The cold weather is about to come to an end, which usually heralds spring, a time of new life. But for some Washington, D.C. residents, it can signal the end of an old as rising temperatures usually mean an increase in the number of evictions in the District. According to the US Marshals Service, there are hundreds of evictions slated in the upcoming weeks.

When temperatures rose to 60 degrees two weeks ago, dozens of evictions occurred daily leaving furniture, household items, documents, personal artifacts and clothing sprawled on the sidewalks. Passersby could be seen stopping their vehicles to scavenge through items, taking valuables, especially mattresses and box springs.

The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) currently schedules approximately 25 to 40 evictions per day, Monday through Friday. If there is inclement weather such as precipitation or cold temperatures (35 degrees or lower), the evictions scheduled for that day will not take place. In December 2010, there were 138 scheduled evictions, four were executed. In January 2011, there were 441 evictions scheduled; only two were executed.

In 2006, Councilman Marion S. Barry (D-Ward 8) proposed the {Evictions with Dignity Act} which forced the District government to pay storage for 90 days for personal belongings of residents who were evicted. However, it was defeated.
Barry remembered there were 35,000 eviction notices filed last year, and he fears things would get worse in the near future.

“As vicious as this city and country is we need to do something to help those in need,” said Barry, who oversees housing. “Imagine standing there while people drive up and take your personal belongings. Why beat a man when he’s down? There’s should be a way to deal with someone’s personal items until people get on their feet.”

Tenant activists said most of the current evictions are a byproduct of the housing crisis, rising cost in the rental market, high unemployment, the impact of massive immigration, the District’s failure to enforce workforce training programs and the reluctance to oversee its first source law in hiring practices.

“The city needs to address each of the issues rather than piecemeal their efforts if it truly wants to keep current residents living here and stop most of the evictions,” said Lester Cuffie, 56, executive director, DC Coalition for Housing Justice.

At a recent landlord-tenant court session, over a hundred people sat in the courtroom waiting for their cases to be called. The tenants subject to eviction came from public housing to homeowners facing foreclosures.

Majestrice Tinch, 56, sat outside the courtroom going through a folder with rental receipts. Tinch was facing eviction because her landlord claimed she failed to pay $441 in cable fees that were incorporated in her rent. However, when she presented the landlord’s attorney with her payment receipts, lease agreement and contract for cable services, he requested a continuance because the landlord’s records seemed to be inaccurate.

“We have suffered so much in the last few years. We had 10 management companies. Some lost our leases and records of payments. No one wants to talk to us from the management companies. No one wants to make repairs. Even the tenant advocacy office seems overwhelmed,” said Tinch.

It has also become quite difficult to obtain emergency rental assistance. “In this economic climate all systems of support and assistance are so overloaded that they have become ineffective,” said the Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church and distributor of the DC Emergency Assistance Fund.

Another problem that has arisen from mattresses and box springs thrown out from an eviction is the possible spread of bedbugs, which raises concerns among health officials. “The proper disposal of unused or infested box springs and mattresses is very important in the District, because these items can serve as potential breeding grounds for bedbugs and other insects,” said Mahlori Isaacs, spokesman, DC Department of Health (DOH), in a statement.

Health officials suggest to avoid the spread of bedbugs, residents should properly dispose of unused, unwanted, or infested box springs and mattresses by breaking down box springs, cutting up mattresses and sealing them in plastic bags before putting out for trash collection, and also by labeling items in both English and Spanish to indicate that they are not reusable and are infested with bedbugs.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO