On Monday, May 1, the Legal Clinic released a report on the significant problems with the District’s Rapid Re-housing program—the sole housing program relied on to exit homeless families out of emergency shelter. There are more than 4000 people, mostly children, in a deeply flawed program that cycles many participants right back into homelessness.
The report, written by Legal Clinic attorney Max Tipping, can be found here: Set Up to Fail – Rapid Re-Housing in the District of Columbia. The report analyzes the experiences of over 100 families in the program, as well as data provided by the Department of Human Services and national sources, and concludes that homeless families in rapid re-housing struggle with terrible housing conditions, are severely rent burdened, and often are sued in eviction court, while they are in the program. Then, homeless families are routinely terminated from assistance for reaching an arbitrary time limit, despite the fact that the average income of participants is far less than the average rent. It is mathematically impossible for these families to sustain housing post-termination.
Here’s what some of the families had to say about the program:
“People are set up to fail and not to succeed.” Ms. H
“It’s terrible. By the time you get stable the program is over and you have to break your kids’ hearts again when you go back to shelter.” Ms. M
“I feel like I’m in a hole. I can see the sunlight but can’t get out.” Mr. C
“If the goal of this program is to help families regain stability, they’re failing.” Ms. R
“This program is a total fail. I got no help. Something’s got to change.” Ms. J
This won’t be the first time the government has heard these concerns, but we hope that this report helps distill the data and experiences of clients in a way that helps elected leaders focus strategically on needed reforms, delineated within the report, without being taken in by the oft-shared illusion that it is a successful program for families.
Given that poverty and a lack of affordable housing are the driving forces behind skyrocketing family homelessness in the District, policy makers must focus on effective solutions such preserving and building deeply affordable family housing and tenant vouchers rather than continue to champion short-term programs that offer less effective, shorter term solutions. In the meantime, and while DC decision-makers hopefully rethink the structure and practices of rapid re-housing, we ask DC to impose a moratorium on rapid rehousing terminations for time limits to mitigate some of the harm to homeless families.
Max testified on rapid re-housing at the May 3, 2017 Department of Human Services Budget Hearing. He submitted written testimony as well as a sign-on letter signed by 5 legal services providers: Bread for the City, Children’s Law Center, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, to Councilmember Brianne Nadeau.