Grassroots Lobbyists Descend on City Hall
5/22/2013, 10:15 p.m.
Although the District of Columbia has a $417 million surplus, Mayor Vincent Gray has indicated that he wants to put the entire amount into the city's Rainy Day Fund.
But the Fair Budget Coalition – which is comprised of 70 grassroots organizations – wants city officials to allocate some of that money for essential programs such as Emergency Rental Assistance, housing, and the Local Rent Support Program.
Last Thursday, about 120 members of the Coalition visited the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest in an effort to convince council members to support the funding they desire.
"During the last five years of the recession, safety net services for city residents have been cut so badly. The need is even greater but we're not seeing money," said Janelle Treibitz, a Ward 1 resident and Coalition campaign organizer. "We're in a really bad place [as it relates to] human needs and priorities."
Treibitz, 32, said she found it odd that Gray, 70, wants the entire budget surplus "to go into the bank."
"We understand the need to be fiscally responsible and to build the savings account, but if he used half of what he wants to put in the bank, we could fund all of the programs that we're asking to be funded. It doesn't seem prudent to put all that money into the account at this time of need."
Treibitz painted a dire picture of the challenges middle- and low-income residents face during the May 16 visit.
"It's a question of the people who are slipping out of their homes into homelessness, others who can't get job training and a number of other issues. It's a conversation about a city that's not just for the haves."
Amber Harding agreed.
"There are two things going on here," said Harding, a staff attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless in Northwest. "The chief financial officer tends to make really conservative revenue estimates and with unanticipated revenues, the surplus is sky high. The mayor wants to put it all in the bank but 50 percent of any surplus should go to programs."
"There have been groups and individuals here all week. We've here sort of in [a last ditch effort] before next week. We have clear, discrete demands. We're not asking for the moon."
Treibitz encouraged the group to be candid.
"This is the last day of backdoor recommendations and so we wanted to make our voices heard," she said.
Nkechi Feaster knows well how easily life's vagaries can lead to homelessness.
The 37-year-old Southeast resident said she was homeless for more than a year, and lived at the D.C. General Homeless Shelter in Southeast for 11 months. Feaster, a mother of a son attending college, said she had an 11-year career as an administrative assistant.
"It wasn't fun. I dealt with three layoffs in four years," she said. "Homelessness is not a person on the street with bags. There are many, many reasons. I didn't have a degree or tenure. I was a victim of circumstances."