We’re heading into the final stretch of setting our collective budget priorities for 2017. The DC Council’s first full vote on the budget is next Tuesday, May 17th. Mayor Bowser and the DC Council have repeatedly touted their unprecedented collective commitment to ending homelessness. So far, we have not seen that political commitment play out in the budget process.
Last year, after a historic joint effort, we concluded: “via this budget, Mayor Bowser and the DC Council have shown that they have the political will to invest the necessary resources in ending homelessness.” Last July, Mayor Bowser, in an address at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness, agreed:
“DC is putting our money where our mouth is. Despite coming into office with an overall budget gap at the start of this year, I proposed historic investments to end homelessness in the District. And I’m proud to tell you that we passed a budget that invests $145 million for locally funded homelessness assistance, including a nearly $23 million down payment on the first year to implement our strategic plan.”
The Mayor also pointed out that there was more to be done to reach our collective goals:
“These investments are just a down payment. We have a long road ahead, but we’re committed… I understand these are bold goals – and there are people who doubt we can do it. But we owe it to our community to aim high. And we owe it to them to achieve high. We are making the investments – and taking the steps – here in our nation’s capital to show that it’s possible.”
We absolutely agree. Yet here we are, only in the second year of DC’s impressive plan to end homelessness, and already political will seems to be waning. The Mayor committed less than 15% of necessary funding to implement the second year of the plan—a $7.9 million increase. At DC Council mark-ups, only an additional $900,000 was committed to end homelessness. We need at least $26.7 million more just to stay on track for our goals to end chronic and family homelessness in the next few years.
With a $13 billion budget, $7 billion of which is local money, DC certainly has the funds to end homelessness. The District government has recently implemented numerous tax cuts, including tax breaks for the heirs to millionaires’ estates. And taxes are about to get cut even more. Overall, DC residents pay lower taxes than surrounding jurisdictions, despite their overwhelming willingness to pay more taxes to fund critical needs like affordable housing.
A political commitment to ending homelessness equals:
- devoting the necessary dollars to affordable housing.
- finding the dollars even when it’s hard, even when it means cutting lower priority programs, stalling a tax cut for the wealthy, or finding another way to increase available money.
- problem solving, not making excuses. Concerns about an agency’s ability to administer a housing program should be funneled into oversight and accountability measures, not reduced funding.
- holding ourselves and each other accountable and on track to meet our goals.
We encourage you to email your Councilmember, particularly Chairman Mendelson (firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-724-8032), to ask them to demonstrate their strong political commitment to end homelessness by fully funding affordable housing programs. We also invite you to join the Fair Budget Coalition on Thursday at 10AM outside the Wilson building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW) to Break Down the Barriers to stability for low-income DC residents.