by Tori Powell
On May 6th 2019, residents gathered to discuss a housing plan that is to be drafted and submitted to the D.C. Council in upcoming months. This plan will include studies on D.C.’s segregation history, racially and ethnically concentrated poverty, the intersection of race and income, economic impacts on residents, and the relationship that a lack of resources and access to necessities have on housing.
This process must be undergone every five years so that the city can receive certain funds and grant monies. The goal of this plan is to inform the 2020 Fiscal Budget that is currently undergoing hearings before finalization.
Lawyer Thomas Silverstein of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, on hand at the meeting, explained that the Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress in 1968. Two principals of this act, he said, include a ban on discrimination and an obligation of the federal government to address the historic consequences that discrimination has caused.
Silverstein said that in 2015, Obama legislated improvements to this process through the Secretary of Housing Authority.
In response to housing equity’s history, Silverstein claimed that this has been a national issue of uncertainty that D.C.’s future plan hopes to alleviate.
Lawyer Megan Haverly, also of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that many different components and layers go into the drafting process of such plan. She said that research is the first step, followed by a look at contributing factors and policies to discrimination and segregation. This process of gathering data and holding stakeholder meetings should be finalized in early to mid-summer, according to Haverly. She said that there will be many more public meetings across the District once the plan is published to make additions and amendments to the plan.
Some of these amendments may relate to underrepresented disadvantaged groups. Religion and sexuality data has been hard to find according to Silverstein, because the census has only recently added sexuality to its records and does not account for religion at all. He mentioned that the DC Office of Planning is currently working on representing more disadvantaged groups.
One resident in attendance mentioned that the displacement of African Americans due to gentrification, gerrymandering, and redlining should be among the top priorities of this plan. Silverstein said that although the D.C. Government is one of his consulting clients, the overarching goal — and job of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — is to hold them accountable by reviewing lawsuits and addressing potential racist displacement. He asked that the community report any evidence of discrimination that they may witness from private landlords and city programs. He also recommended to support nonprofit enforcement agencies.
Silverstein mentioned that one of the first sections of this new plan focuses on assessing the past goals and regulations that have still given room for discrimination to take place.
A resident lamented that there is a lack of information from the city, and that even the advertisement for this meeting had to be sought after.
Many residents consistently brought up concerns with a voucher process that they claimed has a faulty screening process. This process, they claim, negatively affects both participants of the program and conventional residents alike. One resident at the meeting also suggested that voucher residents could use more assistance with their transition into independent living.
The situation is “out of control” she said, and shared a story in which she called the authorities on a “voucher resident” due to violence; she feels he poses a threat to her and her family’s safety.
Many residents agreed that the voucher process is beneficial, theoretically, in regard to not concentrating poverty into one area, but that major attention from the District needs to go into reforming it.
A resident said that she has met with representatives from The Department of Homeland Security to address the problems within the voucher process, but that they would not address the issue and turned her away. “We were essentially blown off,” she said.
Silverstein said that for the purposes of this draft, there are a few issues being researched in relation to this particular voucher problem. “One thing that we look at are the two prongs that allow people to live independently. Those are access and affordable housing.” He mentioned that particular processes and public policies will be researched from a planning-oriented perspective, but that screening voucher residents is a landlord responsibility.
One resident expressed concerns with the District’s qualifications to affordable housing. On this, Silverstein mentioned that even with the current qualifications, there are exceptions to the affordable housing regulations that he hopes will be addressed in this specific plan as well as the fiscal budget of 2020.
It was stated at the meeting that Ward 3 has had more rent control than anywhere else in the city, and a resident requested that the D.C. Council conduct an inventory of rent controlled units. This resident mentioned that when she asked the Council to consider this, representatives refused. “It’s like they don’t want to help,” he said.
Ultimately Haverly and Silverstein agreed that there are major inequalities when it comes to housing, which is why this plan is necessary. “D.C. is facing a tidal wave of gentrification, displacement, and a lack of affordable housing,” Haverly said.
The lawyers advised residents to keep an eye out for future meetings to further influence the plan and affect changes in housing in the upcoming fiscal 2020 year.