to make room for "mixed income" housing, part of a four-phase $400 million redevelopment plan under DC's New Communities Initiative, a public-private urban revitalization partnership modeled after the federal Hope VI program.

But if the past is any indication, New Communities is far more likely to displace Barry Farm residents indefinitely, as the former residents of DC's Temple Courts public housing complex can attest. 

Prior to its demolition in December 2008, the Temple Courts property, in Ward 6 at North Capitol Street and K Street Northwest, was plagued with drug-related crime, which the city used as justification to tear it down. Then-Mayor Adrian Fenty promised that the squeaky-clean $700 million mixed-income community that developers planned to build over the ashes of Temple Courts would include at least 570 affordable units that would allow all families displaced by the demolition an opportunity to return by the 2009-10 school year. Five years later, what used to be Temple Courts is now a parking lot that charges $8 an hour. Consequently, only 22 of the more than 200 families that were forced out have moved back in. 

As noted in a joint WAMU and NPR investigative series, similar promises were made to residents living in more than 700 public housing units at the Arthur Capper and Carollsburg complex in southeast Washington a decade ago. "What is there now, among other things, are million-dollar homes and parking lots for the baseball stadium nearby," the investigation revealed. 

Barry Farm 

"Some people say it's an eyesore, it needs to go. But there's a lot of history behind Barry Farms," said Pondexter-Moore, who works as an organizer at Empower DC, a grass-roots community-led organization. 

Indeed, Barry Farm has deep roots in African-American history, although not many are aware of it, which the documentary film Barry Farm: Past & Present sought to correct.

In 1867, after the Civil War, the US Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, otherwise known as the Freedmen's Bureau, bought 365 acres of farmland from white landowners David and Julia Barry. The land was sold for $125 to $300 per acre to newly freed slaves in what quickly became DC's first freedmen's community, Barry Farm. A portion of the profits were then used to build Howard University, which started out as an educational institution for the residents of Barry Farm, who built their homes and the surrounding neighborhood from scratch. 

2014 0131-1aA row of public housing units in Barry Farm. (Photo by Rania Khalek)

Phyllissa Bilal, a 46-year-old Barry Farm resident and mother of six, is on the front lines of the fight to keep her community intact as co-founder of the Barry Farm Study Circle. 

She had no idea Barry Farm was slated for redevelopment until after she moved in and was recruited to join the city's six-person planning development team - made up of two Barry Farm residents, two members of the DCHA and two people from the deputy mayor's office - a position she ultimately quit after concluding they weren't interested at all in her input and only wanted residents on the team to give the appearance of resident approval for development plans. 

Bilal told Truthout that DCHA routinely fails to properly notify residents of public meetings about redevelopment plans and has even kicked people out of public meetings via police escort when backlash to developer plans has erupted. Meanwhile, DCHA is doing all it can to push people out of Barry Farm, even resorting to underhanded tactics, Bilal said. In one instance, DCHA offered to pay residents $25 to fill out a survey with questions that, depending on the answer, could instantly disqualify people from public housing, she told Truthout. 

Of course, there are residents who support tearing down Barry Farm, but community activists blame government neglect. 

"The government has divested in these places for so long that some of the people who live there actually start to believe that it needs to be shut down," Pondexter-Moore said. Dominic Moulden, an organizer with the grass-roots organization One DC, agrees. "If anything is wrong with Barry Farms, it's because the government didn't take care of it," he said.

At Barry Farm, Bilal said the city is using this neglect to its advantage. By failing to carry out routine maintenance, Bilal said, the government is "purposely making these units uninhabitable" and using failed inspections as a pretext for kicking people out. "It's another tactic they're using to move people off the property," she said. At one point, she said, residents were receiving three to four inspection letters a week. 

Moulden gave me an unofficial tour of Barry Farm, during which he pointed to boarded-up windows and doors of units that were no longer inhabited.

2014 0131-1bA boarded-up unit at Barry Farm public housing complex. (Photo by Rania Khalek)

2014 0131-1cMold grows on a boarded-up door at an empty Barry Farm unit. (Photo by Rania Khalek)

Adjacent to the decaying and boarded-up homes in Barry Farm from which people had been evicted was a massive construction site for a 47,000-square-foot recreation facility that will include one of the largest indoor swimming pools in Washington. 

"Do you think they want that for the people that live here now?" Moulden asked. "Why didn't they build that years ago? Why are they building it when they're moving people out?" 

2014 0131-1dConstruction site of the new Barry Farm Recreation Center. (Photo by Rania Khalek)

Rebranding Anacostia 

Moulden also gave me an unofficial tour of Anacostia, one of the district's poorest Ward 8 neighborhoods long defined by poverty and crime by outside observers, particularly the media - which are quick to highlight stories that reinforce Anacostia's negative image. But recent years have seen plans by developers to revitalize the historic neighborhood through gentrification, which posits that luring more-affluent people to the area will attract businesses, leading to a more-prosperous economy for everyone, most of all the poor.

