As development across the District continues to raze long-standing communities and replace them with more modern and expensive housing, residents – particularly in Wards 7 and 8 – have moved to direct action tactics to avoid being displaced.
Robert Green, another tenant at the 3200 13th Street building in Congress Heights, and Attorney Eugene Puryear gathered outside of the John A. Wilson District Building with other Congress Heights residents to demand the council address housing concerns. (Photo by Shantella Sherman)
On Sept. 6, the One D.C. nonprofit housing organization and members of the Alabama Avenue / 13th Street Tenants Association took to the streets outside the John A. Wilson District Building in Northwest D.C. to demand that members of the City Council address housing concerns, including continued city funding of slum lords, disinvestment in current properties and the elimination of reasonably-priced housing.
“We have been fighting this since 2012 and will keep fighting and disrupting these wrongs until we can get a new Mayor who really cares about the people and can fix this,” Gloria Ward, a resident in a building in Congress Heights, located at 3200 13th Street, told the AFRO.
Gloria’s angst with politicians was widely felt among residents who rallied at the government building.
“I believe I rent from the worst landlord in the whole USA, Sanford Capital, because they have disregarded all of our complaints about our units,” Robert Green, another tenant at the 3200 13th Street building in Congress Heights, told a group of about 75 people gathered for the protest. “Most politicians will tell you anything and you cannot believe them until you see them actually fulfill on their promises.”
In a protest that began outside the District Building and culminated in activist moving through the corridors of the building to solicit the support of each councilmember, many residents expressed dismay over the lack of empathy and what they termed ‘empty words’ of elected officials. Residents were turned away at each councilmember’s office.
Green told reporters his frustration in dealing with his landlord is only magnified by the lack of support he has received from the D.C. Council. According to a Feb. 26 Washington Post article, Sanford Capital denied being a slumlord and said it was a responsible manager of its properties.
According to One DC, tenants are asking D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser turn over the vacant building at 3200 13th Street Southeast – the missing piece in the tenant-led struggle to build 200 units of affordable housing over the Congress Heights Metro in Southeast. A 2015 Washington Post article noted that the area around the Congress Heights Metrorail station had been slated for redevelopment that would include major retail, restaurants and housing facilities. The project called for the demolition of current low-income housing, occupied mostly by poor, elderly residents on fixed incomes. The plans did not spell out housing options for those displaced or a desire to have residents buy-in through collective financing to the new development.
Instead, according to residents, the landlords simply refused to make general repairs or necessary improvements, allowing the properties to fall into disrepair in hopes, Green said, that tenants would move out rather than live in squalid conditions.
Attorney Eugene Puryear, who delivered the petitions of the tenants to the District Building and took part in the rally, said that councilmembers needed to be transparent with their constituents, especially when it comes to their relationships with developers, landlords and the larger communities they serve.
“We’ve come here from Congress Heights to demand that residents not be displaced from where they live, and we also want to know why our elected officials are so willing to work with slum lords,” Puryear said upon entering Councilmember Mary Cheh’s office. Puryear went on to accuse Cheh, who represents Ward 3, of “palling around” with Jeff Griffiths, who he called a ‘key slum lord.’ “We brought these demands to Mayor Muriel Bowser asking her to take action on the 3200 13th Street, and we want to hear something affirmative from Cheh who took money from Griffiths.”
The AFRO did not receive responses from Cheh’s or Bowser’s offices regarding Puryear’s allegations before publication.