A shortage of affordable housing for larger families with four or more children is a big factor behind crowded conditions at the District’s main family homeless shelter in Southeast Washington. The shelter has been filled to capacity this winter,
with more than 900 people, including a record 600 children some nights.
Such families stay far longer than average in the converted rooms of the abandoned D.C. General Hospital, creating a bottleneck at a shelter initially intended to provide only temporary respite from the cold. One mother of 13 — five of whom lived with her in the shelter — was there for more than a year.
D.C. Department of Human Services officials say the rapidly gentrifying city has lost more than half of its affordable housing in the past decade. That makes it difficult to find an affordable house or apartment big enough for larger families, even with government help, they say.
“It’s always been more difficult for larger families, but it’s more acute now because prices are more expensive than they were even a year ago,” said Fred Swan, the agency’s family services administrator.
For that reason, large families were among the priority groups eligible for 250 rental assistance vouchers, for which the city allocated $4 million in June. But progress has been slow in finding accommodations. To date, just about half the vouchers have been given out.
City agencies have made finding larger homes a priority. The search is hampered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s federal limits on rents for subsidized housing, which are $1,890 for three bedrooms and $2,374 for four bedrooms in this region, city officials say.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) says he wants to allocate $100 million to create or build 10,000 affordable housing units in the coming months. The effort, details of which will be released next month, will include a combination of subsidized housing and renovated or newly built homes and apartments, some of which will benefit the city’s poorest residents.
“We’re trying to step up our efforts to get families quickly rehoused and and create more housing options,” Gray said, noting that the city spent more than $100 million on homeless services in the current budget.
Family homelessness in the city, up 74 percent since the economic downturn, has continued to increase, even as it has stagnated or dropped in neighboring jurisdictions. In addition to the nearly 600 children at D.C. General, 500 more are in overflow hotel rooms and other shelters, according to the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.