Andy Shallal on affordable housing

Rania Khalek interviews Shallal

DC has lost half of its affordable housing in the last decade – which has been disastrous for low-income residents. How might you fix that?
I think we need to increase inventory of available housing that’s affordable. We need to preserve the public housing that we have, which we’ve lost half of, as you mentioned. We need to make sure that when we give our public property to developers that we insist on certain restrictions on how they can build and how many units they need to build that are affordable. So we want to make sure that we get enough affordable units in new developments that are coming up.
I want to make sure that all the developments that we have that are coming in actually match the communities that they’re going into to provide affordability for the people who already live there.
There are lots of different ways we can do that with programs that we already have in place, like the Housing Purchase Assistance Program and the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Those types of programs need to be strengthened and funded better. Whether they’re tenants or buying a house for the first time, they should have support from the city to guide them through the process, which can be very complicated and costly.
These are things that will help make sure that the people who have lived here during the hard times are able to survive and live well during economic boom times.
How would you alleviate homelessness in DC?
We need to have rapid housing for some of them. We have programs where rather than just sticking people in a shelter, we put them in a temporary situation where we can help them out with the first couple months of rent and give them some support so they can get off their feet.
Without a home, a person cannot get a job; a person cannot really go to school. There’s a lot of stuff that happens when you’re homeless.
I think we waste a lot of money in putting people in shelters now, and that’s become the default situation that a lot of people that have been chronically homeless end up in. They end up going from shelter to shelter, never able to get off their feet for a couple of reasons. One is that shelter living is not exactly a way to stabilize your life, and second, the shelters do not really provide enough wraparound services – ways to help people find a job or help them with child care or health care.
Permanent support for housing, especially for some of the challenged communities that end up being homeless, needs to happen as well.
Again, we have the programs. We don’t have enough funding for those programs, and we let the situation fester and get worse and worse. We’ve lost so much public housing over the period of the last decade that it has come to haunt us now, seeing how many people are homeless – thousands of people are being left out on the street every night.

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