The Bowser Administration has proposed amendments to the law that governs homeless services and some housing programs in DC. We at the Legal Clinic believe that the proposed amendments to the Homeless Services Reform Act could make the already daunting processes of obtaining or keeping some of these life-saving services even more difficult. It’s no secret that the District of Columbia is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. A minimum wage worker must work 107 hours per week to afford to rent a 2-bedroom home at fair market rent. In DC, thousands of people are forced to turn to shelter and housing assistance as the price of housing skyrockets. It is in this context that DC decision-makers must not close the door to those experiencing a housing crisis, but rather prioritize humane and low-barrier emergency shelter, and the increase of public and affordable housing stock in the District.
We want to share the words of Ms. B, one of many people whose lives are directly and profoundly affected by the rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Homeless Services Reform Act who testified against the bill in June. In addition to removing due process rights, the bill would institutionalize some of the problematic practices you’re about to read about in Ms. B’s testimony, such as the termination of rapid re-housing subsidies based on arbitrary time limits. (For more on time limits, read Legal Clinic attorney Max Tipping’s testimony.)
We are working with the DC Council now to propose changes that will update the law while still ensuring that all DC residents who need help can get it. These are our recommendations.
My name is Ms. B, and I want to talk about my experience in shelter and rapid re-housing. I became homeless in May of 2015. I have three kids, and at the time they were all under 3 years old. I went to Virginia Williams to get into shelter but was turned away for lack of space. I was living in my car during this time. I was repeatedly turned away for shelter space until I enlisted the support of my church and community members to go to Virginia Williams with me to be placed in shelter. I finally got into shelter in July 2015. I was placed in the Quality Inn shelter on New York Ave. After being placed into shelter, I didn’t receive any case management. I was in the shelter for three months before anyone approached me about case management and receiving social services. I have a disabled child and need support. My credit is bad and I needed help getting that cleared up. Finally after three months, I was approached by a case manager from a rapid re-housing provider. That was my first contact with a case manager, but she still didn’t help me get the support for my child or other services I need.
I was notified by my case manager in February or March of 2016 that I qualified for rapid re-housing. After qualifying, it took me a while to find a unit—I was turned away from several locations due to my bad credit. Other units that were suggested were in bad neighborhoods and I didn’t want to take my kids there. I found an apartment that met my needs for $1,600 per month, but that was rejected by The Community Partnership (TCP). The provider later found a unit for me that would be $1,400 per month for a three bedroom apartment. I was supposed to sign the lease and move in on August 11, 2016. TCP packed my belongings from the shelter and went to the apartment complex the day I was supposed to sign my lease. When I went to sign the lease, the price wasn’t $1,400 per month as I was originally told, but instead $2,300 per month. All of my belongings were already at the complex, my case manager was with me, and I felt obligated to sign the lease—I didn’t think I had a choice. I knew I couldn’t afford $2,300 when I signed the lease. My only income is TANF and I make $531 per month. When the lease started, I paid $167 per month, and I paid $267 per month when the subsidy ended in March 2017.
When I moved into the unit, the apartment seemed clean, but it didn’t take long for housing condition issues to appear. There are mice in my unit and in the rest of the building. The fire alarm in the hallway doesn’t work. There is mold in my unit and in the building. My kitchen has flooded, my hall closet has flooded, and my ceiling has flooded. There is mold growing because no repairs were made in time. I bought rental insurance and put in a claim for the damage from the flooding, but they haven’t paid me because they can’t get in contact with the landlord. Now that the problem has gone on for so long, the rental insurance is saying it isn’t an accident but an ongoing problem because there were no repairs made. As a result, they may not cover the damages caused by the flooding. At one time there was no heat in building. I called the landlord to fix the heat, but he never did. Eventually I had to call the city to come out and force landlord to fix the heat. My air conditioning was broken for a while. The landlord recently fixed the air conditioning but not properly. There are wires running through the apartment and exposed wires in the unit from the air conditioning. I can’t understand why TCP would recommend this unit. Why would they recommend such a poor landlord and housing situation? TCP said I had to wait in shelter for an inspection to be complete before I could move in. Why wouldn’t they find these issues in the inspection? There are numerous complaints from other tenants. Why would TCP approve this unit?
In February 2017, I received a termination notice from rapid re-housing—only six months after I moved into my apartment. I was told by my case manager that the twelve months of assistance started when I was approved for the program, not when I moved into the unit. I was told I was approved for rapid re-housing in February or March of 2016. For six months I was living in the shelter trying to find an apartment. I was told the time I spent looking for an apartment counted towards my twelve months on rapid re-housing. Now, six months after I signed a twelve month lease, I am losing my rapid re-housing subsidy, and I cannot afford the $2,300 market rent. I was offered an appeal, but I couldn’t appeal within the timeline due to injuries from a car accident. My landlord is threatening eviction, as I haven’t been able to pay the rent since my subsidy ended. I am currently three months behind on rent. If I get evicted, I will probably go back to shelter.