9/6/2018 - Catholic Church to Tenants At Risk: "We Are Unable to Provide Any Assistance"

In today's newsletter, we make public the response that D.C. tenants at imminent risk of displacement received from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We also include our update on the ongoing serious health and safety hazards that public housing tenants face at Montana Terrace. Finally, we highlight a radio segment from Loud & Clear, which discusses the health crises faced by children and families in an economic system where housing is a commodity, rather than a right.

Catholic Church Attempts to Abdicate Moral Responsibility for Role in D.C. Gentrification

In a letter postmarked August 27, 2018, D.C. tenants living in buildings in the Rhode Island Ave NE neighborhood of Washington, D.C. received a response from the Secretary/Treasurer of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Title Holding Corporation. The letter states, "[We] are required to sell all donated real estate as soon as practical." Tenants are asking, "As soon as practical for whom?"

It is clear that the Church made a decision to sell the buildings at 636 Girard St. N.E., 628 Girard St. N.E., 1265 Raum St. N.E, and 1364 Bryant St. N.E. for maximum profit, and without any regard whatsoever for the livelihoods of multinational working class families and their community who rely on rent control protections to avoid displacement.

The letter states, "...you have been given notice to exercise your rights under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act." However, in at least one building, tenants found the notice of sale underneath a stairwell, and in two of the buildings Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) rights expired under strict timelines before tenants realized the implications of the sale of their buildings. It is common knowledge that exercising TOPA in small buildings with few units is extremely difficult, as most buyers seek to purchase for significant financial gain, and the financial feasibility of forming a cooperative is very much in question.

In a response letter that one tenant described as "heartless," families in Catholic-Church owned buildings are told that no assistance can be provided to tenants that the Church has placed at imminent risk of displacement in the rapidly gentrifying Rhode Island Avenue neighborhood.

The Catholic Church has clear teachings on the right to safe, decent and affordable housing - housing as a human right - referenced in the public letter from tenants to the Basilica. In the nation's capital, rampant gentrification is made possible by financial transactions that result in displacement as both a policy and outcome. Displacement is experienced primarily by the working poor, and in D.C., primarily by the Black community. Despite the widely acknowledged affordable housing crisis that has forced hundreds of families into the streets and into a sub-par and unsafe shelter system, the Catholic Church moved forward to secure buyers and place buildings under contract without even consulting with at least 16 families they have put at imminent risk of displacement. The Church could have easily reached out and arranged to sit down with tenants and discuss mutually practical options to protect the mutual interests of all parties.

The Church still has that option today.

As we work with tenants on this organizing campaign, Justice First and LinkUp continue the call for all supporters, including individuals and organizations, to circulate and sign on in solidarity with the tenants' letter to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in which they ask for a chance to meet and speak with the Church to seek resolution on the issue of imminent displacement. 

Click here to sign on to the public letter to the Catholic Church, a faith institution that claims to support housing as a human right. Tell them they must adhere to those values in the interest of protecting the human rights of District residents and all people.

We thank the many organizations that have expressed solidarity with the tenants' cause of protecting their families from displacement and the continuing wave of gentrification in Washington, D.C., including the ANSWER Coalition, Black Lives Matter DC, Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association, CODE PINK, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, Dahlgreen Courts Tenants Association, DC for Reasonable Development, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Community, Empower DC, HUResist, Metro DC DSA, Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, Party for Socialism and Liberation, People Power Action, Positive Force DC, Socialist Alternative, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and We Are Family Senior Outreach Network.

Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants at 636 Girard St. N.E., 628 Girard St. N.E., 1265 Raum St. N.E. and 1364 Bryant St. N.E. fighting to protect homes and families against displacement and gentrification.

Montana Terrace Tenants Organize as they Suffer Ongoing Exposure to Toxic Mold

Montana Terrace tenants regularly attempt to keep units clean by removing mold that grows across ceilings, surfaces, cracks, crevices and closets throughout their units. This is extremely concerning as disturbing mold causes harmful spores to be released into the air. Despite tenant attempts to keep their units free of mold, the underlying causes of mold growth, including water leakages, result in the quick return of mold, in as little as 24 hours, appearing as new fuzzy spots in varying shades of green and black.

In our previous update, we made public the results of three swab tests completed in Yahvon Early and Gretchen Helm's units, which resulted in the disturbing discovery of high levels of various types of mold. In today's update, the ordeal faced by these two families continues. Justice First continues to work with tenants to document and organize.

9/6/2018 Update - Yahvon Early

Yahvon Early's broken air conditioning units were finally replaced earlier this week. Following the "total rehab" of her family's unit, signs of continuing water leakages are apparent. In her bathroom, dampness and water cover the floor, and mold and mildew regrow approximately every 24 hours. As the D.C. Housing Authority fails to address the underlying causes of mold infestation throughout Montana Terrace, residents like Yahvon Early and her daughter continue to suffer from various illnesses, including commonly reported respiratory problems. As a disabled U.S. military veteran, Ms. Early's experience with lack of access to decent, safe and affordable housing reflects that of many others.

9/6/2018 Update - Gretchen Helm

Mold and evidence of severe rodent infestation remains rampant throughout Gretchen Helm's household. Cracks in the floors and ceilings, water damage, and fuzzy mold growing from the ceilings is apparent throughout. No one from the D.C. Housing Authority has addressed either of these issues in her unit. Once again, we emphasize that cleaning toxic mold disturbs it, and causes a serious health hazard. Once again, we emphasize that this family, since our reporting began approximately 10 weeks ago, exemplifies the lived experiences of many public housing residents forced to live in slum conditions in a city with a huge budget surplus totaling $2.4 billion.

Tenants at Montana Terrace are working with Justice First to actively organize with other public housing residents that have had enough of the D.C. Housing Authority's lack of accountability for subjecting their families to slum conditions for years on end. Tenants are exploring all legal and organizing options to address the issues they face, in a city where politicians work hard every day to place the profit interests of developers and over the human needs of people.

Justice First will continue to feature regular updates on the living conditions of two families at Montana Terrace, a public housing property in Northeast Washington, D.C., managed by the D.C. Housing Authority. This report constitutes our 10th update on Montana Terrace, which began with interviews that exposed deliberate neglect by the Housing AuthorityThe purpose of our reports on the status of the families of Yahvon Early and Gretchen Helm, is to demonstrate to the public the absurdity of a system that requires constant follow up to demand, and in many cases beg the city to protect its own residents from safety hazards caused by its own agencies. Click here to read last week's update.

Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants at Montana Terrace fighting slum conditions, displacement, and gentrification.

Loud & Clear: Lead poisoning on the rise, but tenants are fighting for their rights

Loud & Clear recently featured a segment discussing tenants exposed to lead and mold in public and privately owned housing in New York and D.C. In addition to the D.C. examples mentioned on the show, we would like to additionally emphasize the danger facing 99 families left in D.C. General, as Mayor Muriel Bowser refuses to delay demolitions that will place the health and lives of children and families at serious risk by exposing them to lead. The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (WLCH) update on continuing organizing efforts can be read here.


Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants and partner organizations fighting slum conditions, displacement, and gentrification.

—Yasmina Mrabet

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