The two letters below were written after the February 1st virtual meeting of the MPD Second District Community Advisory Committee. The CAC gathered police and DC behavioral health officials to discuss “an uptick of complaints” from and about apartment buildings. (We reported on a portion of the conversation, which went over who to call in when we see someone having a behavioral health crisis.) While the remarks by the featured speakers were recorded and shared here, the Q&A portion was not.
Repairing past harms
In recent months, Ward 3 residents have been engaging in conversations around housing and crime, and sometimes the two issues have been conjoined in particularly heated and problematic tones. With an open Ward 3 Council race in the Democratic primary, it is particularly important that Ward 3 residents discuss how to make our community more reflective of the racial, cultural and socioeconomic diversity of Washington, DC as a whole.
Many of us are aware of the history of segregation and displacement that have made our ward the wealthiest and least racially diverse ward in the city. And many of us are not proud of this past, but how committed are we to repairing those harms? Using tribalistic “us” versus “them” language, making hasty judgments and stoking fears about people based on stereotypes, rather than facts, causes harm when done by anybody. In these times of a rising radical right that stokes racial divisions, all of us – not only elected officials and community leaders – must be very intentional in eschewing such language.
We must support specific housing policies, such as providing housing vouchers and creating affordable housing – including deeply affordable housing – that will make it possible for people of all incomes to live here. Ward 3 residents and businesses employ early childhood educators, lawn maintenance workers, home health aides, and a wide variety of low-wage service workers who cannot afford to live here. Also, DC residents in other wards may want to move here. Through targeted housing policies, we can promote racial and economic diversity that will benefit the entire ward. We must also support other policies that promote racial equity citywide, such as increasing pay for early childhood educators and providing supplemental income to working people, many of whom are employed by Ward 3 residents and businesses.
The DC Council funded such programs last year through the Homes and Hearts amendment to the budget, a small increase in the income taxes of the wealthiest sliver of DC households, enacted despite the opposition of five Council members, including Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Bonds and Cheh, and Mayor Bowser. Ward 3 must continue making progress in repairing past harms. We are thankful for the model efforts of the Brandywine Tenants Association to build strong communities and the advocacy of Ward 3 Housing Justice for the creation of housing affordable to people of all income levels in Ward 3.
Other challenges confront us, as well: Rents are rising 12% a year in DC, now that the rent freeze has ended. There is record rental debt due to the pandemic’s economic effects, but Mayor Bowser refuses to use local funds, including a 2021 $697 million surplus, for rental assistance. These problems fall most heavily on Black and brown DC families due to the legacy of racism. Repairing the effects of that legacy is work that all Ward 3 residents, community leaders and elected officials should embrace.
Van Ness Street
Landlords also have a public safety responsibility
On several occasions MPD 2D Commander Duncan Bedlion has made the point that management companies need to step up and take charge in situations that cannot be handled by the police.
I agree. We residents (and the city) pay money to the management companies to provide us with a safe, quiet, healthy living environment. We do not pay the city or the police department for that. A responsible business owner takes responsibility for anything that goes wrong in his/her business and fixes them.
Also, it is not up to us residents to fix the problem of other residents behaving badly. It is up to the landlords/management companies to fix any problems that occur in their buildings, just as they are responsible for fixing broken garage doors, water heaters, leaky roofs, or HVAC systems.
So my suggested solution is that we residents (and the appropriate city agencies and members of the DC Council) put continued pressure on our management companies to do their job and fix the problems occurring in our buildings, and that the city require the management company executives and their on-site managers to attend regular training workshops on:
- how to deal with unruly residents without having to resort to eviction notices;
- how to access city and police services that can help with residents who have social, drug, or mental health problems;
- how to improve security in their buildings with 24/7 security guard service, concierge service, increased electronic lock systems, and increased CCTV coverage of their properties;
- how to communicate with all residents on issues that arise in the building, such as trash, recycling systems, shopping carts, etc.;
- and how to provide best practices in building management, such as levying fines for lease violations, as is done in one building, instead of sending quit and cure notices.
These workshops could be organized during working hours by DCRA for management companies, and attendance would be mandatory for any company receiving subsidy funds from the city. DCRA could also add resident safety and security to its checklist of inspection items in their regular building inspections.
A GOOD, well-trained building manager and his staff can effectively defuse many in-house disputes through personal interaction with offending or troublemaking residents, dealing with the nuisance issues, most of which do not rise to level of criminal activity. I have witnessed that in our building and in others I have visited.
Police departments across the country used to limit themselves to policing. Now, in response to changing conditions, they are adding social work and social services training for their officers. If they can do it, why can’t apartment management companies?
E. David Luria
President, Brandywine Tenants Association