Some of our apartment building neighbors are here thanks to vouchers making their rents more affordable. And they are, as The DC Line puts it, “spawning debates over how best to provide housing for DC’s most vulnerable residents.”
Tenant advocates at Sedgwick Gardens, the apartment building at 3726 Connecticut Avenue, told DC housing authorities, the DC Council and the Washington Post that voucher holders reside in nearly half of the units. They also said some of the formerly homeless residents were dropped into their new living situations without needed social services and support, and that their neighbors are living with the consequences.
(The Post article itself drew critics. For a more comprehensive look at the voucher program, its benefits and its unintended effects, we encourage you to read Jake Maher’s May 31 article in The DC Line. Like the Post, Maher covers the tenant conflicts. But he also gets into the racial and income discrimination that makes it difficult for voucher users to find housing other than with a few friendly landlords, which contributes to the consolidation. And he covers the loophole that may be encouraging landlords to accept voucher tenants by reducing the number of affordable, rent-controlled units. It’s a deep dive and well worth your time.)
Residents of The Brandywine at 4545 Connecticut say they, too, have seen an influx of voucher tenants. We have reached out to the building management and hope to hear their side of the story. And we spoke to David Luria, the president of the Brandywine Tenants Association.
David Luria: The all-volunteer Brandywine Tenants Association has a 40-year history of protecting its tenants by promoting affordable and safe housing. After the Washington Post’s coverage of the issues at Sedgwick Gardens, we now feel it is important for the tenants of the Brandywine Apartments to tell our story and to say it is happening here too. Tenants have been experiencing heavy marijuana usage which is not permitted in our building, mentally unstable individuals causing disturbances within the building (many which has resulted in police being called to investigate), an increase in break-ins and building vandalism.
When did the management company start accepting these renters?
We believe it was in 2017 or 2018.
Have you lost renters as a result of this program?
Yes. Foreign embassy employees and families who are afraid for their children’s safety, or just don’t want them to witness a person having a breakdown in the hallway.
How has management responded?
The management company responds with silence, and when they do respond, there is no helpful information. They just tell tenants to call the police for any disturbance.
How similar has your situation been to the Sedgwick’s?
Unfortunately, the tenants of the Brandywine Apartments have experienced many of the same problems that plague Sedgwick Gardens residents including mentally disturbed individuals screaming while running up and down the hallways. Other tenants that attempt to help these individuals are told by management that their only recourse is to call the police.
We, like Sedgwick Gardens, unfortunately have a property management company that doesn’t seem to deem the unsafe, illegal activity and destruction of property that have increased tremendously as a top priority, leaving tenants feeling helpless and very vulnerable.
There has definitely been increased violence in our building. For example, the individual mentioned in the Washington Post article who barricaded himself in his Sedgwick Gardens apartment and threatened a police SWAT Team with violence, now lives at the Brandywine Apartments and has been arrested again for domestic violence. Placing people with known violent histories in our building leaves other tenants shaken and fearful for their own and their children’s physical and emotionally security.
Have you had to call the police? What have they done?
Through FOIA we have obtained the records of police visits to the Brandywine Apartments from March of 2017 through May 3, 2019. They show an average of 3.05 visits per month in 2017, 3.83 visits per month in 2018 (a 26% increase over 2017), and 10.5 visits per month in 2019 (an increase of 174% over 2018). These police calls were for many different offenses, including theft of property, theft from auto, sexual assault, domestic disturbance, missing person calls, domestic violence, and mental health problems.
What are your recommendations to making this a better program for the homeless?
The goals of the program are laudable. It seems like a no-brainer: Homeless individuals get stable housing, and the building management companies get up to 175% of market rate rent. But when DC places people in these apartments who are not ready to live on their own, either because of mental illness or substance abuse, it causes other tenants who live around them to suffer the consequences. DC has not made housing better for the homeless, it has made housing more dangerous and expensive for others.
One recommendation would be to have a better process of vetting new tenants and a way to demonstrate checks and balances. It is unfair to a homeless person to thrown into an environment they are not adequately prepared for without the proper resources and support, and it just as unfair to put existing tenants in an unsafe situation because the city is trying to make a statement. This one-size-fits-all solution does not work.
What has been the response of the ANC and Council members?
Silence. We have tried to arrange a meeting with Council member Silverman and the management company about these issues since December of 2018 but have been stonewalled.
Do you know of other apartment buildings on Connecticut who are accepting rent vouchers for homeless?
We have been given to understand that several apartment buildings in upper northwest DC are now participating in the voucher program. The list of tenant associations that used to be kept by DC Office of Tenant Advocate no longer exists, so we don’t know the full extent of issues. We are attempting to compile a list of tenant associations, so that we can meet with them to discuss problems we have in common.