In contrast, the District pays $50,000 a year to keep a family in a homeless shelter and doles out, on average, $370 a month in welfare benefits to families.
And then there are the savings that can’t be calculated, officials say — such as the money that won’t be spent on the children of participants who stay in school and don’t rely on welfare at all.
On a recent afternoon, Martin’s two youngest sons run across the apartment’s shiny wood floors, all giggles and footed pajamas.
Before starting the program, Martin lived in a homeless shelter with his wife and four children, all younger than 4. They landed there, he says, after he lost his job as a security officer for the National Archives and went from earning $60,000 a year to receiving $600 a month in government assistance.
“When I was making $60,000 a year, I was a fool,” says Martin, 36. “I never thought about 401(k)s or profit sharing or IDAs [individual development accounts]. I wasn’t thinking this job can be gone in a day and a month. So I learned a valuable lesson in this ordeal.”
He and Jackson, who have grown so close that they describe themselves as “peanut butter and jelly,” spent months looking for work after their employment ended with Sweat Equity. They work for the same construction company, and they say they are on track to earn $32 an hour as lead carpenters in a few years.
They have plans, the men say, to go from tenants of the Wayne Place buildings to owners. As part of the program, participants don’t pay rent for the three years they are allowed to live in the buildings. Instead they contribute a portion of their income to a special savings account created through Capital Area Asset Builders that is matched on a 3-to-1 basis. Jackson and Martin figure they could save about $40,000 each — a number city officials confirm.
It should be enough, the men say, to put in a bid for the buildings if they go up for auction.
“This is gold,” Jackson says three times as he pats the living room floors. “This is what we worked so hard for. This is what we sweated for. We see a big picture now. Instead of employees, we’re going to be employers.”