Our first newsletter features the struggle of two housing communities in the nation's capital - one private and one public - that are local manifestations of a global crisis.
The affordable housing crisis touches all corners of the globe, leaving billions homeless and housing burdened. It is fundamentally the same process from Hong Kong, where people rent out "coffin cubicles," to Morocco, where children as young as six years old can be seen roaming the streets without shelter, to one of the richest countries in the world, the United States, where the working poor are moved around like cattle at the whim of developers and their political functionaries. The private market cannot solve the affordable housing crisis. As the mechanism by which capitalism has commodified the basic human need of housing, it can only exacerbate it.
Montana Terrace, Northeast Washington, D.C. (See the video in at the bottom of this newsletter for more)
Photo Credit: Yahvon Early
The methods by which landlords and politicians displace neighborhoods, and leave millions in the United States without access to affordable, safe and quality housing are many. They include:
- Artificially setting and raise housing market prices
- Allowing public housing allowing properties to deteriorate, and slum conditions to develop
- Privatizing of the public housing stock
- Allocating funds in city budgets to projects such as new sports facilities, dog parks, and the subsidizing of luxury redevelopments that are prioritized over the housing needs of the working class
- using City Zoning Commissions to pass redevelopment plans that reduce and eliminate affordable housing
- Government contracting with slumlords for shelter systems
- Developing inhumane and insufficient shelter systems rather than to provide safe accommodations and permanent housing solutions for those facing homelessness
Justice First's aim with this newsletter is to expose this highly organized economic and political system that systematically puts the profit interests of private corporations over the human needs of the people. The D.C. housing struggles below exemplify the blatant corruption, collusion, and fundamental inequity of a system organized around money, rather than around people.
Washington, D.C.'s Favorite Slumlords: Sanford Capital and Geoff Griffis, Exposed by Congress Heights Tenants
Yesterday, June 27, notorious slumlord Sanford Capital was back in court for attempting to slither out of a court order mandating he negotiate directly with Congress Heights tenants or face over $2 million in repairs to the properties.
The District of Columbia until recently had a longstanding relationship with slumlord Sanford Capital. Even after officially severing that relationship, the District continues its relationship with Geoff Griffis of City Partners, a politically connected developer and long-time business partner to Sanford Capital. Geoff Griffis was given $95 million worth of public land at The Wharf in Southwest Washington, D.C., for just $1.
The tenant-led fight against slum conditions, displacement and gentrification has been documented in detail by various media outlets over the last five years, including the Washington City Paper as well as the Washington Post. The shocking conditions at Congress Heights garnered the attention of Attorney General Karl Racine, who in September 2017 announced that a court had appointed a receiver to manage the property.
In November 2017, D.C. Superior Court Judge John M. Mott, ordered that Sanford Capital negotiate exclusively with the Congress Heights tenants, or pay millions in repairs to make the properties habitable and safe for tenants. Within that 60 day period, on December 27, 2017, Sanford Capital, with the help of Ben Soto of Eagle Bank, transferred the properties via a "deed in lieu" to their long-time business partner Geoff Griffis of City Partners, thereby violating the court order, and circumventing the tenants TOPA rights.
At yesterday's court hearing Judge Mott heard evidence on two major issues: 1) Whether the transfer of properties from Sanford Capital to Geoff Griffis/City Partners violated a court order in place at the time of the transfer, and 2) Whether the court-appointed receiver's plan to totally rehabilitate the property will be ordered, whereby Sanford Capital and/or City Partners would have to pay out over $2 million dollars to make the properties livable, or re-engage tenants in a negotiation to sell the properties to the tenants through their chosen non-profit developer, who would build 200 units of quality affordable housing.
Judge Mott heard from attorneys representing Sanford Capital, City Partners, as well as Assistant Deputy Attorney Jimmy Rock from the Public Advocacy Division of the D.C. Attorney General’s office. During the course of the proceedings, City Partners and Sanford Capital turned on each other, each claiming that the other should be liable for any court-ordered payment related to the receivership.
Assistant Deputy Attorney Rock argued with demonstrable evidence that Sanford Capital and City Partners had acted in concert when they engaged in the transfer of properties, and additionally negotiated a side deal that rendered the transaction not a "deed in lieu," but rather a sale, disguised as a "deed in lieu." Rock explained that the evidence presented clearly satisfies the legal requirement for civil contempt of both Sanford Capital and City Partners, including due to their prior knowledge of the court order that was in place when they engaged in the transaction.
In the coming weeks, Judge Mott will issue a ruling on these issues. In the meantime, check out this recent report: Why D.C. Government Favors Luxury Condos Over Affordable Housing in Congress Heights.
Video: Poison, Infestation and Depression at Montana Terrace Public Housing Residents
Interviews with Public Housing Residents Yahvon Early and Gretchen Helm
Video interviews with two public housing residents in Northeast Washington, D.C. (Ward 5) reveal shocking, outrageous slum conditions that they are being subjected to at Montana Terrace. Montana Terrace, a short walk from Brookland Manor, is a public housing property managed by the District of Columbia Housing Authority, which has neglected their units, thereby threatening the health, safety and welfare of residents and their families.
Watch our interview with Montana Terrace resident Yahvon Early, filmed by Francis Tatem.
Watch our interview with Montana Terrace Resident Gretchen Helm, filmed by Francis Tatem.
Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants fighting slum conditions, displacement, and gentrification.
— by Yasmina Mrabet