D.C.'s Rent is Too Damn High

The District of Columbia is a wonderful place to live—if you can afford it.

I am very concerned that our city’s housing is becoming too expensive for residents of all stages of life, and I am particularly worried that many residents who are trying to provide for themselves and their families don’t make enough money to rent or buy even a one-bedroom apartment.

The high cost of housing makes ending homelessness in our city more of a challenge. Yet I am optimistic that this is a challenge we can and will overcome. No District resident who works, or who has spent a life working, should be in poverty and homeless. Those who have struggles which cause homelessness should be housed in a safe, humane shelter until those difficulties can be addressed.

In my 10 months as a D.C. elected official, I am proud that the District has taken extraordinary steps to take on the issues of homelessness and housing affordability. I commend Mayor Muriel Bowser for setting clear targets for ending homelessness and stating publicly that it should be rare, brief, and non-recurring. There is consensus among everyone inside and outside D.C. government that D.C. General should be closed as soon as possible as our emergency family shelter, and never again should a case like that of Relisha Rudd happen in our city.

I am optimistic about ending homelessness because Mayor Bowser has hired some of the nation’s top experts to develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing our problem, including Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger and Interagency Council on Homelessness Director Kristy Greenwalt. That strategy is now known as Homeward DC, and this year the Council approved $145 million to fund this effort.

One of the core principles of the Homeward DC plan is construction of six new, small, neighborhood-based shelters so that D.C. General can finally be closed. Just a few weeks ago, the D.C. Council took the next step by approving additional measures for the design and operation of those shelters. In that same legislation, we approved a process that will ensure people applying for shelter have a place to stay while case workers determine the best place for them, and that they receive a fair hearing if they disagree with their placement decision. In the coming weeks, we will learn the proposed locations of the new shelters so that contracts can be executed and the development process can begin.

The critical factor in ensuring this plan has a chance at success is everyone’s willingness to come to the table. We need everyone—every agency, every nonprofit, every elected official, and every willing resident—to work constructively toward solutions. Ending homelessness isn’t just about giving someone a place to sleep at night but also setting them on a path to self-sufficiency.

But where can you live after leaving shelter? That is another challenge that Mayor Bowser and the Council have taken head on. We have put an unprecedented $100 million this fiscal year into what’s known as the Housing Production Trust Fund to both build and preserve affordable housing. We need to make sure this money is invested wisely and has a good return. We need to be strategic, and that’s the focus of another important effort.

I’m proud to be a member of the D.C. Housing Preservation Strike Force, an 18-member group of real estate professionals, nonprofit leaders, D.C. agency heads, and yes, even elected officials, who have been tasked by Mayor Bowser to come up with big strategies to keep the affordable housing we do have and not let it slip away.

The strike force needs to act quickly because we have many properties in our city that are affordable now but will become unaffordable soon if we don’t take coordinated steps to preserve the affordability. Once again, I am encouraged by the political will to come up with big ideas and real solutions. The strike force will be delivering recommendations to Mayor Bowser in the next few months.

I look forward to Thanksgiving because of my family traditions: getting together, eating certain foods, saying thank you to those who matter most in your life. We often invite friends who can’t make their family celebrations to join us. I am lucky to have a nice home in which to host this holiday, and I will work hard during my time on the D.C. Council to make sure every D.C. family has the same opportunity for a safe, happy home.

Elissa Silverman
At-Large D.C. Councilmember


This op-ed was originally written by Elissa Silverman for cross-publication in Street Sense and the Huffington Post.