July 30, 2021
Nine years of tireless lobbying by Foundry United Methodist Church and its partners in the Way Home Campaign paid off this week, when the D.C. Council voted 8-5 to approve a tax increase on District residents who make more than $250,000 a year. The estimated $100 million in revenue generated by that increase will pay for programs for the homeless and nearly-homeless, including roughly 1,000 in housing vouchers for chronically homeless individuals.
There were also 583 to 740 vouchers in the Mayor’s proposed budget and 775 in the budget put forth by the Chairman.
“Over the next two years, these vouchers will be enough to reduce the chronically homeless population in the District from approximately 2,700 today to somewhere around 200,” said Associate Pastor Ben Roberts, Foundry's director of social justice ministries.
Foundry didn't win this victory alone, Roberts said, "but we were one of the longest in the fight, and a lot of these ideas started with a Foundry group taking a look at permanent supportive housing in New York 14 years ago."
Another last-minute factor may have been a vigil held this past June at Foundry to honor the 42+ people who have been found dead on the streets of the District this year — including Jose Antonio N., an unhoused day laborer who slept on Foundry's steps and was found dead there a few June 17 by a neighbor.
When some council members objected to the tax increase on the grounds that the idea had not been studied enough, Lewis George, the new Ward 4 District councilmember who took office earlier this year, mentioned the vigil at Foundry as a way of emphasizing the urgency of the issue.
Raising taxes on the richest District residents is an unpopular idea with the business community, and District Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked the council to "reconsider" its vote. Chances of that happening are slim, say knowledgeable council observers.
Foundry's emphasis on homelessness began roughly a 14 years ago, when neighbors of the rapidly gentrifying areas near the church began to complain about the number of persons who slept on the church's steps at night because they had nowhere else to go. In response, the church formed a task force to investigate long-term solutions to the number of people who were chronically homeless or who were being priced out of the rental market as the DC area grew in wealth and population.
At about the same time, the idea of permanent supportive housing was beginning to take hold in other cities: programs that offered housing vouchers to low-income people, along with the supportive services they needed in order to handle things like medical crises or landlord-tenant disputes. A few years later after lack of investment in housing, the Way Home Campaign was created, an alliance of roughly a hundred churches, synagogues, social justice groups working to end chronic homelessness.
The tax hike is in addition to provisions in the mayor's proposed 2022 budget that would funnel roughly $500 million in federal coronavirus relief money into affordable housing and childhood education programs over the next four years.
After nine years, Roberts said, "it's time to celebrate."
We give thanks for everyone who has been part of this effort over the years, the generosity of the Foundry community in sharing space, resource, and time. We now turn our attention to faithful implementation and accountability as we forge ahead.