By Angie Whitehurst
For our monthly People's Platform political education event, ONE DC held "Link Up for Black August" at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Black August is a month of commemoration of the death of George Jackson on August 21st, 1971. The day is remembered to encourage social justice versus injustice throughout society.
Speakers and participants included Mia Clark, Eugene Puryear, Delonte Wilkins, Yasmina Mrabet, and Dominic Moulden; all of whom spoke passionately on the needs to change housing injustices, restorative programs for those incarcerated, and the Black Workers Center mandate to create a space where people can find "real jobs."
Raven Best and Reverend Erik Martinez Resley of The Sanctuaries, with a young team of printmakers, produced Black August posters on site as giveaways to attendees. Pop-up shops included EAT, The Difference Boutique, Cockee Clothing, and the Young Queen Project selling hats and shirts. Local caterer Peggy's Gourmet & Reek the Chef provided excellent food. Sounds were brought by DJ Say Say, with performances by Loony Goonz, King Shug, Supa Trippa, G.R.O.S.S. LIFE, & Visto of Hippe Life Krew. Other organizations present were Our City DC, SURJ DC and organizers with the People's Congress of Resistance.
Also present were members of the cast from the upcoming production entitled, "The Arsonists," a play about the challenges of liberal politics some fifty years ago. The story sounds very similar to our current day events. ONE DC members and supporters are eligible for discount tickets to the performance on October 7th using code "ONEDC"
In 2011, Dahlgreen Courts residents exercised their rights under D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (also known as TOPA) to purchase the two-building, 96 unit historic complex in partnership with a Philadelphia-based non-profit developer, Mission First Housing Group. Built in the 1920s, the complex was in dire need of rehabilitation. After almost six years since the completion of this 20 million-dollar renovation, residents are organizing again to hold the city and Mission First, the non-profit developer who “renovated” the complex, accountable for more than 150 housing code violations the residents are forced to live under.
|Tenant Association Vice-President Vaughn Bennett, ONE DC housing organizer
Yasmina Mrabet & Tenant Association President Leon Lightfoot
Officials have tried to use the common practice of bureaucracy to avoid the demands of residents and the Dahlgreen Courts Tenants Association. DCRA relinquished responsibility of the housing violations of paint peeling and cracked wall it cited to the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE). The DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), DC Housing Finance Agency (HFA), and Ward 5 council member, Kenyan McDuffie have opted to protect Mission First from claiming responsibility for the mess it has created, rather than answer to the complaints of the residents they have been placed in office to answer to.
These circumstances are why Bennett says the DCTA, ONE DC, and other committed individuals and organizations are seeking justice by demanding an investigation, potentially filing of criminal charges, and a civil suit against Mission First. Furthermore, Bennett says that residents are actively seeking a law firm to represent them in filing a lawsuit against Mission First Housing Group for fraud and breach of contract.
DCTA and residents like Vaughn Bennett show how vital it is for residents to organize in order to preserve livable conditions and affordable housing in the city. Bennett hopes his work “can inspire others and teach our children how to fight oppression.”
Even though, after significant pressure through a joint tenants action, council member Kenyan McDuffie recently sent a letter to the Dahlgreen Courts Tenants Association in response to their demands, it is yet to be determined whether or not Mission First will truly be held accountable. Additionally, the Dahlgreen Courts Tenants Association is concerned over the redevelopment plans at Brookland Manor, and other gentrification projects in the Rhode Island Avenue area. ONE DC members and supporters across the city won't back down until the tenants at Dahlgreen Courts receive the proper renovations they deserve, and until the various city agencies and the developers they serve are held accountable for their actions against the public.
Below is a speech given by Ms J at the Transit Justice Rally with the Save Our System Coalition on June 29, 2017.
Good evening. My name is Jourgette Reid-Sillah. I am a resident of the District of Columbia and a patron of Metro Access. Before I became a MA rider I would see the vans everywhere and think isn’t that nice that Metro is seeing that those people who can’t access the bus have service. In fact Metro isn’t doing anything out of the goodness of their heart. It is the law that requires that the service be provided for persons with disabilities. Now I am one of “those people” I have a better idea of how things work. Metro Access are private companies that contract with Metro to provide the service. As we know all know the goal of a private company is to make a profit. Metro Access’s goal is to make money, Profit over people.
If it is more profitable for a client to wait passed the 30 minute window, profit wins.
If it is more profitable for a client to remain on a van more than 2 hours, profit wins.
If it is more profitable to have a GPS system that is programed to take a longer route, profit wins.
I have personally experienced being on the van with another client. We both live in SEDC. I am going to NWDC and the other client is going to Hyattsville. Although I was to be dropped off first the other client was going to her dialysis appointment and would be late. I heard her ask the dispatcher “Will Metro Access be able to return the minutes of life I may lose for having to get off the machine early when MA comes to pick me up?” This is a life issue for many of the clients that use this service. Profits over people. Please note that even though MA clients are persons with disabilities MANY work every day. Many for both State and Federal governments. In case you are wondering we do not ride for free. Each trip requires a pre-determined fair that is calculated by some “algorithm” that causes your fair to change. This can be a challenge to those on a fixed income. While Metro Access picks profit over people many clients must decide life over death. Which would you choose?
