Council member Marion Barry (D) is taking drastic measures to “save” his ward from a culture that prefers renting to owning, proposing legislation to ban any new apartment construction in Ward 8—the poorest part of the city.

The Moratorium on the Construction of Apartment Buildings in Ward 8 Act 0f 2011 forbids the city to issue permits allowing construction of apartments in Ward 8.

In a statement, Barry explained what he called a “housing crisis” in his ward, which includes Washington Highlands, Anacostia and Congress Heights.

“An over saturation of apartment buildings throughout Ward 8 has led to few opportunities for residents to become homeowners,” he stated. “I want the residents of Ward 8 to achieve the American dream of owning a home and to enjoy the financial benefits of doing so.”

Barry stated that 24 percent of residents in the ward are homeowners yet the area is riddled with the highest percentage of renters in D.C.—more than 76 percent.

“This fact is totally unacceptable to me,” Barry stated. “Without this effort, fiscal responsibility will never be able to flow to the families who want to reside in the neighborhoods of Southeast, Washington, and they will continue to exist, driven by a philosophy to just survive, rather than to invest in their future.

Ronald Jones, a project manager for the U.S. government, said he understands Barry’s moratorium efforts—economic sustainability is key for growth.

“I think he just wants to see Ward 8 with some longevity as opposed to a transition area utilized by people that are in D.C. for a short-term basis,” the Ward 7 resident said. “If you have more homeowners, the sense of personal responsibility, community responsibility and cohesive culture will build.”

Linda Leaks, the lead housing organizer of Empower D.C., agreed that D.C. has a housing crisis, but the housing shortage should be of more “concern.”

“The crisis is so vast, it is irresponsible for anyone to advocate a moratorium on the development of low-cost and moderate-cost rental housing,” the advocate said. “I was just stunned by the whole idea.”

Leaks, who has campaigned for affordable housing and worked with tenants in D.C. for 30 years, said more than 300,000 people are on a waiting list for low-income housing—with the greatest percentages in Wards 7 and 8.

“There is an extreme shortage of rental housing—even people with income are not able to find housing,” she said.

Wards 7 and 8 have lost thousands of rental housing that was covered by rent control, properties developed prior to 1975 and have rent increase limitations.

“The majority of rent control properties are in more moderate wards,” she said.

Barry’s bill would exclude projects that have been permitted for construction within six months of the effective date, if passed by the council.

Calling the proposed legislation “irresponsible,” Leaks formulated her own opinion of why Barry may have issued the moratorium: The people in Ward 6 do not want to be part of Wards 7 and 8.

“This is way to appease those who are worried about redistricting,” she said.

The D.C. Council passed redistricting plans and is currently seeking community input into the process to help shape each ward.

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer