Housing, evictions, homelessness plague the District with continued COVID-19 crisis

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With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to cripple Washingtonians, hundreds of District residents are now without stable homes as the eviction moratorium was lifted and many are calling on Chairman Phil Mendelson to reverse the action. (Courtesy Photo)

By Sharece Crawford
Special to the AFRO

Over 300 Evictions are scheduled to occur in Washington, D.C. through October 2021- more than 70 are scheduled this week, according to the Office of Tenant Advocacy (OTA). 

Advocates and law makers are concerned that resources will not be made available in time to stop evictions. Advocates say that lawmakers are to blame for lifting the eviction moratorium while the COVID- 19 pandemic is still financially crippling District residents. 

“There are families on the brink of eviction, and it appears these evictions could be HALTED if STAY DC would get the money out the door. Not only is the government slow to get these funds out, they are unwilling to talk to anybody about it,” said District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

So what is STAY DC? Stay.DC.gov provides funds to assist “renters and landlords” that are unable to pay rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $352 million dollar federally funded program has been accused of leaving out homeowners out of resources; not meeting the federal guidelines; being too complex for users to complete and slow to process funding in time to prevent evictions.

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According to The Department of Human Services (DHS), who oversees the Stay DC Program, they have assisted a total of $103.8M in rental assistance and $5.1M in Utility Assistance. 

“No applications have been denied at this stage,” said DHS Director Laura Green Zeilinger to the Committee on Human Services on Sept. 3. 

A series of STAY DC Application Assistance Pop UP’s are scheduled to assist residents with processing through Sept. 29. 

“We have the backs of every Washingtonian that needs help paying their rent and utilities,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. “We also thank President Biden, Congressional leaders and federal partners for providing this once in a lifetime resource. We encourage residents and housing providers to apply today at stay.dc.gov.”

The estimated processing timeline was not provided. 

In a letter to Mayor Bowser, Chairman Mendelson slammed DHS, citing, “the current STAY DC process of not being nimble enough to issue payments before the evictions occur.” 

Critics have opposed Mendelson for leading the City Council vote to end the eviction moratorium.  However, Mendelson explained this is a matter to be worked out with DHS.

 “The Agency responsible for emergency rental assistance and other programs to prevent and address homelessness, DHS, is unable or unwilling to meet with me to address this crisis.”

Mendlson concluded his letter with a request for official communications from the Mayor’s Office to outline the plan to resolve the matter. 

“Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), in coordination with Office of Tenant Advocate (OTA), Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Mayor’s Office of Policy, is developing a guide for tenants that highlights the various types of resources available. This guide will be available for dissemination in the coming weeks,” Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio said on behalf of Mayor Bowser.

While City officials are pointing fingers over who’s to blame for the current crises. Outraged residents are demanding accountability at their door steps and on Twitter threads. 

“Who has oversight of the Mayor, Phillip (Chairman Mendelson)? Who is chair of the committee that oversees DHCD, [Council member Anita Bonds (D- At-large)],” Joey Hunziker asked on Twitter. “Do you all make it a point to do your jobs badly and then complain wildly about it being someone else’s issue?” 

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Dieter Lehmann Morales (1A02) also joined the discussion.

“Twenty-one evictions are scheduled in D.C. for today (Sept. 13) with most of those located in Ward 7. D.C. Council is still on vacation and [Chairman Mendelson] has not called it back into emergency session yet to reimpose the eviction moratorium,” Morales said. 

“What is he waiting for? There are 19 more tomorrow,” the ANC continued. 

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