The Long Wait List for Affordable Housing in D.C.

Having a housing voucher can be a lifeline for low-income D.C. residents, given the rising market rate rents. But actually getting such a voucher is no easy task; the D.C. Housing Authority waiting list is more than 37,000-people long, and the city is just now getting to people who signed up in 2003.

There are no time limits on how long people can user vouchers. Housing Authority director Adrienne Todman tells Washington City Paper that she’s trying to free up spots by working with families on vouchers to see if they still need the assistance. “There’s a feeling that’s built up. ‘What if I get sick? What if I lose my job?’ If you live in public housing, you’re good,” Todman told the City Paper. “The next frontier is working with people and getting past the generational concept that ‘this is what I do.’”

It’s not just a constant reality for families. The list is also full of single people like John (he declined to give his last name), who started a five-year jail term for drugs in 1999, got out in 2003, went through a halfway house before offending again, did another five years, and has been living in a men’s shelter since summer of 2010. He’s now about to get off probation, but is still on the housing list after eight years. With his kind of record, in this kind of job market, his chances of making enough money to pay for his own apartment are slim.

“People told me to get on the list, so that’s what I did,” says John. “I knew it was going to be a wait, but I didn’t know it was going to be this long.”

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