DC steps up efforts to get homeless families into housing

As the weather turns cooler, D.C. leaders are focusing on getting the District’s homeless into permanent housing.

The mayor is asking property owners to offer leases to people who accept District services, such as rental assistance, and help meet the goal of moving 1,250 families out of shelters.

“I’m a chef by trade, so I do a lot of good cooking and fine dining restaurants around the city,” said Alonzo Johnson.

He got emotional as he described his fight with COVID-19 while living at a shelter. D.C. set him up to quarantine in a hotel, but Johnson said being sick sharpened his need for a place to call home.

“It don’t make sense like, you know, to be homeless and working in billion-dollar buildings. So I’m just glad to have this opportunity come to me,” he said of his new apartment.

Johnson signed a lease as one of the first in the 2021 Home for the Holidays campaign, which the District hopes will pair housing providers with families living in shelters.

Bill Whitman, of Somerset Development, spoke about the company’s decision to work with the Public Housing Trust to acquire the Channel Square apartments near the Wharf and provide affordable housing there.

“Our commitment at the time was to preserve affordability at Channel Square. And thank goodness we did, because as you see all around us, beautiful — beautiful but very expensive — market-rate housing going up. So we have managed to preserve the affordable units here at Channel Square and are proud and happy to do so,” Whitman said.

The District is calling on housing providers to work with them and accept tenants who are receiving services such as rental assistance.

“We have 1,000 people who, right now, are connected with supportive services and rent subsidies, who we can invite home by working together,” said Laura Green Zeilinger, director of D.C.’s Department of Human Services.

DHS manages the Home for the Holidays campaign, which runs through Feb. 28. Housing providers who are interested in partnering with D.C. can email the department at ahomefortheholidays@dc.gov.

Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed her hope that neighbors will help one another as the holidays approach.

“They are people just like us who are looking for a shot and looking for a permanent home for their families, especially now, right before the holiday,” she said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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