Donnell Harris, pictured with his son, has so far been unable to find an apartment through rapid rehousing.
Donnell Harris, pictured with his son, has so far been unable to find an apartment through rapid rehousing.

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On April 1, the administration of Mayor Vince Gray kicked off an ambitious effort to reverse the rising number of homeless families and place 500 of those families into housing within 100 days. Just over halfway through the program, that goal may be slipping out of reach.

Gray sent a letter today to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson disclosing that 53 days into the effort, only 99 families have been placed into housing. “While this represents good progress,” Gray wrote, “we are currently on a trajectory which would fall well short of meeting our goal to exit 500 families by July 11.”

“We just haven’t had landlords step up with properties for the program,” says Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. “If we don’t get landlords into the program, it’s not going to work.”

Gray took a small step today to boost the program, placing an ad in a special edition of the Washington Business Journal that encourages landlords to come forward and identify units that could be used for rapid rehousing, the city’s primary tool for housing homeless families. Through rapid rehousing, the city subsidizes a family’s rent for a minimum of four months, which can be extended to a year or sometimes beyond, after which point the family pays its own way. The program has struggled due to the lack of affordable apartments identified by the city as the District’s housing prices continue to rise.

It’s not clear that many of the small landlords in lower-income sections of town, where many homeless families are looking for apartments, are regular readers of the Business Journal. “We hope so,” says Ribeiro. “What else would they be reading? The City Paper, the Washington Post? It’s hard to tell what they’re reading.”

In the letter to Mendelson, Gray also urged members of the Council to make their own efforts to reach out to landlords to identify potential units for rapid rehousing. Ribeiro says Gray has no “pride of ownership” over the 500 Families, 100 Days initiative and will gladly accept help from whoever can provide it.

The city was obligated by law to provide shelter to homeless families in need this winter when temperatures with windchill fell below freezing. This spring, with that obligation past, homeless families have struggled to find housing, sometimes turning to crowded shared living situations in the absence of other options. Families approved for rapid rehousing have either been unable to find apartments they’ll be able to afford or encountered landlords who were unfamiliar with or skeptical of the program.

Ribeiro says the 500-family goal was “aspirational,” and it’s not mandatory to hit it exactly, although he still thinks there’s hope. “I think it’s within reach,” he says. “We’re going to try. If landlords step forward, absolutely, it’s within reach.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery