On February 26, Justice First, along with a range of individuals and organizations supporting affordable housing, testified in front of the D.C. Council during their annual oversight hearing of housing agencies. Justice First and the Alabama Ave./13th St. Tenants Coalition, with whom we are working around Congress Heights to prevent displacement, testified to put a spotlight on corruption, abuse and waste regarding the provision of funds in District housing agencies.
District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which oversees these funds, has played a key role in facilitating the planned development around Congress Heights Metro, which involves significant displacement of residents and the use of intimidation, bribery and building deterioration to strong-arm tenants to work with the developers.
Tenants and Justice First Director of Field Operations Eugene Puryear outlined DHCD’s role in attempting to forgive a loan over almost $1 million in District funds of which $0 has been paid back to make it possible for slumlord Sanford Capital and well-connected super-rich developer Geoffrey Griffis to build luxury apartments and offices that will jump-start gentrification in Ward 8, driving out residents and destroying communities.
They demanded that Councilmembers ask directly about the issues regarding the Congress Heights property and challenge DHCD officials to go on record regarding the potential for corruption and state whether they are willing to partner with the tenants on alternatives that they are developing.
In response to general questions from Councilmembers, new head of DHCD Polly Donaldson all but admitted that the agency, the prime agency for affordable housing, has indeed been asleep at the wheel on its own mission. Ms. Donaldson admitted in the past that funding for housing for the poorest residents is not being fully spent and that, in general, the legally mandated obligations regarding affordable housing funds are not met.
Responding directly to the Congress Heights issue, Ms. Donaldson responded that she was aware of the issue and that DHCD has the ability to get involved, and noted that they had a “strong interest” and were reviewing all current loans. Further DHCD staff committed on the record to meet with Congress Heights tenants on this issue.
While the outcome is still uncertain, this response from the Council and from District government, small as it may be so far, has only happened because tenants at these buildings stood up for themselves, gathered allies and wouldn’t be denied.
Power concedes nothing without demand. At Justice First, we are demanding, and we won’t stop.