“Ending homelessness just takes political will.” – Mayor Muriel Bowser
This simple, and in our view, correct, statement came from Mayor Bowser at the March 18th affordable housing rally organized by The Way Home Campaign and the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED). Mayor Bowser uttered these words before hundreds of rally attendees, many of whom have faced or are facing homelessness and housing insecurity. Only a few weeks later, her words ring hollow. On April 4th Mayor Bowser unveiled her Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget proposal (“DC values in action, a road to inclusive prosperity”) which leads us to conclude that she does not possess the political will to end homelessness in the District of Columbia.
DC coffers are flush with cash. DC expects to have an additional $600 million in FY18, as compared to FY17. Of that $600 million, the Mayor’s budget proposes adding only around $8.7 million to permanent affordable housing programs that end homelessness. That’s just 1.5% of DC’s extra money. As Fair Budget Coalition states: “Instead, the Mayor has prioritized $18.8 million in tax cuts for estates worth between $1-5 million, $23.8 million in tax breaks for businesses, and invests almost $400 million to support development projects like DC Streetcar, a new Wizards practice facility, and luxury condominiums at McMillan Park over the critical human needs of District residents.”
The Mayor knows how to end homelessness. The Bowser Administration finalized and adopted this plan to end homelessness by 2020: Homeward DC. Mayor Bowser said it best in her introduction to the plan in 2015:
“When I entered office on January 2, the District’s homeless crisis was at the top of my priority list. I knew this was a problem that could not be fixed overnight. I charged my team at the Interagency Council on Homelessness with accelerating the development of a strategic plan to guide our efforts in the coming years. And today, I am pleased to present Homeward DC, a comprehensive, data-driven plan that lays out a bold vision: Together, we will end long-term homelessness in the District of Columbia. By 2020, homelessness in the District will be a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.”
Ending homelessness has been slipping down the Mayor’s priority list since this statement. While her first budget proposal did not fully fund what Homeward DC stated was necessary, it got us most of the way there, and the Council closed the gap. But last year’s budget was grim for people experiencing homelessness—and blame for that lies equally with the Mayor and the Council. Now the Mayor’s third shot at “putting our money where our mouth is” (her words in a National Alliance to End Homelessness speech about ending homelessness) is underwhelming, at best.
Without significant changes to this FY18 budget, and a much stronger budget next year, the Mayor will not fulfill her own political promises to end chronic homelessness by 2017, family homelessness by 2019, and all homelessness by 2020. We don’t care about her keeping promises for the sake of keeping promises. We care because these promises are people’s lives, people’s health, children’s education, a child’s childhood, a mother’s chance to take a breath and have dinner at a table… justice.
Now, we look ahead. We ask the DC Council to demonstrate the real political will to end homelessness, to demonstrate that they see ending homelessness as a political priority that deserves more than 1.5% of DC’s ever-increasing largesse. We ask that they take a long look at what this budget says about our priorities as a community. We ask that the Council consider what “inclusive prosperity” means for DC when so many of our neighbors have no homes, when so many will never be able to meet their family’s basic needs without help, much less even dream of prosperity.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to analyze what’s in the budget and what isn’t–what’s there to support people accessing shelters, what’s there to support preventing people from becoming homeless, and what’s there to preserve or increase safe affordable housing. We’ll be letting you know what opportunities there are to raise your voice and how you can lay a claim to what “DC values” really are.