Neapolean Granderson walks into a first-floor apartment in a Southeast Washington building. Cobwebs drip from the ceiling. Holes pock the stained walls. A toilet lay on its side, broken and useless. ¶ Granderson smiles, proudly. ¶ “This is it,” he says. Apartment 101, where he once lived and where, depending on how he performs in a District pilot program, he might soon again call home. ¶ In what District officials describe as an unprecedented effort, several city agencies and nonprofit groups have come together to create a program that, if successful, would reduce homelessness, public assistance rolls and the number of abandoned buildings across Washington. A program that, if successful, could prove a model for easing people off welfare at a time when the city is ending its practice of limitless benefits. ¶ The program, Sweat Equity, is based on a simple formula: Take individuals who have been homeless and on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and give them jobs refurbishing vacant city buildings, where they can then live for two years rent-controlled. In other words, hand them a hammer, not a handout.
But whether the program proves successful depends on a complex set of factors: the ability of D.C. agencies to work seamlessly together, the willingness of outside contractors to employ novice workers and the drive of the participants, many of whom have spotty work histories. This time, they can’t just want it. They’ll have to sweat for it.