A tax cut D.C. doesn’t need
Renee is a single mother who, like many, struggled to find an affordable home in the District. She endured domestic violence and drug abuse and teetered on the edge of homelessness. But Renee was able to turn her life around at Sinai House, a transitional housing program that helped her create a stable home, land a good job and reunite with her children and grandchildren.
Having a home is a basic human need and the foundation for a good life. For D.C. residents in similar situations, a stable and affordable home means a chance to restore their lives.
In the proposed fiscal 2016 budget, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the D.C. Council committed strongly to ending homelessness and preserving and creating affordable housing, dedicating nearly a third more dollars to these programs than in the 2015 budget.
Still, more will be needed. Tens of thousands of Washingtonians are on the waiting list for housing vouchers, and the list has been closed to new names for years. As recently released data show, nearly 500,000 people moved out of the District for housing reasons between 2000 and 2014. This transience destabilizes neighborhoods and undermines our social, cultural and political vibrancy. It will take more than one year of strong investment to turn the tide.
But a proposal by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) threatens to cut short the District’s progress. Mendelson is seeking to make future revenue growth go automatically into tax cuts. This would undermine the city’s ability to fund programs in ending homelessness, building affordable housing, strengthening education and more. We know these programs naturally cost more every year. Next year, for example, the District’s chief financial officer expects that an additional $200 million will be needed simply to maintain existing services, which means thousands of homeless people still looking for stability.
Rather than tax cuts, many of which would benefit those who don’t need them, many of us would be willing to contribute more. In a time of growing inequality, the District needs money to support people living on low wages or fixed incomes, who are caught in a trap of rising rents, stagnant income and a shrinking supply of affordable housing — not tax cuts for the well-to-do.
How do our religious values guide us to address these problems? Jewish people have homelessness in our collective memory, from the Exodus story we retell each year at Passover to our families’ histories of displacement across Europe and elsewhere. As rabbis, we feel it in our hearts when we hear about families pushed out of their homes, sleeping on relatives’ couches or in inadequate shelters, working multiple jobs just to have a place for kids to lie down at night. No one should have to wander in that desert.
The city’s 2016 budget includes important investments, such as $100 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund, $40 million to build new and better homeless shelters, housing of the chronically homeless, rental assistance and repairs of public housing. As members of Jews United for Justice who have been supporting our neighbors on these and other housing issues, we know that this money will be well spent and that it’s a great start. But investments such as these must be made every year.
Indeed, knowing the scope of our city’s challenges, we are willing to contribute more. Those of us who are comfortably housed and employed can afford to pay our fair share and invest more to make sure no one is forced onto the streets or out of the city. We would be true “restorers of streets to dwell in,” as the prophet Isaiah calls the righteous. Let’s all do what we can to help our wandering neighbors find good homes here.