Washington, DC is unique in many ways. With the distinction of being the nation’s capital, it functions as both a city and a state. In terms of population, the District of Columbia is larger than the states of Wyoming and Vermont. It has a budget larger than 12 states, pays more federal taxes than 21 states, pays more federal taxes per capita than any state, has a gross domestic product larger than 17 states, has a rating of triple-A bond and is currently running a budget surplus rather than a deficit.
But it’s a city, not a state. Therefore, it is the only city in America where Congress directly oversees the city’s budget and laws through constitutional authority. For years, Congress operated as the only legislative body where the city’s residents had no elected representation. A limited form of self-government was granted when Congress passed the Home Rule Act of 1973, signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon. It allowed DC residents the right to elect their own mayor, council, and nonvoting member of Congress. Washington DC is the only jurisdiction that does not have the power to appoint its own judges. While DC voters don’t have a federal representative on the ballot, the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections could have significant implications for the city’s autonomy, not to mention its quest for federal status. ‘State.
As House Republicans point to the growing number of homicides and homelessness in the capital, as well as the mayor’s COVID-19 policies, some within the ranks of the GOP have expressed a desire to take greater control of the city. Currently, some members of the House would go so far as to see the Home Rule Act of 1973 eliminated if the Republicans succeed in taking control of Congress. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which oversees DC affairs, is drafting legislation to return sole control of the city to Congress by repealing the law. Washington DC is a city no different from other urban communities that are experiencing similar increases in crime and homelessness; Republicans who use this to justify reducing DC’s self-government know this.
We see high-cost cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco grappling with this same humanitarian nightmare — it’s not just a DC problem. The political motivations of the GOPs are clear, with DC being a strongly Democratic city, but politically, how will Republicans at the federal level address the growing growth of homelessness and its root causes? The affordable housing shortage is a national crisis that should be addressed as such by federal officials of both political parties. There is no reasonable way to solve the complex homelessness crisis across America without adequately addressing housing shortages and poverty.
Bernie Sanders recently delivered a speech in the Senate suggesting a “unanimous resolution commending the billionaire class” for amassing more wealth during the pandemic even as remaining American citizens have suffered economic losses. This position is not new for him. By now, some people may have fallen deaf to his message, but the senator’s consistent point is not just about economic disparities, but a divide in humanity. His speech illustrates a growing gap in humanity towards others.
There is a gap between how much we care about the less fortunate and how much we don’t, as a society. For many people, homelessness is only a problem because it’s visible and makes them feel uncomfortable – and we know how much being “uncomfortable” can be triggering for some – as they are forced to face this “horror” every day. We have a viable option in Build Back Better (BBB) legislation that includes historic investments in affordable housing.
It represents a critical step in addressing the multi-partisan issue surrounding homeless encampments that we see nationwide. Given that a bill is in place to address the root causes, how can someone in good conscience say they are sincerely concerned about chronic homelessness and yet reject the BBB? Yes, it’s a heavy toll, but not compared to years of doing nothing, spending millions on temporary repairs, having no safe streets or parks, and adopting bad policies out of desperation, not to mention the human toll and suffering.
There are other underlying causes of homelessness that proponents of “law and order” need to consider. Many people who commit criminal offenses do so to survive, but many also have underlying mental health and addiction issues. It is difficult for the chronically homeless to maintain stable housing due to these addictions or mental health issues. In many jurisdictions, the growing rate of homelessness is rapidly outpacing the addiction and mental health services available. And let’s not forget how the human gap is widening due to vested interests and campaign funding from donors who want to ease the requirements for affordable housing. Many real estate developers prefer to build more profitable and more expensive housing, thereby increasing their supply while reducing affordable housing options. In many cases, developers receive grants (tax incentives) with the promise of providing public benefits such as jobs, affordable housing and green space. Unfortunately, the community does not always receive the promised benefits.
The national problem of homelessness requires coordinated efforts from local lawmakers on the front lines and those crafting effective federal policies in Washington. A homeless person is unlikely to vote in November, but their fate depends on the outcome. We should keep that in mind when we all vote this year. Unfortunately, the future of DC residents also hinges on the results of home races nationwide.
David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization TRB: The Reconciled Body and the author of the book God Bless Our Divided America. He can be contacted at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.