Organizing Community Power!


Forward this message far and wide and join us for an important rally and then to pack the room for the DC Housing Authority budget hearing:

12 NOON 
(Accessible by Federal Triangle or Metro Center Stations) 
Rally outside followed by packing room 412 
Bring ID to enter

Bus transportation is being arranged from public housing communities.  To request transportation, testimony support or for more information about how you or your organization can support the Public Housing Campaign contact Schyla at (202) 234-9119 x101 or housing@empowerdc.org.



We stand united in support of preserving and improving our traditional public housing communities which serve a critical role in the affordable housing landscape of DC.  We support a moratorium on the emptying and demolition of currently occupied units.  We support improving and reopening units that have been left vacant due to disrepair.


Traditional public housing is a public resource which must be managed to serve the needs of current and future residents who can not access other private and subsidized housing because of multiple barriers.  Public housing is the only permanently affordable housing owned by the city which ensures housing is available to people based on their income, with no bottom threshold and without utility costs, where families can remain intact and residents are supported by tight knit social networks. 




Due to completed and planned demolitions of public housing through the federal HOPE VI and Choice Communities programs and DC's "New Communities" program, DC's public housing stock has been decimated in recent years from over 11,000 units to only about 7,000 remaining units - at least 500 of which are currently vacant due to disrepair or pending demolition.   During the same time the need for truly affordable housing has increased and DC has quickly become an unaffordable city to live in for low income working people and the most disenfranchised families and individuals.




The desperate need for traditional public housing is evidenced by:

-          7,000+ residents experience homelessness on any given day in DC[i].  In March of 2014, the city had 827 families in shelters including 1,591 children.[ii]

-          Over 70,000 people were on the city's waiting list for affordable housing in DC when it was closed last April[iii]

-          The loss of over half of DC's low cost rental housing units in only 10 years time, from 70,600 units to only 34,500[iv]

-          The market rate cost of housing has skyrocketed to $1,500 or more for a two bedroom apartment, for which one would need to earn $60,000 per year or $29 per hour to afford.[v]  


Housing vouchers and the private market can not adequately replace the need for public housing.  Neither can job training or education programs.  The people currently served by DC's public housing communities include:

-          over 15,000 residents

-          over 50% of whom are above age 50

-          23% have disabilities

-          With an average household income of $13,000 per year, or the equivalent of 35 hours per week at minimum wage[vi]




Traditional public housing is the only form of permanently affordable housing in DC that is on public land and held in the public trust to serve the needs of current and future generations.  The extremely high cost of real estate in DC is a barrier to creating more truly affordable housing.  Public land is a precious resource with which we are able to provide for the long-term needs of our city.  These lands must no longer be privatized and converted into middle and upper income tracts with time-limited (usually only 15 years) affordability covenants. 




The loss of traditional public housing is worsening DC's homelessness crisis, and has contributed to the push-out of over 40,000 African American residents from our city within the time period of 2000-2010.[vii] 


Public housing demolition and redevelopment is promoted by the "deconcentration myth" which assumes it is detrimental for low income residents to live in a clustered area, and that individual lives improve when residents are dispersed.  These assumptions are not supported by concrete results, in fact several scholars have documented the detrimental impact of the loss of social networks, stable housing, sense of place and identity.[viii]  The underlying stereotypes against public housing and its residents are discriminatory and blame people for circumstances outside of their control - including the condition of their properties which have been purposely ghettoized by systematic underfunding[ix].   Proponents of "mixed-income" housing ignore the fact that public housing IS mixed income, with residents paying 30% of their income including social security, child support and other benefits.  Public housing residents include a broad range of low income workers, some of whom pay as much as $1,000 per month.




DC's "New Communities" program has failed to provide promised results. While hundreds of residents have been moved out of needed housing, years have passed and in some cases literally none of the promised new units have been built, while in other cases there have been far fewer, and smaller, units then promised.[x]  New Communities legislation was passed in 2005 for the Lincoln Heights, Northwest One, Barry Farm and Park Morton communities, and to date these communities have seen increased deterioration, blight and neglect.  These New Communities projects must be abandoned and existing public housing should be immediately repaired and improved, to the extent possible, or rebuilt where necessary. 

Where new so-called "replacement" units have been built, residents face multiple hurdles to accessing and maintaining residence in the new privately-managed units, including facing additional background and credit checks, income qualifications, rescreening based on the private landlord's policies and HUD's FSS (family self sufficiency) class certifications.  Many if not most of those displaced do not qualify for the new units.  The rate of residents returning to after redevelopment averages only 19% nationally.[xi] 




We propose a new way forward using a Community Economic Development model.
  We can improve the built environment and uplift the lives of our residents by adequately funding the DC Housing Authority to perform regular maintenance and repairs and end slum-like conditions.  We can invest in programs that build the community from the inside out, by strategically identifying and supporting what works in public housing - helping budding entrepreneurs develop businesses in the community, supporting loving caregivers who instinctively develop afterschool and summer programs despite a lack of resources, and by fostering the ability of families to remain intact and tight social networks that allow people to depend on each other when it counts.


