D.C. Tenants Speak Up for Affordable Housing


They came from points in the city where people aren’t enthralled with the boom that has led to an explosion in young, moneyed Whites who have changed the flavor of their neighborhoods and whose willingness, and ability, to pay sky-high prices for housing have left them wondering what they will do to live.

For the 125-plus long-time District residents who converged on All Souls Unitarian Church on May 18 for the Sixth Annual Tenant Town Hall, the jurisdiction’s red-hot housing market has locked them out and in need of help.

“The fear is that we can’t hold on to enough of affordable housing,” said event co-organizer Juanita McKenzie, president of the 930/940/960 Randolph Street Tenant Association in the Petworth neighborhood in Northwest. “I advocate for affordable housing so native Washingtonians, such as myself, will not be displaced. With all the economic development and revitalization that is going on, people…deserve a right to stay here.”

The town hall was organized by The Housing for All Campaign, an umbrella organization of affordable housing advocates. Residents from all eight wards attended. Speakers included D.C.Housing Authority Director Adrianne Todman, D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development Director Michael Kelly, District Chief Tenant Advocate Johanna Shreve and D.C. Councilman Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

“It’s about workforce housing. It’s about people who need help with rent. It’s about housing for low income and extremely low income, but it’s also about the homeless,” Graham told the audience. “This city has too much cash to have thousands of homeless people.”

The crowd applauded and several people shouted out in response to his words.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray proposed $100 million of the FY 2014 budget to affordable housing. TheD.C. Council has already approved $63 million and housing advocates hope the body will approve the balance during budget hearings currently underway. Twenty million of the $20 million of the $100 million was slated for the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF), which is used to finance the creation and preservation of affordable housing. The council, however, voted to designate $4 million of the funds to the summer school program.

The HUD website cites the median income in Washington, DC as $107,500.
One person making $49,000 or less, or a family of four earning $70,000 or less meet the criteria for most affordable housing programs in the District, officials said.

Public housing and section 8 vouchers are popular affordable housing options but as of April 12, the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) suspended its waiting list. The agency is also experiencing deep budget cuts.

“Beginning March 1, the housing authority is getting 1 million less each month,” Adrianne Todman, Director of the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) said to the crowd about the impact offederal budget cuts on housing funds. “That means that if someone comes in with a voucher, we don’t have the cash to put it back out.”
A new apartment complex to be built at 1400 Irving Street with 40 affordable housing units was praised by many of the officials in attendance but that is a small amount for the thousands of people in need.

“One of the things tenants need to be most concerned about is assuring that there is affordable housing at every level of affordability—that’s housing for low income, moderate income and market-rate folks,” Kelly told the {Afro}. “We want to have social justice through housing.”

What was intended as a meeting about affordable housing featured a lot of complaining about problems with landlords and property management.

As the price of real estate has gone up, many tenants find themselves living in buildings where the hot real-estate market has enticeddevelopers to snap up buildings, though they often have little concern about addressing their tenants’ problems, many in attendance said.

The Housing for All Campaign is pushing for D.C. government officials to establish mandates to require the abatement of hazards like mold in apartments.

At one point, McKenzie asked if anyone had experienced mold problems. Nearly half the hands in the room went up, including that of Olivia Chase, 57, of Northeast who lives with her four-year-old grandson Richard.

“All I want is a healthy and safe environment for my grandson and me,” said Chase. “When it comes to the little people, he’s going to have stability and he’s going to have decent housing.” 

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D.C. Tenants Speak Up for Affordable Housing

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