But for grass-roots community-led organizations such as Empower DC and One DC, the answer to lifting people out of poverty lies not in the presence of wealthier and whiter residents but in investing in poor communities. 

"If you want an equitable society, you have to invest in the people in the neighborhood. And that's what [the government] don't do," Moulden said.

"There's been nothing effectively implemented in our communities to uplift people," Pondexter-Moore said. "We've got a lot of liquor stores and fast food places that are bad for our health. But we don't have things like a nice skating rink or maybe a radio station that somebody could run. We don't have services that would help people in public housing maybe form a small business and hire people in the neighborhood. We have a lot of social service programs, which do help, but nothing that's going to effectively deal with the issue of crime."

What's most frustrating for many people in these communities is that the nice stuff doesn't surface until affluent people move in. 

For example, Moulden said plenty of black children rode bikes, and some even started a co-operative bike store in the Shaw neighborhood. But it wasn't until the neighborhood was gentrified - white residents in Shaw's 20001 ZIP code rose from 5.6 percent of the population in 2000 to 32.8 percent in 2010 - that bike lanes were installed.

Moulden occasionally would point to a bike rider whizzing by during the tour, noting that not one of the 72 miles of bike lanes that wind across DC are in Ward 8

"Now they're saying they're ready to invest, but only because they've figured out how to remove people," Moulden said.

"All these years that we've been asking for this very thing, and now it's coming - but for someone other than you," Pondexter-Moore said. "We need to fight, not to just keep our communities. But we need to fight for the same improvements that these newcomers are getting. We don't want the same high retail stuff. But we do want a CVS and a grocery store."

Anacostia's only supermarket was closed last year, forcing residents to travel more than a mile to reach the nearest grocery store. But, as Pondexter-Moore said, there is no shortage of liquor stores, which can be found on every block, making flashy new spots like the Anacostia Arts Center near the intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue stand out. 

According to its website, the art center is dedicated "to creating a home for small businesses, artists, arts and cultural organizations to fulfill our commitment to the revitalization and sustainable economic development of Historic Anacostia." 

2014 0131-1eDominic stands outside the Anacostia Art Center on Good Hope Road. (Photo by Rania Khalek)

Not far from the art center is The Hive 2.0, an organization that hosts small-business workshops open to the public and offers its hip office space to "innovators, visionaries and entrepreneurs" at a monthly cost unaffordable to most nearby residents. 

The Hive and the Anacostia Arts Center are projects of the ARCH Development Corporation, whose chief executive wants to turn Anacostia into the epicenter of DC's emerging art scene. Although it sounds like a noble goal, Moulden questioned whom the art is supposed to benefit, especially when it seeks to bring new people into the area without addressing the needs of underserved residents already living there. 

2014 0131-1fThe Hive 2.0 on Good Hope Road in Anacostia. (Photo by Rania Khalek)It wouldn't be the first time developers and city planners turned to the popular method of luring artists into poor neighborhoods to help kick off gentrification efforts, only to then price out the artists once they've fulfilled their role in rebranding the area, a phenomenon playing out in places like New York City's Bushwick neighbhorhood in Brooklyn

 Deconcentrating Poverty

The underlying premise of housing programs like the DC's New Communities Initiative and the federal Hope VI program is that perpetual poverty is the result of too many poor people living in the same place. Therefore 2014 0131-1g"Historic Anacostia: Art Breathes Life" sign outside Anacostia storefront. (Photo by Rania Khalek)the only way to alleviate the social ills connected to poverty is to tear down low-income communities and disperse the residents, a concept otherwise known as "deconcentrating poverty." 

Despite little to no proof that it works, poverty deconcentration became gospel to urban elite planners in the early 2000s, helping to guide the demolition of thousands of public housing projects in cities across the country. 

Pondexter-Moore told Truthout that as a 37-year-old mother of four who grew up in DC and is raising her children in public housing, she finds the idea of deconcentrating poverty insulting. 

"For government officials and nonprofits to tell me that it's not good for all of 'you' to live together in one area, you're making me believe that there's something wrong with me," said Pondexter-Moore, who currently lives in public housing in Ward 8. "It's pure ideology that's based on what people think. There's no proof that it works or is effective. How can you promote and implement a policy based on what you think?" 

2014 0131-1iJourney Anacostia public art mural and sculpture installation at the intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. It is a joint project of DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the DC Department of Housing and Community Development. (Photo by Rania Khalek)

"There's no other program like public housing, so if you demolish it and replace it with stuff that we can't qualify for, then what does that leave us with?" asked Pondexter-Moore. "The people who advocate for public housing to be demolished are basically advocating homelessness. That's the only outcome of this." 

