Oct 7, 2021 - Podcasts

New plans to help unhoused people in the nation’s capital

Washington D.C. is piloting a first-of-its-kind program that offers one-year leases to unhoused residents in the city. It could offer a solution for the more than half a million people experiencing homelessness in this community.

  • Plus, how South Dakota became a tax haven.
  • And, a game-changing new malaria vaccine.

Guests: Axios' Chelsea Cirruzzo, Felix Salmon and Bryan Walsh.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo, Michael Hanf, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:


NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday October 7th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: how South Dakota became a tax haven. Plus, a game-changing vaccine for malaria.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: housing DC’s homeless people.

Washington D.C. is now piloting a first-of-its-kind program that's offering one-year leases to unhoused residents in the city. It could offer a solution for the more than half a million people who are experiencing homelessness across the country.

Chelsea Cirruzzo is a reporter with Axios D.C. and has been reporting on how it's gone this week as the city has started to clear out encampments. Hi Chelsea.

CHELSEA CIRRUZZO: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

NIALA: Chelsea, can we start with what exactly is this program that D.C. is piloting?

CHELSEA: So the pilot program, it involves four different encampments across D.C. And one part of the program is to offer housing to people within these encampments. And this housing according to service providers that are contracted by the city, they tell me it's 12 month leases so temporary housing. But the program is also coupled with a clearing of these encampents and this is sort of where the controversy has come in.

You know, happening at the same time is D.C. just actually implemented a tax increase that began on October 1st taxing D.C.’s most wealthy, and that tax increase is actually going to be funding 1,000 vouchers for permanent supportive housing which is permanent housing and it includes wraparound services and supports for people. So that's happening at the same time, you know, of course I've spoken with housing advocates - They're very excited about this tax increase but they also say that they're worried and very much focused on what's going on with the encampment pilot at the same time.

NIALA: So when you say that there was a clearing of encampments, what does that entail?

CHELSEA: Yeah, so the city workers came into two encampments this week and they threw out tents. They removed personal belongings. I was out there on Monday during these two clearings and I spoke with people there who - there was a mix of responses. A couple of people were actually part of the pilot program. They will be moving into housing but they just weren't ready to move that day. Other people told me that they actually hadn't even been contacted about receiving housing.

NIALA: So we talked about two things: We've talked about this pilot program, as well as this tax increase and funding. Are either of these models that other cities are hoping to use?

CHELSEA: As far as I know, this is a pretty D.C. specific program. And in terms of the tax increase, I spoke with a councilmember who helped champion the increase when it passed through the council, Councilmember Nadeau and she told me that she modeled this tax increase off of the Way Home Campaign, which is a coalition of housing advocates that is dedicated to ending homeless. They analyze how many units it would take to get people into housing. So the council took that information and passed a tax increase on D.C.'s most wealthy residents and that is intended to meet that number. And I believe that's 2,400 families that would move out of homelessness through this tax increase.

NIALA: Chelsea Cirruzzo is a reporter with Axios D.C. Thank you, Chelsea.

CHELSEA: Thank you so much. Have a good one.

NIALA:Back in a moment with how the United States has become a massive tax shelter for the uber rich.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

On Monday, we shared Mike Allen's thought bubble on the Pandora Papers, a massive leak of financial records which shows that South Dakota has become a tax haven for the rich like enclaves like Switzerland or the Seychelles.

Felix Salmon has tried to understand how this happened and joins us now. Hi Felix.

FELIX SALMON: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: Felix, how does South Dakota go from having $57 billion worth of this type of tax haven to 360 billion in just a decade?

FELIX: It's partly what South Dakota did. They made it more attractive to people wanting trusts. Much more important was what the rest of the world did. The rest of the world basically cracked down on tax havens. So it didn't matter whether your money was in Switzerland or the Seychelles. It didn't matter whether it was in The Bahamas or the Cayman Islands. All of those jurisdictions signed this agreement called the Common Reporting Standards, which basically said that if some dubious foreigner had their money in the trust in that jurisdiction, they would report that back to the native country and everyone else. And there would be a bunch more transparency about where all of this money was being held. There is one country in the world that did not sign on to those standards. The United States overnight basically became the destination of choice for anyone wanting complete secrecy about where their money was.

NIALA: Now that this reporting has come out this week, has that changed the conversation around how the U.S. handles this?

FELIX: I hope so. Like I think that what this has really hammered home is number one, that insane degree to which South Dakota and other tax haven states are being used as tax shelters. Number two, how easy it would be to kind of fix this problem, right? We don't need the South Dakota legislature, which only meets for two months every two years to actually do anything at all. What we need is the United States Congress or the White House - I'm not sure which one it would be - to sign onto the CRS, these Common Reporting Standards. If the United States treated its own trusts in the same way as the United States wants Switzerland to act towards Swiss trusts, then suddenly the attractiveness of South Dakota would evaporate.

NIALA: Axios’ chief financial correspondent and author of the Capital newsletter, Felix salmon. Thank you, Felix.

FELIX: Thanks.

NIALA: Malaria kills about half a million people each year and more than half of those are children under the age of five. But yesterday the World Health Organization endorsed a vaccine for malaria that could soon be saving tens of thousands of lives. Axios’ Bryan Walsh has a story. Bryan, good morning. How important a development is this?

BRYAN WALSH: This is potentially incredibly important, both in terms of saving human lives, but also really in kind of trying to blunt the pretty significant economic effect that malaria has on the very poorest people.

NIALA: You've actually had malaria. I'm sorry. What was that like?

BRYAN: It was, you know, just days of fevers that would climb and then they would be followed by chills and just a sense of your bones almost breaking. And of course I was very lucky, you know, it was a few days of sickness. I could get treatment, but obviously for hundreds of thousands of people, especially very young people, they won't survive this.

NIALA: How does this vaccine work?

BRYAN: It seems to provide pretty decent protection against the youngest people who might suffer from malaria, about 30% efficacy over the course of four years of a clinical trial. And it works by kind of priming the immune system of those who take it against the parasite that's carried by mosquitoes that causes malaria.

NIALA: Of course, we all think we're vaccine experts now, right? We understand efficacy rates, but can you give us a sense of why this 30% efficacy rate was approved?

BRYAN: Well, it wasn't just the efficacy rate, but really they saw with both the actual trials clearly did save lives, prevented kids from getting the most severe, the most dangerous forms of malaria. And if you model that out, you know, you're talking about potentially tens of thousands of lives saved, millions of cases prevented. And this is coming in a moment when progress against malaria has really stalled. So it's the perfect time to be able to bring in a vaccine, even if it's not potentially the best one that could be created.

NIALA: Bryan Walsh is the future correspondent for Axios. Thanks, Bryan.

BRYAN: Thank you.

NIALA: In case you missed it - before we go. Yesterday we told you about Winnie the Pooh, which made me feel obligated to share that in other fat bear news, 480 Otis, a bear at Katmai National Park and Reserve in Alaska, won his fourth annual Fat Bear Week title. The online competition spotlights bears in the park fishing salmon and chunking up for winter - what the park calls a celebration of “success and survival”.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at [email protected] or reach out to me on Twitter. You can also text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper