Before we dive into our analysis of DC's recently approved budget, we share our anger and heartbreak at the recent murder of Deon Kay, an 18-year old whose life was cut short by DC's Metro Police Department. This latest injustice comes on the heels of the police shooting of Jacob Bake in Milwaukee and the police murder of Trayford Pellerin in Lafayette, Louisiana.
The Way Home Campaign stands in solidarity with the movement for racial justice and we remain committed to challenging white supremacy throughout all facets of our work. Due to deep systemic racism, people of color - and especially Black people - are not only disproportionately impacted by police violence, but also by COVID-19 and homelessness. Safe and healthy communities have more resources, not more police. To end homelessness and achieve justice, we must build new systems and new ways of being focused on justice, repairing harm, and ensuring communities have the resources they need to thrive.
FY 2021 BUDGET RECAP
On July 23rd, the DC Council finalized the District’s budget for Fiscal Year 2021. Amid unprecedented uprisings against systemic racism, a global recession, and a worldwide pandemic, we hoped this budget would take bold steps towards housing justice. Unfortunately, DC’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget underfunds vital housing interventions and does little to alter the status quo of DC’s homelessness crisis.
BACKGROUND: The Way Home Campaign Asks for FY21
At the onset of budget advocacy season, The Way Home Campaign called on Mayor Bowser to invest $72 million to end chronic homelessness for 1,500 individuals and 300 families. While COVID-19 put a significant strain on DC’s budget, we did not veer from our asks. The urgent housing needs of our neighbors were further highlighted by a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting DC’s homeless population and DC’s Black and Brown residents. For a more detailed breakdown of this $72 million ask, click here.
The Mayor’s budget proposal came up far short, funding just 9% of The Way Home Campaign’s asks. The DC Council added only modest funding to the Mayor’s proposed Budget, pushing DC even further from achieving our goal to end homelessness and doing far too little to prepare for anticipated spikes in homelessness caused by COVID-19. While advocates identified several funding streams to meet the urgent needs of our unhoused neighbors, unfortunately both the Mayor and Council failed to take advantage of such strategies.
WHAT WAS FUNDED?
All told, DC’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget will end chronic homelessness for 310 households – 214 individuals and 96 families - meeting just 17% of The Way Home’s funding ask. While this is an increase over last year’s funding, it means that over 1,400 of our neighbors will continue to experience long-term homelessness. That’s 1,400 of our neighbors without safe, stable housing. 1,400 people who cannot stay home or access sanitation during a pandemic. And, that’s 1,400 of our neighbors who will be forced to endure a summer with record-setting temperatures without air conditioning and another DC winter without heat.
Overview of Funding to End Chronic Homelessness in DC’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget
PSH For Individuals- Meets 14% of need
The Mayor’s FY 2021 budget included $2.8 million to end chronic homelessness for 96 individuals through Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), 323 fewer units than she proposed in her budget the previous Fiscal Year. Before the full Council voted on DC’s budget, the Human Services Committee added $1.5 million for 50 units of PSH, during a process known as Committee Markups. During the full Council process, the DC Council funded an additional 68 units of PSH, for a total addition of $3.47 million to fund 118 units of PSH. In total, DC’S FY 21 budget invests $6.2 million to fund 214 units of PSH for individuals.
PSH is a data-driven best practice that is proven to end chronic homelessness in DC and across the nation. The failure of our elected officials to fund PSH at adequate levels means that far too many of our neighbors will be forced to endure homelessness for another year, putting them at a greater risk for interacting with the police, deteriorating health outcomes, and continued exposure to COVID-19. Meeting only 14% of the need, 214 new units of PSH for individuals simply does not go far enough to meet urgent housing needs for some of DC’s most vulnerable residents.
PSH For Families- Meets 32% of need
The Mayor’s FY 2021 budget proposal included $1.9 million to end chronic homelessness for 54 families through Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), 126 fewer units than she proposed in her budget the previous Fiscal Year. The Committee of the Whole invested an additional $2 million to fund 42 more units. In total, DC’s FY 21 budget adds $3.49 million to fund 96 units of PSH for families.
This means that 204 families will be forced to experience chronic homelessness for yet another year. Much more must be done to ensure that all households, families, and individuals, have access to the housing they need to thrive.
Street Outreach, Homelessness Prevention, and Emergency Rental Assistance (ERAP)
We were dismayed and confused that the Mayor’s budget cut funding for homeless street outreach. Thankfully, the DC Council restored funding for cuts made by the Mayor for one additional year in the FY 21 budget. As more people enter homelessness due to COVID-19 and as shelter capacity is lessened due to social distancing guidelines, DC’s robust street outreach network will become even more vital to connect our neighbors living outside with services, supports, and housing.
