Three people hold a banner saying "Fix public housing now!"
Photo by Reginald Black

Housing is a frequent conversation topic around the city, and many residents feel that Washington, D.C., has become unaffordable to the average person. With rents soaring to an average of $1100 a month, it’s no wonder that a group of protesters took it upon themselves to disrupt the mayor’s comments at the DC 11th Annual Housing Expo on June 15, where D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser spoke about her administration’s comprehensive plan to address the city’s affordable housing crisis.  

“If you are here today, the number one issue on the mind of D.C. residents is affordability and affordability in housing,” Bowser said, over loud protests from the crowd..  She stopped her comments  for a second to acknowledge the protesters. “One thing I won’t allow anyone to do or to say is that Muriel Bowser is a liar,” she said. “You know and we know that we are very focused–more than any administration in the history of the District of Columbia–on building more affordable housing units.” 

Bowser’s administration  says that it is pouring millions of dollars into housing in order to drive down market prices. “We have delivered more than 7,200 units in the last four years,” Bowser told the Expo crowd. The protesters continued to heckle until Bowser’s security team and metropolitan police removed them from the area.  

Many D.C. residents feel that the administration isn’t doing enough for people in the  lowest income brackets. In a 2019 census, the District of Columbia has found about 6,500 people experiencing homelessness in a single night–a 22% overall decrease since 2016. Single people still make up most of this  population, with the number decreasing by only 5% since last year. 

Efforts all over the city seem to be failing to make a dent in poverty. People are disgusted and rightfully so. This particular group of protesters embodied the frustration across the District. Residents, think tanks, housing advocates and many others came out to voice their opinions.  

But without policies and priorities, how can we say that we are an inclusive city? The struggle to find affordable housing has created a war of sorts between residents, and the issue is becoming more volatile: this is not the first time that protesters have interrupted Bowser and other officials. As long as poverty continues, housing will continue to remain an intractable issue that allows people to die without the dignity of a home. 

Reginald Black is a consumer representative on the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness.