May 11, 2023 - Real Estate

Report: Homelessness up in D.C. region for the first time in years

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

Homelessness in the past year rose in D.C. for the first time in five years, according to a new report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Why it matters: The report’s authors say the lifting of pandemic-era tenant protections such as the eviction moratorium contributed to the increase. That’s been compounded by rising housing costs without additional rental assistance while wages didn’t keep up.

The big picture: The metro region, which includes D.C. and eight surrounding jurisdictions covered by the report, has seen declines in homelessness since 2019. But it experienced an overall increase of 18% in 2023, with a total of 8,944 people experiencing homelessness.

Be smart: The numbers come from the annual point-in-time survey, a federally required count of people experiencing “literal homelessness” — living on the street or in a shelter — on a single January night.

  • The count isn’t a perfect reflection of how many people are experiencing housing insecurity; for example, it doesn’t count people who are couch-surfing.

Zoom in: D.C. counted 512 more people experiencing homelessness than the previous year, an increase of about 12%.

  • The steepest increase was a 12% rise among families, which D.C. has seen the most success in housing in recent years.
  • Single adults, a group D.C. has struggled the most to house, increased by 10.2%.

Zoom out: Homelessness increased sharply in the suburbs, with some large areas including Montgomery County noting more than 300 additional people in 2023.

  • Loudoun County saw the steepest rate increase at 122%, with 220 people counted in 2023, up from 90 the previous year.

Yes, but: Homelessness is still below pre-pandemic levels in the District. D.C.’s overall homeless population declined by 25% between 2019 and 2023.

What they’re saying: “Homelessness is often a lagging indicator of poverty and economic instability,” says Jesse Rabinowitz, senior manager of policy and advocacy at Miriam’s Kitchen, which provides case management to people experiencing homelessness.

  • “We knew there would be an increase [in homelessness] due to the pandemic. It took a few years for that to happen.”

What we’re watching: Housing advocates are calling on the Bowser administration and the D.C. Council to revise the proposed fiscal 2024 budget to add $55.5 million for permanent supportive housing vouchers, which would cover 1,260 single adults and 480 families.

  • The Way Home Campaign, which is comprised of local housing advocates, is also asking for funding to be restored to D.C.’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

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