Ekab Hishek / Wikipedia

Some in the nation’s capital are finding that they won’t be home for the holidays. The holiday season is supposed to be a time of opening our doors and providing comfort to those who need help the most. Instead, those seeking affordable housing find yet another door closed to them. It’s no secret to those living or working in the District that there is an appalling shortage of affordable housing for those who need it most. The District of Columbia Housing Authority’s (DCHA) recent announcement of plans to close its waiting list for affordable housing to new applicants should silence any doubt that this problem has reached a crisis level.

The supply of only 22,000 DCHA affordable housing units is dwarfed by the 66,000 eligible families already waiting on that list. As reported by Street Sense, the current wait for a four-bedroom apartment is about 10 years, and the wait for a studio apartment is estimated at a staggering 43 years. If these estimates are accurate, it appears that some people may apply for, wait for and die before they get an affordable apartment in our nation’s capital.

For nearly a decade, the Equal Rights Center has fought discrimination against Housing Choice Voucher Holders (the largest program subsidizing affordable housing in the District) and helped open more than 17,000 privately-owned apartments to voucher holders, yet the need is obviously so much greater. Each of us, all of us, who care about fair housing, civil rights or who just care about life in the District, have an obligation to raise our voices. We must encourage additional funding for affordable housing at all levels, support those housing developers who want to build more low-cost apartments, and we must ensure that those fortunate enough to actually get a housing voucher are able to use it, free from discrimination.

While the closing of the affordable housing waiting list has been described by DCHA as a method of “managing expectations,” it should be a warning to us all instead to heighten expectations — we must expect that living in our nation’s capital can be for anyone, not just the lucky or the wealthy. This holiday season should be a time of joy and new beginnings, not a time to put those who need affordable housing out in the cold.