Housing Complex

Effort to Rehouse Homeless Families Off to Slow Start

Donnell Harris, pictured with his, has so far been unable to find an apartment through rapid rehousing.

Donnell Harris, pictured with his son, has so far been unable to find an apartment through rapid rehousing.

On April 1, the administration of Mayor Vince Gray kicked off an ambitious effort to reverse the rising number of homeless families and place 500 of those families into housing within 100 days. Just over halfway through the program, that goal may be slipping out of reach.

Gray sent a letter today to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson disclosing that 53 days into the effort, only 99 families have been placed into housing. "While this represents good progress," Gray wrote, "we are currently on a trajectory which would fall well short of meeting our goal to exit 500 families by July 11."

"We just haven’t had landlords step up with properties for the program," says Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. "If we don’t get landlords into the program, it’s not going to work."

Gray took a small step today to boost the program, placing an ad in a special edition of the Washington Business Journal that encourages landlords to come forward and identify units that could be used for rapid rehousing, the city's primary tool for housing homeless families. Through rapid rehousing, the city subsidizes a family's rent for a minimum of four months, which can be extended to a year or sometimes beyond, after which point the family pays its own way. The program has struggled due to the lack of affordable apartments identified by the city as the District's housing prices continue to rise.

It's not clear that many of the small landlords in lower-income sections of town, where many homeless families are looking for apartments, are regular readers of the Business Journal. "We hope so," says Ribeiro. "What else would they be reading? The City Paper, the Washington Post? It’s hard to tell what they’re reading."

In the letter to Mendelson, Gray also urged members of the Council to make their own efforts to reach out to landlords to identify potential units for rapid rehousing. Ribeiro says Gray has no "pride of ownership" over the 500 Families, 100 Days initiative and will gladly accept help from whoever can provide it.

The city was obligated by law to provide shelter to homeless families in need this winter when temperatures with windchill fell below freezing. This spring, with that obligation past, homeless families have struggled to find housing, sometimes turning to crowded shared living situations in the absence of other options. Families approved for rapid rehousing have either been unable to find apartments they'll be able to afford or encountered landlords who were unfamiliar with or skeptical of the program.

Ribeiro says the 500-family goal was "aspirational," and it's not mandatory to hit it exactly, although he still thinks there's hope. "I think it’s within reach," he says. "We’re going to try. If landlords step forward, absolutely, it’s within reach."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery


  1. #1

    They should set up a table at DCRA so when people come to get certificates of occupancy for basement or other rental units, they are told about the Rapid Housing program. Also they should have one at DHCD when people go to get their rent control exemptions.

    Perhaps DHS could make a simple checklist that could be on a handout and a website explaining the steps landlords would have to take in order to rent their units for rapid housing, and the benefits (how much you'll guarantee to pay, the tenants get case management and frequent inspections, it helps with homelessness, etc.).

    They could also search property sales records to see when multi-unit residential properties are sold and reach out to the new owners. Some people might be quite excited to have tenants moved in without even needing to advertise.

    Use the Multiple Listing Service. http://www.mrishomes.com has 10 one-bedrooms under $1000. There are 29 different 2 and 3br rentals for under $1500. If you're taking the trouble to use MRIS, your place is likely to pass inspection. I realize some of those are above the payments DHS currently wants to make for Rapid Housing, but they are SO much cheaper than shelter and they are below the Section 8 payment standard.

    If Pedro Ribero doesn't know how to reach landlords, he needs to work with a landlords' groups like AOBA.

    Finally, the Council should pass a law that if a property is offered at two consecutive annual tax sales and garners no buyers, DHS has the right of first refusal to buy it (with all District liens cancelled or at least reduced) to use for rapid housing or to sell with proceeds going to homeless services. These are often houses that have been vacant and blighted for a while and have very large tax liens, so a lot of the houses in this situation are not in liveable condition, but they could be (you could even use them to train TANF/FSET recipients in construction). http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2013/06/12/lost-and-foundering/ talks about these "orphan properties"--there are hundreds in the District!

    I have emailed them these suggestions in March and also sent them to DHS last December. Never got a response. Perhaps I should take out an ad in the Washington Business Journal?

  2. #2

    DC is the most restrictive and risky for landlords, so it's no surprise it's tough to find affordable housing. I myself have several affordable rental units across the DC border in Maryland, but cannot risk being a DC landlord.

    In DC, landlords suffer double taxation on rental income, a slew of expensive regulations and expenses, and local tenant laws that allow non-paying tenants to remain in a home for the better part of year until eviction.