Surprisingly, Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget also cut funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and Project Reconnect, DC’s homeless prevention program for single adults. In the face of a pandemic that could increase DC’s homeless population by 2,500 people, these cuts were particularly concerning. We are grateful that the Council was able to reverse these harmful cuts and continue these programs for one additional year.
Unfortunately, due to a manufactured crisis (more below), large portions of the funding for homeless street outreach and ERAP were funded for only this coming Fiscal Year, meaning that we will need to again fight for their funding during the FY 22 budget season.
SMALL GAINS FOR REVENUE JUSTICE AND WASTED OPPORTUNIES TO DO MORE
With a $15.5 billion budget, DC can afford to end chronic homelessness. Tax policies can help ensure that our wealthiest residents and corporations pay their fair share in taxes and that DC continues to grow its budget through equitable means. In a tight fiscal climate, tax policy can be an essential tool for ending homelessness, reversing centuries of racialized capitalism, and achieving justice for all DC residents.
Time and again, advocates are told that there simply aren’t enough resources to end chronic homelessness. That’s why The Way Home Campaign spent the past 6 months working with partners to propose ways to raise revenue, including a minimal tax increase for our wealthy residents (supported by the vast majority of Washingtonians); moving a small portion of funding from the streetcar, and defunding the police to invest in human services programs. The Council declined these ideas, and instead, approved a budget that will further deepen socioeconomic racial divides.
Wasteful tax credit scaled back to fund human needs
Thanks to your strong advocacy, the DC Council made the moral choice to scale back the Qualified High-Tech Tax Credit, a tax credit for technology companies that even DC’s own Chief Financial Officer deemed ineffective. The Council saw our power and chose to reinvest this money in urgent community needs. In just a few hours, over 150 advocates sent 700 emails to influence the vote on this amendment, proving that, when we organize together, we can win.
We thank Councilmember Nadeau (Ward 1) for leading this effort and applaud the following Councilmembers for prioritizing communities over corporations on this vote: Councilmembers Pinto (Ward 2), Cheh (Ward 3), Allen (Ward 6), Gray (Ward 7), Trayon White (At-Large), Robert White (At-Large), Silverman (At-Large), Bonds and Grosso. The money generated by scaling back the QHTC will:
- End homelessness for an additional 180 households
- Increase funding for school-based mental health services
- Reduce healthcare barriers for our undocumented neighbors
- Provide grants for early childhood providers; and
- Add funding for workers excluded from federal COVID-19 relief
Council finds $18 million to undo tax credit
The Council made a last-minute decision to undo a media ad tax increase they had already passed and then scrambled to fill the $18 million funding gap it created. Shockingly, critical investments – that had already been approved – for programs like D.C. libraries, rental assistance, and assistance for excluded workers were suddenly on the chopping block. Ultimately, the Council passed a budget that preserves investments in some of those programs, while cutting the equivalent of $8.7 million to behavioral health programs. In addition, to fill the gap, the Council converted multi-year funding into one-time funding, putting portions of D.C.’s homeless street outreach program and the Emergency Rental Assistance Programs (ERAP) back at-risk next year.
By finding $18 million in just two days, the Council reminded us that they can find large amounts of money quickly when they want to. We wish that the Council would work with the same energy, year after year, to find resources to meet urgent needs, not only when prompted by outcries from the business community. To be sure: many small businesses are struggling, and some media outlets could use support. Yet, many Council Members expressed more concern about the life and death of small newspapers than the life and death of DC residents. Instead of using this $18 million to fix a manufactured crisis, the Council could have used the $18 million to end chronic homelessness for more than 600 additional individuals.
While making some progress, DC’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget will not make the meaningful changes needed to end chronic homelessness. All told, DC’s budget will end chronic homelessness for 310 households, continue funding for homeless prevention, and extend homeless outreach for an additional year.
Tinkering around the edges of the DC budget will not solve our homelessness crisis, a root cause of which is 401 years of racialized oppression and poverty. The continued disinvestment from Black and Brown communities is in stark contrast with the Council’s recent rhetoric about racial justice Unfortunately, the recent declaration from many Councilmembers that Black Lives Matter did not translate into a budget focused on ending homelessness, the low-income housing crisis, and other issues disproportionately impacting DC’s Black residents.
Over the summer, we will attempt to set up meetings with each Councilmember to share our reactions to their budget. Additionally, we continue to hear concerns that the economic uncertainty brought by COVID-19 will force DC to vote on a supplemental or amended budget. We are concerned that this supplemental will be one that cuts vital funding for human needs in an attempt to reach a balanced budget. Rest assured; we will monitor this closely. Please keep an eye out for action alerts on this!
From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank all of you who took action with The Way Home Campaign this year. From making phone calls to attending our virtual roundtable, sending emails to typing tweets, we showed up in a big way this year. COVID-19 continues to remind us that, in community there is strength, and we are grateful to be in community with all of you. Together, we can end chronic homelessness in DC.