WASHINGTON — Terry Nicholetti has lived the lives of a dozen people. The 76-year-old has written a children’s book, performed as an actress and pursued studies in theology. She’s a triple threat in her own right, and yet with all her personal and professional success, nothing could have prepared her for a time when she didn’t have a place to call her own.
“I was able, from that first job, to buy a home on E Street," Nicholetti said. "I actually owned that home for 11 years. But I couldn't keep it up. I couldn't keep up the payments. I ended up in a one-bedroom apartment, I could afford for about a year and a half. And then after that, I lived out of my car doing house sitting.”
Nicholetti represents a growing population of residents throughout the DMV who either can't afford or are spending most of their income on housing expenses. Data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows the Washington metropolitan region has a shortage of more than 126,000 affordable rental units. The demand is only worsening as rents skyrocket.
The average rental prices throughout Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. remain above the national average of $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. The District tops the region where the average two-bedroom costs $3,100 a month. As the cost to rent increases, thousands of people are finding themselves unable to afford a place of their own.
Nicholetti was one of them.
“My work as a writer, as a performer, or somebody whose work as a carpenter…it's not valued the same way as if I had chosen to be a lawyer or a doctor,” Nicholetti emphasized.
After months of bartering and house sitting, Nicholetti was able to get an apartment with Jubilee Housing, an organization that provides affordable housing and community resources to those who need it.
“I have a residence that's safe, that I can afford out of my Social Security, with the community and with guidance of other services,” Nicholetti said with a smile on her face. “I have a little studio with a window that looks all the way down to the Washington Monument. And I'm like, Oh, my God, I have a view…not another brick wall.”
More affordable housing units are being constructed throughout the metro but it’s still not keeping up with demand. Jubilee Housing has 10 properties in use and five more on way. But while families wait, it puts pressure on organizations that manage long waiting lists and expectations.
“We're always full,” said Jubilee Housing's President/CEO Jim Knight. “The waitlists only open periodically, and it's typically when we're bringing a new property online."
One of its properties, The Maycroft, opened to residents in 2019 and within hours was filled.
Several counties in the region are doing their best to work through the crisis, providing additional housing assistance or, like D.C., investing $400 million into the housing production trust.
The efforts are appreciated, say beneficiaries like Nicholetti, especially when it comes to maintaining one’s dignity.
“I feel like the universe said, okay, you've had 50 years of trying to make enough money to live on and do your creative work," Nicholetti explain. "We're gonna give you a rest."