Submitted to the AFRO by George Jones

There are enough resources, technology and brain power to completely break the cycle of poverty in this region in 20 to 25 years.

And breaking the cycle of poverty in this region begins with housing. What we’re missing, is the political will to make this a priority.

Elected officials talk about dedicating resources to fighting poverty. It’s time to shift the conversation. Fighting poverty is laudable, but insufficient. We need to talk about ending it. Ending poverty begins with a bold vision: that the cycle of poverty is something we can break. It begins at the doorstep of every D.C. resident and continues with the political will to enact public policies focused on poverty elimination through the reallocation of resources.  

According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, income inequality in D.C. is higher than anywhere else in the country. Nearly 20 percent of our residents live at or below the poverty line. That means a family of four survives yearly on $25,100 or less. An individual lives on less than $12,200. The families we see at Bread for the City average an annual income of less than $10,000 a year. These income inequalities also lead to disparities in health and educational outcomes between white people and people of color.

George A. Jones, CEO of Bread for the City (Courtesy Photo)

Breaking the cycle of poverty also requires us to say without hesitation who these policies should benefit. Because poverty disproportionately impacts Black and other people of color, so too must policies and resources intentionally align with breaking the cycle of poverty among the same populations.

Housing is the perfect place to start. Displacement has radically remade our city to the advantage of some and to the detriment of countless native and long-time Washingtonians. An influx of high-wage earners, neighborhoods that were once-historically Black have seen their original inhabitants pushed out of the city. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition more than 20,000 Black people were impacted by displacement between 2000-2013. This level of displacement bolstered the city’s economic profile, making it attractive to high-income earners. It also created “pockets of poverty” that defy the economic booms the rest of the city experienced.  

Those who were not pushed out found shredded social safety nets. According to the Urban Institute, 31,000 affordable housing units disappeared between 2005-2012. The DC Housing Authority estimates it has 10,500 families in public housing with thousands more on a waitlist that is no longer taking new applicants.

It would be political malfeasance for an elected official to say they don’t care about affordable housing. Actions tell a different story. District leaders and developers pat themselves on the back for building mixed income developments that set aside twenty percent or less of new units for low income residents. That means 80 percent of those units go to people who can afford to live anywhere in the city. Achieving equality means recognizing we have an affordable housing crisis and addressing it with appropriate resources before offering subsidies to tech companies, developers and tax cuts to the wealthy.

Equality means having the political will to fund and build 50 to 80,000 units of quality affordable housing. The FY20 budget allocates $130 million towards affordable housing. Yet, the Fair Budget Coalition, an organization of which Bread for the City is a member, calculates that fixing our affordable housing crisis requires a $400 million a year investment.

Breaking the cycle of poverty also means having political will to say the world we want to inhabit isn’t a fantasy. We must commit to building a city where every neighborhood works. We can’t take it as a given that some neighborhoods and people will always be the recipients of social services.

I challenge our elected officials to find the political will to place ending poverty at the top of D.C.’s agenda. I challenge the rest of us to hold them accountable and provide the support needed to make it happen.

George A. Jones has served as CEO of Bread for the City since 1996, leading the development and execution of BFC’s long and short term strategies and has final oversight over all administrative, financial, business, and programmatic actions of the organization, and its 100+ staff members.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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