Immediately after STAY DC stopped accepting applications for rent and utility assistance due to a lack of funds, Councilmembers Janeese Lewis George, Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen, Trayon White, Robert White, Mary Cheh, Christina Henderson, Brooke Pinto, Kenyan McDuffie, and Anita Bonds introduced a Sense of the Council resolution calling on the U.S. Treasury to provide the District with additional rental and utility assistance – and calling on Mayor Bowser to act now by drawing from DC’s vast resources to dedicate local funds to preventing widespread evictions in our communities.
Nearly 60% of all D.C. residents are renters, including approximately 65% of Black households and 70% of Latino families. Even prior to the COVID pandemic, nearly half of D.C. renters struggled to keep up with rent payments. Evictions disproportionately hurt communities of color, which are also struggling with higher unemployment rates, lower vaccination rates, and more deaths caused by COVID. Almost 60% of all executed evictions in the District take place in Ward 7 and Ward 8.
Faced with overwhelming need caused by the pandemic and its economic impact, the District worked diligently to effectively distribute its share of federal rental assistance within the timeline set by the Treasury. It’s time for the federal government to follow through on its plan to redistribute federal rental assistance to cities and counties with the greatest need.
However, the U.S. Treasury’s current plans do not contemplate moving rent relief funds until after March 2022. And even then, there is no guarantee that the District will receive additional funds, or that the amount potentially received will be sufficient. Meanwhile, hundreds of D.C. residents already face eviction writs, and that number is expected to swell as more nonpayment of rent eviction cases are filed.
“As federal rental assistance funds lapse, there is a clear choice to make in the District. Will we allow a wave of evictions in our city and let more of our neighbors be pushed to the streets – or will we draw from the vast resources that D.C. has to keep our people housed until more federal aid arrives? We have a moral responsibility to act,” said Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George.
As part of the approved Fiscal Year 2022 budget, the Council boosted local rental assistance funds in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to $14 million. ERAP provides finances to low-income renters to prevent evictions similarly to STAY DC, but can also cover security deposits and pre-pandemic arrears. Still, the total amount of funding in ERAP for this entire fiscal year equates to just two weeks of rental assistance distributed by STAY DC. With the high cost of housing and unemployment rates disproportionately high in communities of color, demand for rental assistance will remain significant throughout the year.
While the Council can approve appropriations to prevent evictions, the Mayor must initiate the programming of such spending.