Singing “We Shall Overcome,” protestors laid down on the sidewalk in front of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to protest proposed cuts to federal funds and programs designed to assist low-income, working-class, seniors, and the disabled in securing safe, affordable housing.
Billed as the Tenants March on Washington, hundreds of marchers from around the country joined organizers from New York, New Jersey, Florida, Delaware, and California on July 12 to demand that HUD Secretary Ben Carson act on their behalf.
An initial gathering took place at the Church of the Reformation in Northeast D.C., where Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told those gathered that she had thrown her support behind the issue of affordable and reasonable housing because she considers housing a basic human right.
“For families who are just scraping by each month, saving every penny they have to make the rent and keep the lights on, Donald Trump just wants to make life harder,” Warren told the crowd. “That is why we are here to say no, to cuts for housing, no cuts for city councils trying to help families, and no cuts for housing for seniors and those with disabilities. Any member of Congress who votes [yes] to cuts that make people lose their homes, then those members of congress ought to lose their offices.”
The national average apartment rent increased by 4 percent in 2016, reaching $1,210 a month, according to Yardi Matrix, a think tank that charts rental rates across the country. Additionally, due to rising rates, renters in six U.S. cities essentially paid an extra month of rent last year in increases. The District ranked ninth among the top 10 cities with highest rental rates. One-bedroom units in Manhattan averaged more than $4,000, with D.C. coming in at a rate of $2,053.
“We have to keep HUD’s feet to the fire, especially when President Trump has placed a neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, someone with little understanding of housing, working-class households and incomes, and the strain of making ends meet, at the helm,” Pittsburgh resident and housing advocate Tracey Harris said. “There is a mass movement to displace half of the law-abiding, taxpaying citizens of this country by raising rents or instituting new housing rules. We have to fight back, and keep fighting.”
Warren and other marchers voiced concerns over the Trump administration’s continued strong ties with Blackstone, a private equity firm that operates as the largest landlord in the United States and, according to housing rights advocates, is the “major driver of evictions.”
In addition, a recent New York Times story highlighted accusations that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, has been a neglectful landlord with properties he owns in several states, including Maryland.
Warren said cutting federal funds that assist with affordable housing programs, including Section 8 and vouchers, would impact those most vulnerable and create an atmosphere of housing insecurity.
“Hundreds of thousands of families will lose access to their housing vouchers and families will be forced to spend even more of their money on rent,” she said. “And that means less money for food, for books, less money for school, and on a car to get to work.”
“Who does this administration want to help,” she asked. “While they are talking about a $6 billion cut to HUD, this administration handed out a $1 billion government guarantee to Blackstone so they would be able to finance the purchase of more property. That means taxpayer money is being used to help out one of Wall Street’s worst landlords.”