There’s a studio apartment waiting for her. But almost 6 months later, this DC mother is still sleeping at a shelter

Belinda Whitfield
Belinda Whitfield stands outside an apartment she has been waiting six months to move into. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
belinda and bri whitfield
Mother and daughter Belinda and Bri Whitfield stand outside an apartment complex in Northeast D.C., where Belinda hopes to move into. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
Belinda and Bri Whitfield
“My mom is such a sweet and kind person. She’s so gentle and she just doesn’t deserve this,” Belinda Whitfield’s daughter said. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
Belinda Whitfield
belinda and bri whitfield
Belinda and Bri Whitfield

This story is part 1 of WTOP’s 2-part series “The Long Road Off the Streets,” looking at the difficult path out of homelessness through the experience of one D.C. woman.

Standing on a sidewalk along Harry Thomas Way in the Eckington neighborhood of Northeast D.C., 50-year-old Belinda Whitfield wistfully looks up at the apartment that should be hers.

Last September, she was accepted for a studio apartment in the building through the District’s Local Rent Supplement Program. But almost six months later, Whitfield still can’t move in.

Instead of walking through the front doors of the building that is less than five years old, Whitfield will instead turn to a D.C. shelter to lay her head down for another evening.

Whitfield said the process of getting into the unit has been slow to complete, which she said is through no fault of her own.

“We’re at least five months, going on six months now, and we haven’t had any progress,” Whitfield said.

Her daughter Bri Whitfield has been trying to help her mother through the process. Due to her own financial hardships, single-mother Bri said she is unable to house her mother for long periods of time.

A myriad of obstacles

When Belinda Whitfield was awarded a voucher last July, she also was offered help from the nonprofit Open Arms Housing. Her case workers would be the ones to guide her through the process of finding and applying for a place to live.

She said after several months of not being able to find an apartment that met the requirements of the voucher, her daughter stepped in to help her search.

“There were no parameters around what we could apply for. They just said, ‘Go apply for apartments, and we’ll tell you if you’re approved or not.’ So we were going in completely blind,” Bri Whitfield said.

Bri found a unit at the complex in Eckington, which met the initial requirements, but each step in the vetting process had them encountering some kind of roadblock.

According to Bri, those assigned to her mother’s case were slow to follow up. They would also send notice at the last minute of what needed to be done, such as getting documents from the property manager, she said.

Before a property can be approved, it must be receive the green light by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to ensure a reasonable rent is being charged. The unit must also be inspected by the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA).

Case workers said in an email that some of the delays were the results of waiting for responses from both DHS and DCHA.

“My due date to move in was on Dec. 15, but we didn’t actually move in,” Belinda Whitfield said.

According to Bri Whitfield, clerical issues also delayed the process of her mother being able to move in, which included case workers not being able to log into a portal used for making payments for the property’s amenity fee.

Belinda Whitfield’s fourth attempt to apply for the property in February started the process all over again and required another inspection, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 7.

The process

Open Arms Housing CEO Arthur Cutler said his staff continues to work Whitfield’s case. He understands the Whitfields’ frustration as Belinda Whitfield inches closer to getting the apartment.

“The system doesn’t work all the time where that can be immediate,” Cutler said, adding that he has reached out to the mother and daughter as their case continues to move forward.

The process of using a voucher involves finding a unit that qualifies for the program.

Once the District’s DHS determines the rent is reasonable, and a DCHA inspection is scheduled, that unit’s final move-in fees and paperwork would need to be submitted to landlords ahead of a scheduled move-in.

While not speaking specifically about Whitfield’s case, Cutler said some cases can take longer than others due to many factors — including gathering paperwork for people experiencing long-term homelessness and a heavy workload due to the overwhelming need for housing.

As of February, more than 6,000 people were using voucher assistance for housing, according to DCHA data. More than 40,000 are on the waiting list for voucher consideration.

Cutler said each case worker has anywhere from 18 to 20 people who they are assisting in the process. And each case can take time, especially when many of their clients are not a phone call away.

“I’ve got some case managers that are literally having to go find them (clients) on the street,” Cutler said.

Rachel Pierre is the administrator for the Family Services Administration at the D.C. DHS. While not speaking specifically about Belinda Whitfield’s case, Pierre said six months of waiting is “definitely not” typical and would not be “acceptable” to the agency.

Pierre said there are rare occasions when applicants experience long delays, and for those cases, there is an option to request a voucher extension from the DCHA, which is an independently run government agency.

That had to be done in Whitfield’s case.

In a statement, DCHA said it inspected the unit and approved Belinda Whitfield in December, then issued a Housing Assistance Payment, or HAP, contract for execution.

“Since then, DHS and her case management providers have made multiple attempts to reach Ms. Whitfield to facilitate move-in but were unsuccessful. Outreach to Ms. Whitfield is continuing so that she can get secure housing,” the emailed statement said.

The Whitfields said they promptly responded to every call pertaining to the process from all those involved.

“My mom is such a sweet and kind person. She’s so gentle and she just doesn’t deserve this,” Bri said.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up