    In addition, like any business, it's all supply and demand. Want lower rents? Increase supply. For example, DC has thousands of single-family homes with basements that DC won't allow to be rented. DC should allow basement apartments to have a ceiling height lower than the currently required 7 feet (many basement have a height of 6'9" but will never become legal housing unless DC allows it).

    Without a serious reform of tax issues, rental regulations, local building codes, and other disincentives to renting out a property in DC, we'll always suffer from a lack of affordable housing. Not surprisingly, the City Paper doesn't bother looking into these areas for solutions, instead relying on Wiener & DCFPI's favorite solution of throwing money at the problem and hoping it goes away.

  3. #3

    sbc, some of your suggestions would make sense if the local pols wanted to do more than offer lip service.
    Too many vacant properties require a significant amount of money to fix up, and the DC government owns many vacant properties it's happy to sit on for what seems to be forever. It's a non-starter.
    But the idea that DC be pro-active and sell the program to landlords as opposed to the homeless, who are competing against straight forward renters, is a good one. Back in the day landlords sought out Section 8 money, they are not for this new program, and maybe DC hasn't realized they need to change tactics.

  4. Gilland McGuire

    It's a good efforts to eradicate homlessness, want landlords to participate with the city government, given perks references to tax breaks.some of your presences landlord does not give tenants the degnity, respects when warrants repairs, their accountabilities ignored by city governments, DCHA, mainly the The DC LANDLAND/TENANT COURT.I'VE EXPERIENCED the arbitration process without a judge of case review on court date summons . The tenant is railroad out it civil rights to face it accused plaintiff.I resided in Montgomery, Alabama home of Civil Rights, what I experienced in DC. Knowingly if possible Dr Martin Luther King statute there in Washington will come life to remind remembrances lives contributions to do the right thing for human mankind.In the 1960 we did not Afro Americans US at large repersenation.but there is one growing up in Baltimore was Captain Parr en P J.Mitchell US Army.and I am an army veteran "OUR OATH NEVER EXPIRE".

  5. northwesterneer

    Finally, the Council should pass a law that if a property is offered at two consecutive annual tax sales and garners no buyers, DHS has the right of first refusal to buy it (with all District liens cancelled or at least reduced) to use for rapid housing or to sell with proceeds going to homeless services.
    I want to make sure that you know that the ONLY such properties in the District that do not sell at such auctions are shells with missing roofs, missing kitchens, no bathroom equipment in the house, etc.

    I looked into this 20 years ago. I entered one auctionable property with a realtor and there was a kitchen that had been left mid-renovation after everything had been demolished. It was a room that had all the interior elements cleaned out and open wood walls, exposed brick that was incomplete, etc. Could you imagine a property without even pipes for a kitchen? The properties which are livable likely get snapped up pre-foreclosure.

    Additionally there was a vacant property on the next block over from me with boarded up windows and when I walked around back I saw the roof had completely collapsed and the second floor was open to the sky.

    I don't want to talk like a know it all, but I don't want people to be confused about what kind of properties end up in foreclosure or don't sell at auction.

  6. #6

    Once upon a time, DC landlords would covet Section 8 renters. The renters themselves wouldn't usually pay their share but the District check always came on the first of the month. And lets be honest, landlords really didn't have much else in way of a customer base in DC in the 70s, 80, and early to mid 90's.

    Thats all changed. The rental market is on fire, and why would I (as a landlord with 4 seperate units) want to encumber myself with a below market rate tenant that I couldn't ever evict if I wanted to? I had a 2 bedroom unit become vacant 3 weeks ago in Shaw and had 18 people show up for the 1 hour open house, and 5 people (20-30 somethings) submit applications for it, all of them with incredibly strong credit and job bonafides.

    DC's hyper heavy handed tenant friendly laws are another reason I would never rent to someone who couldn't provide serious proof of income and credit. I've had to evict 2 tenants over the past 24 years. Both with marginal credit and weak jobs (retail and food service) but they came across as nice and figured I'd try to pay it forward a bit.

    The one stopped paying rent immediately and flouted her knowledge of the Tenant Advocates Office. By the time the paperwork was in, it was the dead of winter and I wasn't allowed to throw her out, or turn off her utilities. I had to eat 9 months of rent and utilities, on top of more than $2K in damages and another $1,500 in legal fees. The second person was a little faster, but it was like the judges I had to deal with were in on some joke as they kept extending the tenants deadlines, and demanding more "proof" from me, and nothing from the tenant.

    Never again will I rent to anyone but a A+ tenant, unless DC changes their laws to make it less onerous to throw out the deadbeats.

