infographic that reads: COVID-19 spreads rapidly. People in communal homeless shelters and congregate detention facilities are at grave risk. DC should house these people in the District's 10,000 vacant units.


Here is a brief summary of a plan that members of DC’s homeless community have come up with as a critical way to reduce overpopulated locations in particular homeless shelters. We call our plan Vacant to Virus-Reduction (V2VR).

The Data


As of November 15, 2019, DC had almost 10,000 vacant apartment units across about 3000 buildings. See CFO DC Economic and Revenue Trend Report, p. 9 (Dec. 20, 2019).


In January 2020, 6,380 people were counted as homeless on one given night during the annual point in time count, though that number is low: In the 2018-2019 school year, 7,728 different elementary and secondary education students in DC identified as experiencing homelessness. See 2020 Point in Time Count Results; OSSE Homeless Counts 2018-2019.

Our current situation as of July 20, 2020:

Department of Human Services

  • 329 confirmed cases
  • 77 in quarantine (Not cumulative. Ex. on April 21, 2020, there were 253 people in quarantine.)
  • 68 in quarantine from shelter (Not cumulative. Ex. on April 21, 2020, there were 236 people in quarantine from shelter.)
  • 21 deaths

The Plan

Use vacant properties to house the unhoused.

Why, you ask? 

There is an acute need to give people physical space in order to properly social distance and reduce transmission of COVID-19. There has been an acute need to house people in the nation’s capital – a place with one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness in the country. 

This is in line with international human rights recommendations from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing

  • “Public authorities should be empowered to make available privately-owned vacant housing or secondary homes.”
  • “Where feasible and appropriate, governments should purchase available short and long-term housing units to ensure that homeless populations are housed during and after the pandemic and as a means of increasing their public assets.”

How do we get there? Make the financing work. 

DC routinely gives money and land to companies to finance development projects, in attempts to stimulate economic development. Why not use this same tactic to spur economic development by providing housing stability, and thus healthcare, to people who are currently not housed or who are housing unstable?

Government support.

Cities around the world have made similar proposals. D.C. has the opportunity to lead a public health response that saves lives in the short- and long-term. 

  • In Rochester, New York, communities proposed legislation “that declares housing a public good and creates a fee for those rental property owners who withhold vacant habitable apartments from the market.” 
  • In Barcelona, Spain, the city’s housing department is attempting to force landlords to offer up vacant units for housing or the city will buy them at half price and use the units for public housing.
  • In Denver, Colorado, community groups are similarly pushing for the use of vacant units to house the homeless.

Use public subsidy formulas given to developers and property managers to finance emergency efforts for individuals and families, including those with chronic health conditions, to reduce the use of large congregate settings for people experiencing homelessness.