The District of Columbia Housing Authority’s top executive participated in a national discussion that brings fresh perspectives on a wide variety of topics connected to life choices, motivations, and needs.
DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman spoke at the TEDxJHU event entitled, “Instructions Not Included.” The event was held at Johns Hopkins University on March 26 and was streamed live. A TEDx Talk is an event where a series of speakers present well-formed ideas in less than 18 minutes.
“Housing plays a fundamental role in everything we do,” Todman said to the crowd. “Housing is a key ingredient [of] the path to success.”
Todman explained that DCHA helps its customers use housing as a platform to build success. If 1,000 people move into the District each month they are all looking for housing that is affordable to them. Statistically, if your household pays about 30 percent of your income on housing, it is considered affordable, she said. If you work a minimum wage job, you need to work at least 100 hours per week in D.C. to be able to afford the average apartment.
“On average, families housed by the D.C. Housing Authority make $14,000 a year—far less than the $54,000 a year required for a two-bedroom apartment,” she said, citing widely accepted statistics.
After showing images of various types of public housing, Todman said the program has become unpopular in political circles and does not get the funding it needs from the federal government. This lack of funding further depletes the capital funding that is needed to fix the aging buildings—and public housing’s image.
Some two million people nationwide rely on public housing as a platform to their success, Todman said. She pointed out that many have benefitted from this platform, including well-known individuals like Marvin Gaye, who lived in D.C.’s East Capitol Dwellings; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a former public housing resident in the Bronx; and Alexander Hamilton, who, while not a public housing resident, was supported by a team of benefactors as an orphan because they thought “he could achieve something.”
Having supportive communities helped these individuals succeed.
While many will say the War on Poverty has failed, Todman argued it hasn’t failed but what the country needs is a transition to creating “an Accord on Opportunity.” The country should take down the barriers to a good education, affordable housing, health care, and jobs. But without housing, achieving all of those other necessities is much more difficult. .
Director Todman pointed to DCHA customer Joe Strong as an example. After putting two children through college, the veteran lost his job and was depressed. He asked his family to take in his youngest son and moved onto the streets where he lived with other veterans.
“I’m so grateful that my staff and the staff of the Veterans Administration were able to house him,” Todman said. “Now Joe is in law school and looking to become a homeowner.”
Then she told the story of Shernita Jefferson. Jefferson grew up in Barry Farm and was a single mother.
“In Shernita, I saw somebody who needed a break,” Todman said.
Through DCHA’s programs, Jefferson obtained stable housing, put two kids through college, and became a homeowner.
“With affordable housing, she was able to lift not just herself but her two kids, too,” Todman said.
Her final message to the crowd was for them to walk away knowing that government subsidized housing benefits individuals and our society overall.
“Next time you see a young man with dreads, ask yourself, ‘Is he the next Alexander Hamilton?’ or when you see a girl jumping rope, ask yourself, ‘Is she the next Sonia Sotomayor?’”
Other TEDxJHU speakers included Dr. Youseph Yazdi, executive director of the Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design; Jean Fan, founder of cuSTEMized.org and Ph.D. candidate in Bioinformatics at Harvard University; Nicholas Perrett, founder of Fifth Season HK Ltd. Asia-Based Events and Artist Management Agency and founder of the Goods, a Men’s Lifestyle Brand in Los Angeles; Sonia Sarkar, chief policy and engagement officer at Baltimore City Health Department; David Fakunle, Ph.D. candidate in Mental Health Studies at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Jennifer Dailey, Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.