  7. #7

    As a small business owner/DC landlord it's ironic how the local government expects us to make our units available to risky tenants with little to no income and a history of chronic homelessness while we are subject to the most restrictive landlord tenant laws in the entire country. Further, many of us manage older properties that are subject to rent control laws that the larger management companies and developers with properties built after 1978 are not. If the mayor wants us to open our properties to people who may or may not turn out to be good, long term, rent paying tenants then I suggest he and the council start by getting rid of the perpetual lease. Change the laws and allow a lease to actually terminate at the end of the lease term. Honestly, it's easier to end a marriage in DC than it is to terminate a lease.

  8. #8

    WHY do they have to be housed within the city limits if MD/VA are cheaper and have units available? Is there some sort of poverty industrial complex that makes them only rent in DC? Let DC pay the (cheaper) rent to house them in MD and VA instead of keeping them homeless.

  9. #9

    Yes, there is indeed a poverty advocacy contingency out there thatvinsists we "keep the poor visible" by housing them only in DC. No matter what the cost.

  10. #10

    The city treats landlords with contempt for decades and now they want a favor?

    Every major DC landlord has horror stories of having dealt with DC, in the permit and licensing process, with tenants that DC encourages to manipulate the eviction process, etc.

    And now DC wants landlords to commit to housing these high risk tenants, while still affording the tenants the extremely strong tenants rights protections that would allow them to abuse the system?

    And DC officials can't understand why landlords aren't lining up to participate?

  11. #11

    devil is always in the details. You can't fault the good intentions of the effort, but in practice you are dealing with rent delinquency and dumping a certain kind of "element" amongst citizens who are struggling to live decent lives without criminal or dysfunctional neighbors.

  12. #12

    There is no way in hell I would ever rent to someone in this program. First and foremost, my little quadraplex is my home, so my tenants are also my neighbors. I'm not some absentee landlord who gets a check mailed to me in Maryland once a month. Homelessness is a horrible problem, but let's be honest here, most homeless people suffer from mental illness, substance abuse issues, a poor work ethic, or some combination of some or all of the above. I feel really badly for these people, I do. But, I don't want someone in my building screaming at the voices in their head because they stopped taking their medication, selling or using drugs out of my building, or giving me some BS about how they can't pay this month because they "lost" the job they've only had a few weeks when what really happened was they were insubordinate and got fired or quit.

    And the other landlords talking about how hard it is to evict someone in DC are all telling the truth. One of my biggest fears is having to evict someone, and what type of damage they may do to my unit or disruptions they may cause my other tenants before I can get rid of them.

    And why should I assume all the risk? Does DC think I should do this because I ought to be more altruistic? Or do they just think I'm stupid as a box of hair? I have a tenant with a year long lease, no job, no job history, a history of evictions, and only four months of time to get a guaranteed subsidy? If you want me to assume ALL the risk, you're insane.

    If DC wants this to work, I'll tell you how. Put up a $5,000 security deposit for each tenant that the landlord can bill against for damages. And yes, it's pretty easy to do $5,000 in damages in just a few months. One of my neighbors rented to a tenant who, when they found out they were being evicted, sold all the damned appliances in the apartment and stopped using the toilet in the last week and just peed in the middle of the floors. The carpet, sub-flooring, and half the drywall had to be replaced just because of the pee, not to mention the $3,000 in appliances that had to be replaced.

    Second, GUARANTEE they we can evict a tenant within ten days of not paying the rent. Third, offer us a tax break. No property taxes on Rapid Rehousing units in exchange for our altruism is a good start.

    But without those things, why bother? Three of my units are renovated and rent for prices I never would have dreamed about in this neighborhood just three or four years ago. Even my un-renovated unit, which is perfectly servicable, just ugly as sin, rents for what my first renovated unit went for four years ago. I finally have a stable income from the building and some security that my note will get paid every month and I can afford any repairs I need. What kind of lunatic would look at that and say "huh... I can gamble all of this for absolutely no return whatsoever except feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Let's do it!"

  13. #13

    Funny how the DC government mopes and CityPaper liberal journalists have NO CLUE about the DC residential market and the regulations that govern it.

    EVERY landlord here, black/white/blue/red, has the SAME issues with "housing the homeless" - socialistic rent regulations and lack of common sense and fiscal responsibililty by those bloviating about homelessness and the desire that the "haves" need to kowtow to their child-like liberal beliefs.

  14. #14

    I love how the editorial photo is this benign lovable little family..a CHILD..what an ADORABLE little girl and harmless cuddly young father..yeah..RIGHT!

  15. #15

    sorry little "boy"

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