While Washingtonians want President Biden to push for statehood, they also want his administration to help the city by providing economic security for low-income and working-class residents, creating more affordable housing and improving health outcomes, particularly in predominantly Black neighborhoods.
“We need statehood for D.C. there is no doubt about that,” Ambrose Lane Jr., chairman of the Ward 7-based Health Alliance Network, said. “But the city has so many other problems and we need Biden to focus on those especially.”
The DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), a think tank which studies poverty in the city, published data in 2017 showing a lopsided relationship between the District’s rich and poor unlike income inequality anywhere else in the U.S. Households in the top 20 percent of income here account for 29 times more income than the bottom 20 percent. The DCFPI also revealed the bottom fifth of households had just two percent of the city’s total income while the top fifth had 59 percent.
Kate Coventry, a senior policy analyst for DCFPI, offered suggestions on how the Biden administration can address the wide gaps between the wealthy and the working-class in the District.
“His proposal to eliminate the separate tipped minimum wage would raise thousands of D.C. workers, most Black and brown workers and mostly women, out of poverty,” Coventry said.
Coventry said the Biden proposal to increase SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps) will help thousands of food-strapped residents.
“The current benefit level does not cover the actual cost of food so most households run out of SNAP before the end of the month, leaving people to struggle to put food on the table,” she said.
Kim R. Ford, the president and CEO of Martha’s Table, a Ward 8-based organization tasked with helping struggling families and individuals with social services, said she wants the president and his administration officials to know that people need cash.
“I encourage President Biden to focus on getting more money into the hands of people who need it,” Ford said. “COVID-19 has only exacerbated the economic disparity permeating throughout the District, and this crisis will have a lasting ripple effect on communities. We need to invest in our neighbors, stand alongside them as they begin the recovery process in the aftermath of the pandemic.”
Affordable housing has emerged as a major concern in the District. Zumper.com reported as of Jan. 23 a one-bedroom apartment in the District rents for $1,951, on average, compared to $1,621 nationally, according to Rent.com.
Realestateagent.com reports the average price of a house in the District is $637,000 while nationally, Daveramsay.com reveals the median price for a home comes to $334,000 for a new model and $260,000 for a used one, as of Jan. 18.
Coventry said the Biden administration’s “proposal to give housing vouchers to all who qualify for them would be the biggest game changer for working class people in Washington because housing is so expensive.”
“To afford a two-bedroom in D.C., a worker needs to make more than $32 an hour,” she said. “This is double our minimum wage.”
Daniel del Pielago, organizing director of Empower DC, an advocacy organization for low-and-middle income District residents said the Biden administration should institute a moratorium on evictions.
“When the pandemic is over in the city, there will be a lot of evictions and we may have a number of homeless people,” del Pielago said. “We have a lot of residents who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and cannot pay rent. I like the slogan, ‘Cancel the Rent’ because that is what is needed to keep people in their homes.”
del Pielago said more money should be put into public housing projects.
“Public housing is really the only affordable housing in the city,” he said. “The president should put money into programs for their upkeep and implement policies to see that they don’t become privatized by developers and people aren’t priced out of their units.”
del Pielago said the Biden administration should put more funds into homeownership initiatives so low-income residents can make a down payment to buy a house.
Health inequality has become one of the District’s most pronounced social ills.
Ward 3 residents, because of their wealth, access to health care facilities and higher education level, will live 16 years longer than those in Ward 8, according to a June 2020 study by the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies.
Lane encourages the Biden administration to think creatively when dealing with the District’s health disparities.
“The administration could really look at parts of the inner city and create a Marshall Plan for Wards 5, 7 and 8,” Lane said, referring to the billions the U.S. invested in post-World War II Europe. He called for a similar plan with “a health-centered focus.”
However, Lane said the president’s priority presently should be to control the coronavirus and he thinks the “100 million doses in 100 Days” program will help the city.
EMBRACE THE CITY
Pamela Gomez, the secretary of the D.C. Latino Caucus, said she wants the president and his family to bask in the District.
“I would like President Biden to do what President Obama and his family did: spend time in the city,” Gomez said. “We want him to come into the city and go to our restaurants and eat the delicious food. D.C. is an amazing and wonderful place and he should enjoy it.”