There were some unexpected guests waiting outside the Destination D.C. headquarters on I Street NW this morning as Ward 2 D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans met with the D.C. Business Coalition. More than 50 people organized by the Washington Interfaith Network gathered outside the meeting to push Evans to help put $44 million in city funds into affordable housing and jobs.
Monsignor Charles Pope, a leader of WIN, says they’ve had a good relationship with Evans and see him as an ally, but are putting some pressure on him to make good on a promise he and other councilmembers made at an event last December to support those priorities.
“We’re a little concerned that some of his recent statements suggest he might not be willing or able to keep the promises he made to us on December 5,” Pope says.
WIN also wanted the business community to know their concerns about “affordable housing and the urgent needs to see funds returned.”
Evans says he does plan to help find money for WIN’s projects, though exactly where in the budget the funds would come from isn’t clear.
The Rev. Jeff Krehbiel, co-chair of WIN, thinks last year’s budget cuts come at a particularly troubling time—when homelessness in the District was increasing.
“Five years ago the goal set was to move 7,000 homeless people into permanent supportive housing,” Krehbiel said. “Today there’s been 2,000.” WIN members think these numbers, paired with increasing homelessness indicate that the government should be doing more, not less.
Jasmine Williams agrees. She’s a 20-year-old trying to get on her feet and has been homeless in the past. Even though she has a job, she’s having a hard time finding housing and is thankful for the six-month extension to stay in the independent living situation program she’s in.
“I wish the higher-ups in the city would keep in mind the less fortunate when making such cuts to affordable housing,” Williams said. “Having somewhere to lay your head is a simple need, but a necessary one, and not having anywhere to sleep just puts a lot of stress on a lot of other things we having going on in our lives.”
Today’s protest wasn’t just about affordable housing, though. It was also critical of the DCBC and called “out the hypocrisy of the same business elites calling for austerity for residents while lining up for government subsidy, contracts, and benefits.” Or as Pope, puts it, “everyone should share in the pain and also the gain.”
Pope stresses WIN is looking to engage and find allies in the business community and aren’t against development or growth. They do, however, take issue with the letter DCBC wrote to Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown last May that calls for halting the “unsustainable growth of government,” arguing that it led to the cut and defunding of popular programs.
Some of the people Evans was meeting with, though, disagreed with the folks outside. Michael Burlas is a D.C. Business Coalition member and Chairman of Associated Builders and Contractors Chair of Metropolitan Washington and thinks WIN misunderstands the business community.
“The business community is not asking the council to cut back of affordable housing and other social services,” he says. “What we’re asking is that the city use more efficiently the resources it currently has.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery