In 2020, Washington D.C. went from being the most intensely gentrified city to 13th on the list, according to a June report by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. That doesn’t necessarily mean a marked level of improvement, though, and is more indicative of the fact that while gentrification continues to be rampant in D.C., other cities have simply outpaced the District. Notoriously high rates of gentrification, whether noted in studies or firsthand accounts by those affected, is just one of many reasons why acquiring and maintaining safe, affordable housing is a challenge to many in the District.
Several organizations throughout the area are working to ensure that D.C. residents can actually afford to live and work in this city. Paired with the ever-looming presence of gentrification, this is an effort that becomes even more necessary as the economic effects of Covid-19 show no signs of slowing and rent strikes abound alongside newfound forms of housing insecurity.
“As we see our neighbors in the D.C. metro region continually struggle to keep a roof over their head, it has become even more apparent that we need to view housing through a social justice lens,” says Wesley Housing President and CEO Shelley Murphy.
Wesley Housing provides operative and affordable housing in D.C. and Virginia, with 25 communities and 1,780 total housing units.
“We view housing as a fundamental human need, and the pandemic and other recent events have highlighted the continued difficulties that people of color have in finding and keeping safe, decent affordable housing,” Murphy says. “Our communities are filled with working families and individuals of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, 83% of which are non-white.”
She adds that through strong partnerships in the region, she and her team have made amazing strides toward adding more than 500 affordable housing units to the region in the next three years.
“But there is still so much work to be done,” she adds. “Beyond providing a safe, quality, affordable place to live, we also offer 100% of residents access to our Housing Stability Initiative (HSI), which works by stabilizing residents’ housing and then builds on that foundation by teaching new skills and behaviors to become self-sufficient and ultimately break the cycle of poverty.”
Grassroots organization Justice First also fights for housing justice through their organizing efforts. Like Wesley Housing, Justice First understands the intersections of inequality that can make fair and affordable housing inaccessible to many in the District, especially Black communities and other communities of color.
“Justice First is fighting for social and racial justice across a broad spectrum of issues ranging from rampant police terror to affordable and decent housing,” says Nicole Roussell, a Justice First organizer. “Our work fosters grassroots leadership among Black and other youth of color to build a fightback movement capable of challenging systemic inequality.”
Roussell lists unchecked police violence against Black and oppressed communities, widespread unemployment, sky-high rents, and the threat of eviction amid a pandemic as realities faced by families across D.C. and nationwide.
“While banks and big business are bailed out, working people bear the brunt of the crisis,” she notes. “Empowering youth and building a strong, multinational grassroots movement right here in D.C. are the critical building blocks of our fight for social justice. It is only through organizing that we can win.”
Some of the recent efforts Justice First backed includes supporting tenants of neighborhoods in Congress Heights and the Basilica Tenants Associations in their fight to keep their homes from sale to developers who would not maintain the buildings as safe, affordable and accessible. Wesley Housing has several projects underway, including a rental development for older adults in Winchester, Virginia among other projects.
Through different approaches, both Justice First and Wesley Housing leverage their collective might to make sure that D.C. area residents have access to the safe, healthy and affordable housing they need to survive.
Support Housing Justice in the District
There are plenty of organizations in D.C. helping homeless individuals find stability to influencing policies that keep residents safely and affordably housed. Read on for a list of organizations worth checking out to learn more about housing justice, homelessness in the District, housing policy and more. Note: Mission statements taken directly from the website of each organization.
Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development
“The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development fosters just and equitable community development solutions that address the needs and aspirations of low- and moderate-income District residents by convening, advocating and educating diverse stakeholders.” www.cnhed.org; @cnhed on Twitter + Facebook
“Housing Up builds thriving communities in Washington D.C. by developing affordable housing and offering comprehensive support services to homeless and low-income families. We believe that people who have safe, affordable housing and genuine opportunities are empowered to transform their lives.” www.housingup.org; @housingupdc on Twitter; @housingup on Instagram + Facebook
“Jubilee Housing was founded in 1973 when members of Church of the Saviour saw a need to address substandard housing in the heart of Washington, D.C. We banded together to purchase The Ritz and Mozart apartment buildings in Adams Morgan. Since then, we have grown to encompass 10 buildings in Ward 1, serving nearly 800 people with housing and supportive services each year. Today, as low- and moderate-income families are being squeezed out of the District due to lack of affordable housing, our work makes sure they can benefit from the progress of the city. Our work creates justice housing.” www.jubileehousing.org; @jubileehousing on Twitter + Instagram
Pathways to Housing DC
“The mission of Pathways to Housing DC is to end homelessness and support recovery for people with complex health challenges.” www.pathwaystohousingdc.org; @pathwaysdc on Instagram + Twitter
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