Julie Gallagher

On the morning of February 7, people of all backgrounds filled the sanctuary of Calvary Baptist Church at the Housing For All Rally. The crowd truly “showed some love” –this year’s theme– for Washington, D.C., as their home.

This annual rally is an opportunity for the Housing For All Campaign, a member of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), to communicate to D.C. government officials exactly what funds and housing programs are needed and to provide that information as the budget is being drafted, according to CNHED’s Director of Housing Advocacy, Elizabeth Falcon.

The focal point of the rally was the request that $100 million be committed towards the Housing Production Trust Fund, which “provides loans and grants to both nonprofit and for-profit developers of affordable housing in the District of Columbia, for new construction and preservation,” according the CNHED website.

“All D.C. residents deserve safe housing,” Falcon, who is in charge of the campaign and organized the rally, said in an interview with Street Sense. “Our goal is to increase local funding for affordable housing programs so they can serve more people.”

One in five District households pays more than half its income towards rent, and many people in the D.C. area are homeless or at risk of being homeless, according to Falcon.

“I think a lot of people in D.C. experience how unaffordable it is,” Falcon said. She is hopeful that their goals will be met and is excited to work with the new administration.

The rally started off with introductions and words of welcome from Rabbi-Educator Rachel Ackerman, who acknowledged that while D.C. residents may come “from different walks of life,” it is still one single community.

Emotions were high as a handful of D.C. residents told their own housing stories – how the programs offered by D.C. enabled them to get the support and secure housing they needed.

Waldon Adams shared his story with Permanent Supportive Housing, a program that finds permanent housing and provides services to individuals and families to help them become self-sufficient. Adams explained how the program allowed him to overcome many of life’s obstacles.

“Recurring, persistent, and difficult to eradicate,” was how Adams defined “chronic,” and urged affordable housing advocates to be just that.

Then, the winners of the 2014 Housing For All writing competition were announced. Aniya Ward, the first place winner in the Youth category, and Dynise Coogler, the first place winner in the Adult category, read their submissions aloud, resulting in large cheers and encouragements from the audience.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, a special guest speaker, captured cheers and love from the audience as she recommitted herself to developing new strategies to eradicate homelessness and further develop and fund programs that make housing more affordable.

“We still have a very big challenge,” Bowser said, but reminded those in attendance that, “we’re in very good shape to deal with the challenges ahead.”

Bowser noted that she personally used a funded program to buy a house, and recognized that the security of owning a home allowed her to thrive in other areas in her life. She supported the Housing First initiative, and promised to make moves towards eliminating homelessness altogether and not settling for short-term solutions, like shelters.

Bowser also announced that she is changing the budget process and wants to ask community members what they think first, before drafting the budget. In order to do this, Bowser will hold sessions at local high schools to get opinions from the public.

Councilmember Anita Bonds, who is the chairwoman of the Committee on Housing and Community Development, addressed those at the rally, and said that now is the time to act and move forward. She explained how the average cost of a house in D.C. is now over $700,000, and even those at the top of the government cannot afford to purchase homes.
“Housing affordability, as you all know, includes almost everyone,” Bonds said.

Councilmember Elissa Silverman stressed that housing should not feel like a gift, but rather it is a “responsibility of the government.”

“We need to make sure affordable housing is not sub-standard housing,” Silverman said. Silverman also urged members of the community to speak out and get involved, so that the government can base its priorities around the priorities of D.C.’s residents.

All of the government officials expressed their support for putting $100 million into the Trust Fund.

To conclude the rally, Elizabeth Falcon was honored for her four years of work at CNHED and the Housing For All Campaign.

To help people become advocates for affordable housing, the Housing For All Campaign is offering Advocacy Training on Wednesday nights starting Feb. 25 at the WeWork Wonder Bread Factory from 6-8 p.m. This training program will help teach people how to give testimony, talk to the media, and contact local officials.

At the end of the rally, David Bowers, representing the Mid-Atlantic Region for Enterprise Community Partners, stood up and said, “Keep fighting, and we will win the fight.”