On May 9th, Connecticut Avenue tenant leaders wrote to Mayor Muriel Bowser to request a meeting on DC housing policies and the effects on living conditions in their apartment buildings. On June 8th, they got their wish.
During their meeting with the mayor, representatives from buildings including 3003 Van Ness, the Avalon, Connecticut House, Brandywine Apartments and Sedgwick Gardens described rent subsidies in excess of market rates, which they said incentivized landlords to favor voucher holders over renters paying entirely out of pocket. They also warned of efforts under way to convert rent-controlled apartments, buildings constructed prior to 1976, into means-tested affordable housing.
“Everyone at our meeting agreed on the need to provide housing for the homeless and to increase the supply of affordable housing citywide,” Harry Gural, the president of the tenants association at 3003 Van Ness, told Forest Hills Connection. “However, we think that housing policy also should increase – not shrink – the supply of affordable housing for middle- and fixed-income Washingtonians.”
And, they described chaotic conditions and crime in their apartment buildings.
“The mayor seemed surprised when we told her that the horrible situation at Sedgwick Gardens in Cleveland Park wasn’t an outlier, but was typical of how the voucher programs had affected many other large apartment buildings in Ward 3. The situation is becoming a crisis,” Gural said.
Also at the meeting with the mayor: a tenant leader from 4000 Massachusetts, and an owner-resident from the 4600 Connecticut Avenue condos who said that absentee landlords were buying units in her building and charging voucher holders “extremely high” rents to live there.
“Fortunately, the mayor seemed to agree on the thrust of our main proposals,” Gural said, which included “increasing transparency by releasing aggregate, non-personal data about the number of housing vouchers and the actual rents paid, protecting rent-stabilized units, and including renters and condo owners on the DCHA working group that will review the extremely high approved rents for housing vouchers.” (Read more about their proposals and Bowser’s commitments here.)
On the latter point, the tenant leaders got their wish three days after the meeting. Gural received an email on June 11th from Brenda Donald, the director of the DC Housing Authority, inviting the tenant leaders to participate in the voucher rates decision-making process.
The meeting with Mayor Bowser was the latest in a series of discussions between the leaders of tenants associations along Connecticut Avenue and candidates for office, including mayoral candidate Robert White, Council chair Phil Mendelson, At-Large Council candidate Lisa Gore, and Ward 3 Council candidates Matt Frumin and Eric Goulet.
How many apartment buildings in DC are rent-controlled? And how many units? No one knows for sure, and in 2015, the DC Council passed a law mandating the creation of a database. Such a clearinghouse would be useful to renters and to DC housing policymakers.
So, where is it? The Washington City Paper reports the database is “stuck in purgatory” because the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) isn’t sharing some of the necessary data with another DC agency – the Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA).