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Residents Rally Against Cuts to Housing Programs

WI Staff Writer | , Joseph Young | 5/3/2012, 11:12 a.m.

A group of disgruntled citizens gathered outside the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest to lift their voices in protest against the city's policies toward affordable housing. Specifically, protestors disapprove of Mayor Vincent C. Gray's FY 2013 budget, they believe, gouges the affordable housing budget.

More than 100 demonstrators assembled under gray, overcast skies in mid-April to advocate on behalf of a budget they say can ill-afford to be cut at a time when the needs far outweigh any cuts city officials seek to make.

The mayor's budget proposal includes millions in funding cuts to affordable housing programs for low-income and middle-income families. Other proposed cuts include the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP), rent supplements and homeless services.

"We are here today because in the proposed D.C. budget there is $25 million in housing cuts even though there is an increasing need for affordable housing in the city. So we're here to demonstrate our displeasure with that proposal," said Elizabeth Falcon.

Falcon, 29, is a housing campaign organizer for the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) in Northwest, whose goal is to increase the amount of funding the District spends on affordable housing.

Falcon also said her organization worked with the mayor for months leading up to the release of his proposed budget in March. Talks centered on the value of the Housing Production Trust Fund, a program that is slated to be cut. Those talks, she said, "seem to have fallen on deaf ears."

The District as well as the rest of the Washington metropolitan region, is emblematic of the severe difficulties residents face trying to find affordable housing.

Gentrification and a massive building boon to accommodate the influx of tens of thousands of new residents to the District of Columbia fueled a housing shortage for middle and lower-income residents that regional officials and public and private partners are struggling to correct.

Currently, 200,000 people in the region are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing; the fair market price for rent in this marketplace has increased by 70 percent over the past 10 years; and 10,000 homeless people live here, an affordable housing expert said.

"It's a severe problem," said David C. Bowers, vice president and Washington, D.C. impact market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. in a recent interview. "We've lost affordable housing units in D.C. and Northern Virginia and as we have lost units, rents have increased and incomes have not kept pace."

"There's a huge need for additional public and private resources to house people at the low-and middle-income levels. All housing is affordable but the question is to whom? There is an under-supply of housing at lower income levels. People are paying more than the conventional guidelines, people are driving from far out to come to work. People are making tough choices - do I buy food or medicine or pay my rent?"

Protestors held banners that read: "Housing for All" and "Where Will We Sleep?"

"The mayor is balancing the budget on the backs of the poor," said Eric Sheptock, a homeless advocate, who attended the rally. "Affordable housing is the solution to homelessness."