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District Loses Grip on Affordable Housing

WI Staff Writer | , Joseph Young | 5/16/2012, 11:46 a.m.

Todman also can't shake the idea that some low-income families' fear of moving out of public housing adds to their woes and limits their options.

Today, she knows it's harder to find jobs, but she said low-income families should strive anyway, as she and others did growing up in St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands where conditions were comparable or worse.

"One of the things that we would need to do is say, 'You know what, yes, it's a risk, but you have the capacity to not live at Barry Farm or Benning or Woodlawn. You can live somewhere else that may be better for you,'" Todman said.

Todman used sociology to explain what she calls the "safety net system of poverty." She said the reliance of the poor on social services programs keeps them in poverty, not the failure of the economic system to produce livable wage jobs.

Instead, the poor, she said, should fix their sight on "things they can do for themselves."

"Some of it is having the confidence; some of it is having life mentoring. 'I know you can do better. I know you can. I know you can because other families, who have come from more dire situations, have done better,'" Todman said. "How do we crack that shell? If I had the answer to that I would be able to solve the poverty issue in this country. I don't have the one answer."

Todman recognizes that there are critics who are pressing for change in her agency, despite the many accomplishments that it has made.

She spends much of her time defending the agency to critics who are witnessing their communities being transformed.

"There are certain pockets of the city where folk say, 'Oh look, the housing authority has played a role in reducing the amount of affordable units that are available by tearing them down,'" Todman said. "And that's just not the case."

Over the span of a decade, she said, the agency went from 5,000 habital public housing units to near 8,000 units that are available. And on the voucher side, the number of families participating in the voucher program jumped from 5,000 to 12,000 families.

Still, there are significant numbers of low-income families waiting for affordable housing in the city's poorest neighborhoods where rents are rising and wages are sinking. Demand is also high for beds at the D.C. General Homeless Shelter in Southeast where there is overcrowding. About 200 homeless families have been shuffled from there to the Comfort Inn or the nearby Howard Johnson on New York Avenue in Northeast, waiting to be placed in permanent housing.

"So, if you're homeless we can find a way to house you. Then, we work with you, so that you're able to stabilize the situation and try to do better," Todman said.