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New pilot program will help D.C. families transition from homelessness

The $25 million program — which includes cash payments up to $10,000 — will help about 600 families, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser at a news conference on Sept. 8. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

The District will spend nearly $25 million to help 600 low-income families transition out of homelessness, including up to $10,000 in cash, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Monday.

The pilot program, called the Career Mobility Act Plan, is aimed at families who are transitioning out of homelessness but do not require permanent housing vouchers. Bowser explained that some residents enrolled in government assistance programs face a dilemma when choosing jobs if their new earnings are less valuable than the benefits they received. She referred to this as the “benefits cliff.”

“We are creating a new program that helps fill that gap,” Bowser said. “We’re telling families that we’ve got your back, but we want you to continue earning, learning and growing, so you’ll be able to handle all the things that those benefits have covered.”

The pilot — available to families enrolled in D.C.'s family rehousing stabilization and rapid rehousing programs — will be tailored to each resident’s career and family goals, Bowser said. Among the available benefits are rent and career support, up to $10,000 in cash, and a recurring deposit of $200 in a savings account for every month a family pays their portion of rent, Bowser said. Assistance from the program will last up to five years.

The city initially planned to assist 300 families as part of the pilot using $11.7 million in funds through the American Rescue Plan Act. It doubled that figure after about 1,500 families applied to be in the program, said Laura Zeilinger, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services. All of the participants will be selected through a lottery and the first 300 families will be enrolled before the end of the month; the second 300 will be enrolled next year using an additional $13.1 million that Bowser announced Monday.

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Bowser said the effort will further the city’s progress on ending family homelessness in the District. The number of families in shelters has decreased by about 78 percent since 2016, thanks in part to the closing of the decrepit D.C. General shelter. Bowser made the announcement at the DHS service center at 1207 Taylor Street in Ward 4, which closed for renovations during the pandemic and is set to reopen in a couple of weeks.

“This program is going to help for our Ward 4 families. We know that 15 percent of our Black families and Latinx families here are below the poverty line,” said D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4). “And [the service center] will be a great resource for them. They’ll be able to come right here and won’t have to go downtown or any other place. We’re bringing resources to them.”

The pilot marks the latest effort by the Bowser administration to provide families with direct cash payments, including a $1.5 million cash assistance program announced early this year for new and expectant mothers in Wards 5, 7 and 8. And last month, Bowser said the city would provide 15,000 low-income families with one-time $1,000 payments to help them prepare for the school year.

“We have developed over the years so many different programs that are surrounded by a lot of bureaucracy and hoops that aren’t efficient and don’t necessarily help families advance. And a lot of that has to do with not trusting people … or that we think they have to prove they’re deserving of the help,” Bowser said of the recent initiatives. “We think cash can make the difference … And we also have had — let’s be clear — over the last couple of years an infusion of dollars that have allowed us to advance in some of these ways.”