October 19, 2015 Neighborhoods ·

The faces of affordable housing

Why D.C. needs more affordable housing – and how we can get there

Enterprise sponsored this special report on the Elevation DC blog explaining how “affordable housing is not a benefit just for the very poor; it’s something that can tie a city together. D.C. has some progressive housing policies, but it’s clear the need is greater.”

Also sponsored by Enterprise, Elevation DC hosted a panel discussion on October 13 to find out “Who needs affordable housing?” Panelists explored the state of the housing market in the District and the region, dispelled myths about housing, discussed how well-designed affordable housing contributes to an entire neighborhood and helped figure out what exactly “affordable” means.

Ellen, Theresa, Elizabeth, Mary

Roundtree Residences-113Ellen, Theresa, Elizabeth and Mary form a core group of active and engaged residents at the Roundtree. Among the first to move in, they help welcome new residents to the building. They participate in the building’s activities, such as craft projects and exercise classes, and encourage others to join. And, they have become family – looking out for one another.

Developed in partnership with Vision of Victory CDC, The NHP Foundation and District Development Group, the Roundtree Residences offers 91 apartment homes affordable to seniors with low to moderate incomes in Southeast, Washington, D.C. The building creates a sense of community through common spaces, including a large community room, an internet café, exercise room and other meeting spaces.


AbbyAbby, 60, just bought her first house – a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium at the Buxton developed by Manna, Inc., a nonprofit developer of quality, affordable housing. She and her children, Sam (30) and Alexis (32), couldn’t be happier.

For 27 years, Abby rented an apartment in Adams Morgan, which she shared with Sam and Alexis, both of whom have cognitive disabilities. Flooding from the upstairs neighbor’s bathroom led to black mold. Abby developed asthma, which sent her to the hospital on numerous occasions. In her old apartment, she was using her inhaler three or more times a day. Since moving in July, she has not used it once. “I can breathe,” she says.

When she started getting sick, Abby knew she had to make a change but was unable to find housing she could afford. She finally found Manna online and started its homebuying program. “I started working with Manna in 2009,” she says. “I was determined. I had to get my kids out of that situation, and I did. I’m really proud of myself.”



Angelia came to D.C. in 2002, fleeing domestic violence, and ended up almost immediately in a shelter; she stayed there 7 years and 3 months. Angelia says that throughout her time in the shelter she looked for work, but couldn’t find any. “For anyone, [the shelter] is really awful. You can’t prosper in it,” she says. Two months after moving into an efficiency near NoMa, she landed a job. She held that position for several years and is now self-employed.

Her efficiency is run by Housing First provider Open Arms Housing, which provides homes to 20 women who have histories of mental health issues, trauma, chronic poverty and unstable relationships. “This housing issue really changed my life, “Angelia says. “It’s done so much for me. It would for anyone.”


“There is nothing like having a place of your own,” Janet says with a proud, confident smile. Two years ago, she moved into an efficiency managed by Open Arms Housing (OAH), a Housing First provider for women in Northwest D.C. She considers her fellow residents family and often cooks meals for them. In the past, Janet struggled with addiction and eventually ended up in a shelter, where she lived for five years.

In a couple of weeks, Janet will be moving to a smaller property (also managed by OAH), where she will serve as the resident assistant, helping others to live independently. In the new building, Janet will also be closer to her daughter and two grandsons. She has been substance free for nine years and says she feels great. “I’m so grateful for everything Open Arms Housing has given me,” she says. “It is so important that others get the same opportunities that I have had here.”


LolaAs a result of domestic violence, Lola ended up in the D.C. shelter system with her three daughters, ages 16, 10 and 7. In the shelter, they were out the door by 5:30 a.m. to get to school and so Lola could commute to Annapolis, Maryland, for work. “It was stressful,” she says, “and so frustrating not to be able to provide a stable home for my kids.”

As part of D.C.’s Rapid Re-Housing program, she was referred to East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership. “We like living here,” Lola notes. “Everybody is happy.”
She now works a second job, in Hyattsville, Maryland, and is planning her family’s next move. “My goal is to find an apartment I can afford while working one job,” she says. “And, to not go back to the situation where I started.”


SabrinaSabrina has faced intermittent homelessness since age 18, when her mother passed away. Since then, she spent time in the D.C. General homeless shelter, couch surfed and even squatted in abandoned buildings, all with her oldest son, now 5, in tow. Last year, after giving birth to her second son (pictured), she was referred to an apartment run by the East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership through D.C.’s Rapid Re-Housing program, which pays half her rent for a year. But her time is almost up. She is not sure she can afford an “affordable” apartment in D.C. and also pay for diapers, clothes and food.

She currently works at a Safeway in McLean, a 90 minute commute that costs $14 a day, or just about two hours of pay at Virginia’s minimum wage. “I’m thankful I have a roof over my head, I’m not [sleeping] in a car,” Sabrina says. “But, it’s still tough.”

Angelia and Sabrina bios by Rachel Kaufman for Elevation DC
Photos by Lloyd Wolf

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