Street Sense Staff

On Jan. 8, advocates took a major step in the right direction: the “right to housing” direction.

They appeared at a public meeting held by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics for the purpose of reviewing a  ballot initiative: the District of Colombia Right to Housing Act of 2014. The initiative, which advocates hope to place before voters in the city’s November election,  would create a human right to housing in the District.

Under the initiative, the District would be required to provide adequate housing  to residents who are homeless as well as to those  who earn up to  $40,000 per year.

As proposed, qualifying residents would contribute one-quarter of their income toward the cost of their housing, with 25 percent subsidies coming from both the  federal and local governments.  The remaining quarter of the cost of the housing would be absorbed by the landlord or property manager.

Anyone lacking housing due to the District’s failure to supply it would have the right to sue the city under the proposal.

The rising cost of housing in the District creates an urgent need for  such a law,  backers say. Just last month, many gathered for a vigil to remember 26 individuals who died homeless during 2013 and while those deaths may not have all been exposure to severe conditions outside, homelessness, particularly chronic homelessness takes a heavy toll on health and well being.

Roughly 7,000 men, women and children are homeless in the District and many  others are in danger of becoming homeless due to skyrocketing rents.  One in five DC households pay more than half their income in rent and many of them are our seniors according to the nonprofit Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development.

Michael Coleman, one of the group of advocates,  who testified at the hearing said he did not believe it is right for people who are elderly or disabled to be priced out of the city.

Another witness,  Janet Sharp, expressed the need for more affordable senior housing that is transportation accessible.

Robert Warren, executive director of the People for Fairness Coalition said this:

“We have had two task forces by two mayors and still there is no real solution to the housing crisis,” said Warren. Board members listened intently,

To move forward, the proposed initiative would need to be approved by the board and published, submitted to a challenge period and then to a public hearing. Supporters would then be given  180 days to gather enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.

Backers of the proposal left the meeting hopeful they will find support for their plan. They say there is a  notion in the community that something needs to be  done to ease the burden of homelessness and near-homelessness.