This study is among the first efforts in the District of Columbia to identify the population of people facing housing insecurity and better understand their characteristics in order to build an informed and properly targeted infrastructure of support. We conducted a representative survey of DC households using a comprehensive definition of housing insecurity and estimated the number of people facing various forms of insecurity. We designed the survey instrument based not only on the literature but also on input from people with lived experience and staff of service organizations who work directly with people seeking housing stabilization services.
Overall, our study finds that 12 percent of residents in DC are experiencing housing insecurity, corresponding to an estimated 82,452 DC residents. Among people facing housing insecurity, the most common type is unaffordability, followed by inadequate housing and frequent or unwanted moves. Slightly more than half of people facing housing insecurity in DC predict instability in the next three months, and more than 3 in 10 are involuntarily living with another household temporarily. Certain populations—namely, families, children and youth, Black and Hispanic residents, and Ward 7 and 8 residents—were more likely to be housing insecure relative to their shares of the total DC population, while other groups, such as white residents, were significantly less likely to be housing insecure.
With an estimated 1 in 10 people in DC experiencing housing insecurity, the need for services and support is extensive. Expanding affordable housing, whether through building new affordable housing or preserving and restoring existing affordable housing, is a primary need. Subsidized housing through the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program has proven to be an effective tool to address housing insecurity and has shown to work as well for Black non-Hispanic families as white non-Hispanic families.
Research also shows that providing incentives for landlords to participate in the HCV program further improves the supply side of affordable housing. Residents experiencing housing insecurity in DC need services that reduce the cost of housing, including housing vouchers and mortgage assistance, as well as services that improve housing quality and reduce formal or informal forced moves. Other tools to address housing insecurity include incentive programs to support housing rehabilitation, which can expand options for higher-quality housing in DC, as well as eviction prevention services, such as landlord-tenant mediation, eviction defense, and housing counseling, to reduce rates of forced moves. These services should be targeted in a way to better reach populations that are disproportionately experiencing different types of housing insecurity.