In today's newsletter, we publish an open letter initiating tenant-led organizing efforts against displacement from Catholic Church-owned buildings in the rapidly gentrifying Rhode Island Ave N.E. neighborhood of Washington, D.C. We also include a major update on Montana Terrace and a revealing graphic published by LinkUp for Brookland Manor.
D.C. Tenants Face Displacement as Catholic Church Puts Rent Control Buildings Up for Sale
636 Girard St. N.E., 628 Girard St. N.E., 1265 Raum St. N.E, and 1364 Bryant St. N.E. in the Rhode Island Avenue neighborhood of Washington, D.C., are 4-unit buildings owned by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and currently under rent control protections.
The four buildings are home to multinational working class residents and families, all of whom are at imminent risk of displacement by the Catholic Church decision to sell the buildings. The buildings' sale could result in the loss of rent control protections and a subsequent rise in housing costs such that tenants would face imminent displacement from the District.
After reaching out privately to the Catholic Church to no avail, and in the face of expired and upcoming TOPA (Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) deadlines, tenants in the four buildings have banded together, organizing to protect their homes and families. As we work with tenants on this organizing campaign, Justice First and LinkUp call for all supporters, including individuals and organizations, to circulate and sign on to a public letter to the Catholic Church.
Through organizing efforts, residents seek protection from displacement and homelessness, and in their letter, reference Catholic Church teachings and statements, including:
Pope Francis said, at his speech in Washington, D.C. at St. Patrick’s on September 24, 2015, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.” As early as March 24, 1988, a statement issued by the Administrative Board of the U.S. Catholic Conference, states:
The Church has traditionally viewed housing, not as a commodity, but as a basic human right. … As Pope John Paul II said … ‘A house is much more than a roof over one’s head.’ It is ‘a place where a person creates and lives out his or her life.’ The right to housing is a consistent theme in our teaching and is found in the Church’s Charter of the Rights of the Family. We believe society has the responsibility to protect these rights, and the denial of housing to so many constitutes a terrible injustice."
Across Ward 5, and around Washington, D.C. tenants are fighting for justice from slum conditions and displacement policies, which city politicians, including local council members and Mayor Muriel Bowser routinely facilitate. For example, at Brookland Manor, hundreds of families face displacement as Mid-City attempts to move forward with a Zoning Commission-approved plan to eliminate affordability in the community in the midst of an ongoing affordable housing crisis. At Dahlgreen Courts, tenants have filed a $5 million complaint against nonprofit developer Mission First, the recipient of millions of dollars in funding from the city, for continually exposing residents and their families to to deadly toxins, including lead and mold. At Congress Heights, tenants continue to defend their community even as the corrupt dealings of politicians and slumlords are routinely exposed. At Montana Terrace, tenants suffer a wide range of health symptoms as they are exposed to various types of toxic mold.
As the tenants of 636 Girard St. N.E., 628 Girard St. N.E., 1265 Raum St. N.E, and 1364 Bryant St. N.E. band together to protect their neighborhood and community from gentrification, we must all band together to protect the interests of working people from the planned affordable housing crisis, and organize for a total solution to this crisis, which afflicts so many across the city, country, and around the world.
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.
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.
Mold Reports Released at Montana Terrace! Organizing Efforts Continue
After additional follow up by Justice First, as well as a Washington City Paper article, What Life is Like - Still - in D.C.'s Public Housing, the District of Columbia Housing Authority finally released the results of mold inspections that were ordered in the units of Yahvon Early and Gretchen Helm. The results of a combined three swabs resulted in a disturbing discovery of concerning levels of various types of mold.
8/28/2018 Update - Yahvon Early
While the Washington, D.C. area has been under an Excessive Heat Warning, Yahvon Early and her daughter have been without air conditioning since Sunday. In the usual pattern of events, multiple requests for service had to be issued.
Meanwhile, the results of the mold inspection test conducted in her unit prompts serious concern over the toxins Ms. Early and her family were exposed to over a prolonged period of time, as water damage has repeatedly resulted in the growth of toxic mold. A large dehumidifier in her unit is emptied three times a day. The results of the mold inspection test are concerning not only because of their results, but because only one sample was taken and tested, and no air quality test was conducted.
Pictured above is the summary of what was found in Ms. Early's public housing unit at Montana Terrace from just one swab sample in one room.
8/28/2018 Update - Gretchen Helm
Yesterday, Justice First along with an attorney visited Gretchen Helm's unit, finding that mold remains rampant throughout her family's household. It should be noted for the public that attempting to remove toxic black mold, as many families attempt to do in order to a) protect their households and b) keep them hygienic, is highly dangerous. Cleaning mold disrupts it, and can result in the release of mycotoxins that cause serious health conditions, including disease and even death.
In Ms. Helm's unit, only three swab samples were taken, and the results are revealed below. Like in Ms. Early's case, samples were not taken from all areas where mold was clearly present, nor was an air quality test conducted. The D.C. Housing Authority has refused to set a date to remediate the mold not only in Ms. Helm's unit, but in units throughout the property where tenants suffer from exposure.
Yesterday, Justice First, along with an attorney visited not only Ms. Helm's unit, but several other units throughout the property. Below are just a few of the photographs taken from multiple units throughout the property afflicted by mold and rodent infestation, which are demonstrative of a pattern of neglect and complete disregard by the city for the health and safety of public housing residents. This takes place in the context of an affordable housing crisis that serves as a guarantee to many that they will remain living in dangerous conditions, not because of anything that they have done, but because of money that they do not have to buy their way out of the circumstances created by a housing market with private profit making interests, and a political system with priorities that do not include safe, affordable housing as a human right.
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 ninth update on Montana Terrace, which began with interviews that exposed deliberate neglect by the Housing Authority. The 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.
LinkUp Repost: Mid-City's Proposed Redevelopment at Brookland Manor Reveals Planned Displacement
LinkUp has released a graphic with the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association depicting the numbers associated with the proposed redevelopment plan at Brookland Manor, better described as a displacement plan and effort to advance gentrification in the Rhode Island Avenue N.E. area of Washington, D.C. Disturbingly, Mid-City continues to promote the false narrative that their redevelopment plan is actually positive for affordable housing, and that no one will be displaced. The actual numbers and facts in the graphic below clearly show otherwise. A comprehensive summary released back in May of this year by the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (WLCH) reveals the most recent D.C. Zoning Commission order on Brookland Manor, which sanctions displacement. The WLCH summary of key takeaways reads:
"Key takeaways from the DC Zoning Commission April 5, 2018 order on the Brookland Manor application:
• The order indicates that Mid-City Financial Corp. “does not have an obligation to ensure that future rents in the redeveloped property meet the Section 8 payment standard.” As we referenced earlier, this means that households that currently live at Brookland Manor and are able to afford rent with the help of a housing voucher, might be unable to remain in their community after the redevelopment.
• The order indicates that through the zoning process, Mid-City Financial Corp. does not have a legal obligation to build housing for families that require larger units with more bedrooms.
• The zoning order also goes on to state that whether Mid-City Financial Corp. decides to build affordable housing or not build affordable housing is of “little relevance” to the Zoning Commission."
The Zoning Decision is currently being appealed by president of the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association, Minnie Elliott, on behalf of the Association membership and the affordable housing interests of the entire community. In the coming weeks and months, the Residents Association at Brookland Manor will call on the public to continue to stand in solidarity and in support of their organizing campaign at upcoming events and actions in defense of the working class Black community targeted by developers like Mid-City and their political supporters, including Ward 5 council member Kenyan McDuffie.
Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants and partner organizations fighting slum conditions, displacement, and gentrification.