Today we update you on the case of 636 Girard St. NE, a 4-unit rent-controlled building from which the Catholic Church knowingly plans to displace four households. We also feature our latest report on the ongoing slum conditions experienced by tenants at public housing property Montana Terrace, and we highlight an interview on Redacted Tonight, featuring Justice First and LinkUp housing organizer.
Catholic Church Enters Sales Contract with Ongelle Hickens for 636 Girard St. NE, Sanctions Displacement of D.C. Residents
The case of 636 Girard St. NE highlights a shocking and callous disregard by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for working class tenants facing displacement by the Church from the Rhode Island Avenue Corridor of Northeast Washington, D.C. On Sunday, September 16, tenants and supporters passed out 600 leaflets to parishioners, raising public awareness of their fight to protect their homes and families from being pushed out of the community. Despite pressure and continued attempts to ask the National Shrine to meet their moral duty to respect housing as a right, the Shrine's leadership has made no attempt to contact or meet with tenants beyond a letter sent last month in which they were informed that the Church was "unable to provide any assistance."
In reviewing the sales agreement for their building, tenants of 636 Girard St. NE noted that the proposed buyer's name was spelled in two different ways, and an incorrect email address was listed, which resulted in tenants and their attorneys having extreme difficulty contacting her. This was also noted in the City Paper article by Morgan Baskin, Edgewood Tenants Brace for Eviction as Catholic Church Sells Their Building, in which she explained, "Though Higgins lists her name as “Ongelle Higgins” on the document, as well as an email address that includes “Higgins” in it, some of her signatures on the contract say Ongelle Hickens. (City Paper’s email to the listed contact address that includes “Higgins” bounced back.)"
Tenants eventually made attempts to guess her correct email address, and an email to one of their guesses that includes "Hickens" delivered. Ongelle Hickens never responded to repeated inquiry. The two names "Higgens" and "Hickens" are repeated many times throughout the sales contract.
One key element of the case of 636 Girard St. NE, is that the sales contract itself states Ongelle Hickens's plan to occupy the entire 4-unit building as her personal residence. In the event that this sales transaction takes place, it would allow Hickens to send tenants 90-day notices and evict residents and families in all four households. In addition, whether or not she occupies the building as her personal residence, Hickens will have the legal ability to opt out of rent control protections, and raise rents such that tenants at 636 Girard St. NE would still face displacement. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception engaged in a sales agreement with Ongelle Hickens with the explicit knowledge that it would cause imminent displacement of tenants that have been living for years in affordable, rent-controlled units.
While Ongelle Hickens continues to remain silent, and as the National Shrine continues to turn a blind eye to their own role in gentrification, clergy and concerned members of the Catholic Church have reached out directly to organizers and tenants and are actively assisting in continued efforts to appeal to the moral consciousness of the National Shrine leadership.
Tenants continue the call for supporters to sign on on to their public letter, and to contact National Shrine leaders Rev. Msgr. Rossi and Mr. Kevin Kavanaugh, and ask them to meet with tenants at risk to negotiate and facilitate a process to protect D.C. residents and families from displacement:
Rev. Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, Rector
Mr. Kevin A. Kavanaugh, Comptroller
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At Montana Terrace, Public Housing Residents Continue Organizing Amidst Slum Conditions
Last week, Justice First and LinkUp announced an upcoming public awareness event, Mold, Lead & the Affordable Housing Crisis, which will be hosted at the University of the District of Columbia's David A. Clarke Law School of Law on Thursday, October 25 at 6:00PM. RSVP here to attend the event, which will feature tenants from Montana Terrace and Dahlgreen Courts discussing ongoing organizing and legal efforts to address exposure to mold and other toxins in public and privately owned housing.
Tenants at Montana Terrace are actively organizing, and have collected dozens of photos from neighbors suffering from slum conditions. Justice First continues to work with the community to document and organize. Meanwhile, the Housing Authority recently disseminated letters to Montana Terrace residents, claiming that the D.C. Housing Authority "...will tackle problems such as pests, HVAC systems, and general health conditions." The letter goes on to state that mandatory "quality control inspections" are taking place. Whether or not the Housing Authority actually addresses ongoing conditions issues at Montana Terrace remains to be seen.
9/28/2018 Update - Yahvon Early
Yahvon Early's unit continues to show signs that the recent rehab by the Housing Authority was insufficient in addressing underlying water leakage and other issues that cause the growth of mold in her home. Photo evidence from this week reveals a water leak in the ceiling of her living room, which Housing Authority representatives claimed is occurring from a washing machine in the unit upstairs. No repairs were completed, rather those inspecting the leak simply waited for it to dry and took note.
9/28/2018 Update - Gretchen Helm
Gretchen Helm and her young children continue to be forced to live with mold and rodent infestation in their public housing unit at Montana Terrace. The D.C. Housing Authority, while conducting a mold inspection without an air quality test, has failed to engage in any efforts toward remediation. Disturbingly, mold report results from Ms. Helm's unit, based on just two swabs, have revealed 10 different types of mold in her home.
Justice First on-the-ground reporting on Montana Terrace living conditions 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.
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Justice First & LinkUp housing organizer interviewed on Redacted Tonight with Lee Camp.
Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants and partner organizations fighting slum conditions, displacement, and gentrification.