We can increase resident involvement, end retaliation against those who advocate for improvements, and empower residents by providing them with greater governance roles.  Further, we can ensure that maintenance and repair jobs are given to public housing residents, and that residents are provided access to union apprenticeships that will lead to good paying jobs with dignity. 


As the federal government continues to divest from public housing, we must make public housing a local priority.  It must be included in our city's affordable housing budget and we must identify ways to preserve our land, housing and community fabric in perpetuity.  We must go beyond traditional "economic development" models which rely on profit-driven private developers and employ community development professionals to help us create a sustainable housing program while preserving public land for our public needs.  We must utilize alternative strategies such as Land Trusts and Limited-Equity Cooperatives to ensure a mission-driven, not profit driven, democratic structure that serves needs while preserving public assets which are a multi-generational public trust. 


We endorse these principles, and we commit ourselves to working to advance them, hold government officials accountable to carrying them out, and pledge to support those who share our vision through grassroots involvement and advocacy. 


The demolition of public housing and replacement with privately owned and managed units has disrupted and destabilized our communities, worsened the affordable housing crisis and has been used to accelerate the already rapid gentrification of our city and displacement of our residents.  


It is, therefore, our intention to engage all relevant officials and agencies in the process of bringing about meaningful and systematic public housing improvements. We offer our vast experience and sincere commitment to rebuilding a system of which we can all be proud and that will serve as a model for similar jurisdictions around the nation.



  • Allocate $50 million in the city's fiscal year 2015 budget to improve and preserve public housing.  Despite all the talk about funding for so-called "affordable housing" the Mayor's proposed budget includes NO funding for public housing.  Funding should be directed as follows:

o       To rehab the 400+ traditional public housing units and 37 scattered site homes that are currently vacant due to disrepair and move homeless families into these units.  We estimate $35 million is required.[xii]

o       To ensure timely and effective - not band aid - maintenance and repair of public housing units and to enhance interior and exterior conditions to improve quality of life.  This should include fulfilling the over 3,500 currently outstanding maintenance tickets.  We estimate $15 million is required.[xiii]

  • Complete the renovation of 208 units at Highland Dwellings, a public housing community that won a settlement with the DC Housing Authority to repair and maintain the property as public housing.  Nearly 150 families were moved out and they, along with the 60 remaining families, await completion of this delayed project which DCHA says they have secured $44 million in financing to complete[xiv] 
  • Implement a moratorium on the emptying and demolition of public housing units,  undertake an audit of the New Communities program and initiate a comprehensive reform of DC's public housing system to ensure long term funding, improvements, preservation, resident empowerment and holistic quality of life improvements. 

[i]2013 Point in Time Count, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments https://www.mwcog.org/uploads/pub-documents/qF5cX1w20130508134424.pdf 

[ii] Washington City Paper, No Place Like Home: D.C.'s population of homeless families exploded this winter. The city wasn't ready. March 14, 2014 http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/45550/no-place-like-home/

[iv]Source: "Disappearing Act," DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 2012 http://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/5-7-12-Housing-and-Income-Trends-FINAL.pdf 

[vii] Washington Post,  Number of black D.C. residents plummets as majority status slips away; March 24, 2011 http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/black-dc-residents-plummet-barely-a-majority/2011/03/24/ABtIgJQB_story.html

[viii] "Forced Relocation vs. Voluntary Mobility: The Effects of Dispersal Programmes on Households"

Author: Edward G. Goetz, Housing Studies,Volume 17, Number 1, 1 January 2002 , pp. 107-123(17); "Poor Health: Adding Insult to Injury for HOPE VI Families" Authors: Carlos Manjarez, Susan Popkin, and Elizabeth Guernseyhttp://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/311489_HOPEVI_Health.pdf; "Concentrated Poverty, A Critical Analysis"2010

Author: Herbert J. Gans http://herbertgans.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Concentrated-Poverty.pdf; "The Myth Of Concentrated Poverty" Author: Stephen Steinberg http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/UBST/DEPT/FACULTY/Myth%20of%20Concentrated%20Poverty%20-%20Steinberg.pdf;

"Deconcentration and Social Capital: Contradictions of a Poverty Alleviation Strategy, Journal of Poverty Volume 12 2008" Author: Susan Greenbaum

[ix] National Low Income Housing Coalition http://nlihc.org/article/summary-fy14-hud-and-usda-omnibus 

[xi] Of residents displaced by HOPE VI projects nationally from 1994-2005, only 19% returned after redevelopment.  "We Call these Projects Home," page 34 http://www.righttothecity.org/index.php/resources/reports/item/61-we-call-these-projects-home 

[xii]DCHA must be compelled to make available detailed condition reports of the vacant units in order to generate a cost estimate for repairs.  Estimate is based on figures provided on page 20 of 2014 OVERSIGHT AND PERFORMANCE HEARING DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, vacancies reported on page 16 & Attachment 7 http://dccouncil.us/files/performance_oversight/2014DCHAPerformanceOversightPrehearingQuestionsF.pdf 

[xiii] 2014 OVERSIGHT AND PERFORMANCE HEARING DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, page 21 http://dccouncil.us/files/performance_oversight/2014DCHAPerformanceOversightPrehearingQuestionsF.pdf

[xiv] 2014 OVERSIGHT... page 23