by Meha Patel
In recent years, the District of Columbia government has focused homelessness alleviation efforts on its rapid re-housing program. The program provides homeless individuals and families with short-term rental assistance. Individuals pay thirty to forty percent of their income towards their monthly rent, while the rapid-rehousing subsidy pays the remainder. These subsidies aim to provide homeless individuals adequate housing as soon as possible, rather than waiting to provide housing until these individuals have reached certain behavioral benchmarks, for example employment, sobriety, or compliance with mental health counseling. The program adequately understands the difficulty homeless individuals have in achieving stability in other areas of their lives when they are burdened with homelessness, and how housing can be a first step towards this stability and independence.
However, despite it is good intentions, the short-term rapid re-housing program is not the best options for many individuals and does not always lead to long-term stability. Subsidies only last for four months to one year. After the subsidy expires, renters are expected to cover one hundred percent of the cost of their unit on their own. This short length of the subsidy prevents individuals from being able to obtain further education that may increase their earning potential. It also does not help individuals who are chronically ill, caring for children or aging family members, or, for some other reason, are unable to work the three full time minimum wage jobs they would need in order to afford the median rent in D.C. Rapid re-housing provides a temporary solution to the long-term problem created by a lack of affordable housing and a failure to implement a living wage.
The rapid re-housing program measures its success on the number of individuals placed in rapid re-housing who do not return to homeless shelter system within two-years. However, this provides an inaccurate, biased measurement of the program’s success. It does not include those who refused to return to the shelter system after a failed attempt at rapid re-housing. It also does not include those who are living in substantially unsafe housing, those who are doubled-up with family members, those living in their cars, or individuals and families who are otherwise inadequately housed.
While the expediency of the rapid re-housing program is commendable, funding for this short-term program should not be prioritized at the expense of long-term programs like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (“HCVP”) or the Local Rent Supplement Program (“LRSP”), which provide a long-term solution for those facing homelessness.