*This story was originally handed in as an in-class assignment on March 19, 2019.
WASHINGTON – Protesters rallied outside the venue for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s annual State of the District address on Monday evening to demand that affordable housing be prioritized in Washington.
The State of the District was hosted at the University of the District of Columbia’s Theater of the Art in Van Ness. Protesters began arriving around 4:30 p.m., carrying signs that read “Black Homes Matter,” “Develop, Don’t Displace,” and “Public Housing is a Human Right.”
As Bowser’s State of the District address began, protesters formed a circle and started to march, chanting “no housing, no peace,” and “free D.C.,” while several onlookers remained outside the venue to watch.
“We’re here today to let the mayor know she hasn’t kept her promises,” said Berlin Dean, a protester who arrived at the rally carrying a sign emblazoned with the hashtag “#PutPeopleFirst.”
“Public housing (in Washington) is essentially deteriorating, eroding,” Dean said. “The message is for her to respond to the needs of the people, housing is what we’re after,” said Dean.
“This budget is unacceptable, some of the elements are progressive, but this budget is totally unacceptable,” said Sabiyha Prince, the membership and political education coordinator for Empower DC, one of the main activist groups that organized the rally.
The protests come after recent reports from DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which found that Washington consistently invests $100 million in the Housing Protection Trust, a fund for subsidized housing, but is producing only two-thirds as many units as it did four years ago.
According to Prince, the protesters that gathered came from several community organizations in a grassroots effort to show the mayor that public housing policy matters to Washingtonians.
Allen Stith, a Washington police officer standing watch over the entrance of the event, said that “the protest hasn’t affected the people attending the State of the District” in a negative way.
“We’re always for people exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Stith.
As the protest ended, activist Shealia Tyson took the megaphone to express her frustration with the state of public housing in Washington:
“I can’t live in D.C.; I have to move. To the mayor, those of us who live in this city, native Washingtonians, we want to stay in the city,” said Tyson, adding that the rising costs of living in the District make it inaccessible for people.
“The mayor’s housing policy is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Tyson, adding that the rising costs of living in the District make it inaccessible for people like her.
Bowser addressed the issue of public housing in her speech:
“We know the number one issue on the minds of Washingtonians is affordable housing. Rising housing costs have created new challenges for homeowners and renters alike, particularly for those on a fixed income and those who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Bowser.
Protesters were removed by Washington police officers after interrupting the address.
Representatives the mayor’s office did not respond to several requests for comment about Washington’s current housing policy, or the protests that occurred during her address.