Diamond Whitaker, 20, and her friend, Mary-L. Pope, 24, both unemployed young mothers, sat on their portable chairs wrapped in blankets with umbrellas protecting them from the weather hoping for the chance of a lifetime.
The women posted themselves in front of the Hubbard Place Apartments located in a rapidly gentrifying area in the District, for the last 24 hours. They, like the hundreds of other hopefuls waiting in line, responded to an advertisement sent to government agencies and community organizations that the housing development was accepting applications for apartments.
Their strategy worked, the young mothers were the first in line to apply for subsidized housing in this newly renovated structure.
“I don’t mind doing this because I must make sacrifices to get ahead,” said Whitaker, as she cautiously looked around her. “About seven girls tried to jump us late last night to bust in line, but we weren’t having it.”
That act of desperation shows just how volatile the housing situation has become in the District.
According to data from the 2010 Census, there are 296,719 housing units in the District. It has been reported that more than 11,000 residents are homeless and that a large percentage of children live in poverty. The average income is $40,000 and 17 percent of residents live below the poverty level.
After bracing the elements and using bathroom facilities at nearby businesses, Whitaker was concerned that behind-the-scenes shenanigans might keep her from getting a place.
“I’ve been watching people get out of nice cars to apply. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Every day is a struggle. I’m not like many of these people in line who want to reduce their rents, I really need somewhere to live,” Whitaker said. “All I want is a stepping stone to help me get ahead. I will be the best tenant ever.”
Santiago DeAngulo, district manager for the Hubbard Place Apartments, a 230-unit privately-owned structure, said the purpose of the event was to fill the requirement of keeping an active waiting list of 100 applicants for each apartment size. “There are no vacancies.” The news hit the crowd like a ton of bricks. “We are just replenishing our waiting list.”
“I still have hopes,” said Alemash Taddese, 50, an Ethiopian hairstylist. Taddesse lives in the basement of a building a few blocks away. “My rent is too expensive. I must try.”
Dibaklu Amera, 53, an Ethiopian priest, used a translator to express his sentiments. “I live inside the church because I can’t find affordable housing. I’m praying that I get one of these apartments,” he said through his interpreter.
According to DeAngulo, the apartment dwelling renamed in honor of Leroy Hubbard, a housing and community activist in Ward 1, was under renovation from 2007 to 2008. Tenants who relocated due to the construction had first rights to return on the premises.
At the end of the line which wrapped around the block, Quishaunna Fowler, 22, a part-time worker at Wal-mart and sociology major at the University of the District of Columbia, stood with her infant in a carriage with a protective cover. She became homeless when her sister went into the Navy. Fowler and her grandmother did not make enough to pay the $800 rent.
“I have been living at the homeless shelter at D.C. General. It’s pretty bad. My baby stays sick in that environment. No matter if I don’t get an apartment today, I’m applying,” she said.
Phyllicia Melton, 18, who works in a downtown souvenir shop, had a similar experience when she and her mother were evicted almost three months ago. “Unless you’ve lived in a shelter with your infant child, you have no idea what to expect. I desperately need a place to live,” said Melton. Despite the fact that Melton knew it might be years before her application would be called, she had hopes someday to remove her name from the rolls.
“I just got accepted to George Mason University to study psychology. Someday, I will be able to afford a nice place and the best for my daughter.”