According to the most recent data compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in DC is $1,412 a month, the second highest in the nation. To afford rent in DC without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a renter would need to earn $27.15 an hour, over three times DC's $8.25 hourly minimum wage. In other words, a minimum wage earner would need to work 132 hours a week to pay rent in the district. 

Since 2000, DC has demolished at least nine public housing properties, which coincides with the city losing more than half its low-cost housing units in the past decade. Meanwhile, DC's homeless population has quadrupled since 2008

It's no wonder then that there are more than 70,000 names on the city's public housing waiting list, which was indefinitely closed to new applicants in April 2013 because of protracted wait times. With one of the least affordable housing markets in the country and only 8,700 public housing units, the city's housing crisis is closer to an emergency. 

Yet the race to tear down what little public housing is left has continued unabated. And Ward 8 is the latest frontier. 

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


ONE DC member Kimberly Butts speaks on affordable housing in DC

Why is rent so expensive?

by Janet Weinstein


Rent prices are at their highest levels in over a decade, according to a new study by Harvard University

Jeremiah Lowery is a young professional living and working in Washington, D.C., and he spends a lot of money on rent. 

His bills for accommodation come out to nearly $1,000 a month — almost half of his monthly income.

"It's like, 'wait a second! That can't be the price!' But that's the price. And there are people who want it. And who will compete for it. And you know that finding a better place would be a lot more difficult," says Lowery.

Lowery is among a growing national demographic of people who are facing the highest rent prices in over a decade.

Jeremiah Lowery, a Washington D.C. resident, spends almost half of his monthly income on rent.
Janet Weinstein/Inside Story/Al Jazeera America

According to a recent study by Harvard University, close to half of renters in the U.S. are "cost burdened" — meaning they pay more than a third of their monthly income on accomodation.

And 27 percent of renters are "severely" cost burdened, paying more than half of their wages on a place to live.

Lowery falls just below "severe" but says it comes with a lifestyle he prefers.

"Living in D.C., you have to sacrifice a lot. But even though rent is too high, it’s off-set by access. You're able to walk to the grocery store instead of taking public transportation or driving. It’s off-set by being able to hop on the bus — one bus — instead of paying $10 to get to work every day," says Lowery.

Harvard points to a shortage in affordable housing as one key reason for the statistic spike.

Rick Gersten, CEO of rental search engine Urban Igloo, agrees.

"It's harder to get a mortgage. So people are having to rent because their desire to buy is not being fulfilled," says Gersten.

Gersten also says the market is still see-sawing after the 2008 crash.

"After the crash in 2008, the market turned in 2010 and 2011. Apartment owners and condominium owners were able to rent for outrageous numbers because of the greater demand. And then with more milennials going into urban areas, the demand for higher quality apartments has brought a higher cost of living," says Gersten.

In growing cities like Washington D.C., waves of affluent young professionals are driving up prices, too. In one decade, the capital's population grew by 23 percent and added close to thirty-thousand new apartments. Once known as the murder capital of the U.S., Washington has become the fourth most expensive city in America for renters.

On the same exact street two miles south as Lowery, rising rent is having a different effect.

Kimberly Butts is a long-term resident of what is now known as "The Heritage at Shaw."

The building used to be called "Lincoln/Westmoreland II," and was run by a company partnered with D.C.'s section-8 public housing program.

Drugs. Prostitues. Gangs. Butts remembers what the 1990s were like.

“The crime was really bad, you know. It was violent, people hung out on the sidewalk, in the hallways. There were so many shootings happening all the time. We’ve really seen the worst of it,” says Butts.

Only one mile from the White House, the area has since seen a lot of development, attracting middle class commuters and low-income long-termers alike.

Earlier this year, the private company that owned the building opted out of the city's section-8 partnership. Though it is still accepting public housing vouchers, it's renovating the units one-by-one, so it can charge newcomers high market rents.

"It’s scary to know that if at any time they stop accepting our vouchers, we will have to move. We just feel like we should be able to reap the benefits of our community changing as well. We should be able to enjoy the new building instead of being pushed out," says Butts.

Butts says she feels like it's only a matter of time until her family's public housing voucher won't be accepted by the building anymore. If that happens, they'll have to find somewhere else to live. Their voucher covers two-thirds of the rent and can fluctuate based on how much the household makes each month.

Janet Weinstein/Inside Story/Al Jazeera America

“It’s scary to know that if at any time they stop accepting our vouchers, we will have to move. We just feel like we should be able to reap the benefits of our community changing as well. We should be able to enjoy the new building instead of being pushed out.” - Kimberly Butts, long-term public housing resident

The housing market is becoming an economic squeeze play, leaving both sides of the street with hard choices. Our guest panel chewed the hard facts on our show.

It's true that more Americans are paying higher rent than before, but fewer can afford it. We asked our panel of experts: why have rent prices gotten to this level? How can prices go back down? Should local governments even get involved in something traditionally left to free market?


Via Al Jazeera America