I am a member of ONE DC, an organization that believes in equitable situations for all peoples. The People's Platform Manifesto speaks of having access to safe and affordable transportation so that we can travel between our homes, jobs, schools and recreational spaces.
Serita El Amin is the granddaughter of Samuel B. Ethridge, a former National Education Association official who worked for racial integration of state teacher organizations during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. In 1968, he was named head of the NEA’s newly created center for Human Rights, which developed leadership programs.
So further in her life, Serita El Amin was inspired to follow her grandparents’ dreams and legacy and wanted to represent in changing relationships between organizations. She has struggled in many areas of separation and displacement, and truly believes in human rights and remembering our ancestors and what they fought for. Serita lives in Washington, D.C., in the NE Brookland Manor apartments, where tenants are now trying to protect their rights and preserve affordable housing. She has been there for 18 years -- has one biological child and raised 16 children. Serita loves life and believes we should live life to the fullest with equal shares. She happily joined ONE DC's Making the Just City Project in 2017 to move forward to success and equal rights.
Raheem Anthon is a native of Washington D.C. His childhood consisted of relocating many times due to systemic circumstances of a low-income, single-parent household. He grew up in Congress Heights, Baltimore, and Charlotte, N.C. where he witnessed and experienced the physiological effects that struggle can take hold on people, especially his family. This led him to try to understand the reasons why this takes place in society. When life led him back to D.C., he was stunned to see the effects of gentrification and displacement take place where he considered home. Places seemed familiar, but faces were complete strangers. This, along with the election of 2016, compelled him to get politically involved, begin reading revolutionary literature, and led him to local organizations, such as ONE DC. Being a member of ONE DC has been integral in reconnecting him back to the DC community and he is currently involved in the Making the Just City campaign. This campaign is an ethnographic study of late and new gentrification stages and its adverse effects in the Orange County, NJ and Shaw area. Raheem hopes to continue working with the people in order to restore our roots, not just with revolutionary ideology, but to bring people to revolutionary ideology- a praxis for the people. He believes this will truly create social change by having the people fight for what is theirs and build a new society together.
Derek Hyra (associate professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University and author of Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City) and Dominic Moulden (ONE DC Resource Organizer) speaking at DC Ideas Fest about the innovative Making the Just City project that brings together researchers and community organizers in neighborhoods facing displacement in DC to understand and produce community-level responses, such as affordable housing and social capital, to reduce health disparities.
Click here to view presentation slides
Mid-City Financial, the developer that owns the Brookland Manor property in Northeast Washington, D.C. has hired RCLCO Real Estate Advisors, a consulting company that is becoming the "go-to" for developers looking to justify the tearing down of affordable housing in order to build luxury apartments and condos. RCLCO has written an outrageous report, submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission, claiming that Mid-City will not be gentrifying if it goes through with its redevelopment plan at Brookland Manor, because gentrification in Ward 5 is "an established trend." On its face, this is a preposterous claim.
While the report in its entirety is nonsensical, there are two particularly egregious quotes that are telling of Mid-City's intentions at Brookland Manor in particular, and in Ward 5 in general:
1. RCLCO used a quote in their report from a Slate article to justify Mid-City's redevelopment plan for Brookland Manor. The quote reads: "When you have enough construction, you get filtering rather than gentrification. Lower-income people move into dwellings that used to house rich people but that aren't shiny and new any more and don't have the most up-to-date fashions. When you don't have enough construction, you get rich people moving into poor people's houses and installing granite countertops." This is a shocking statement as we witness brand new luxury developments in D.C. pushing working class Black people into sub-prime markets run by slumlords, like we've seen with Sanford Capital at properties like Congress Heights.
2. RCLCO used a second quote in their report by "liberal economist" Paul Krugman to justify Mid-City's redevelopment plan for Brookland Manor. The quote reads: "Rising demand for urban living by the elite could be met largely by increasing supply. There's still room to build, even in New York, especially upward. Yet while there is something of a building boom in the city, it's far smaller than the soaring prices warrant, mainly because land use restrictions are in the way." This shocking quote very clearly states who Mid-City is building for. They boldly and blatantly state that the supply of housing they offer is to meet the demand for "urban living by the elite."
Consulting companies like RCLCO are acting as facilitators of predatory redevelopments that seek to profit at the expense of working class communities of color.
Mid-City Financial plans to eliminate all 4 and 5 bedroom units, and most 3 bedroom units,
effectively displacing hundreds of working class black families from Brookland Manor.
Recently, Mid-City has pushed the narrative through media outlets that if they were able to build higher density at Brookland Manor, there would have been an appropriate amount of affordable housing. However, even in Mid-City's original plans which would have quadrupled density (as opposed to current plans which propose to triple density), they never planned to replace the 535 units of affordable housing currently on the property, and they always planned to eliminate family-sized units.
Segregation and inequality are the obvious manifestations of arguments like the recent one pushed by the Editorial Board at the Washington Post. Privately-owned land and private money does not abdicate a private company’s responsibility to the public. Previous investigative reports by the Washington Post expose public problems perpetuated by Mid-City Financial, including the loss of family housing at Brookland Manor. Mid-City's eviction campaign has also been documented by groups like the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP). At ONE DC, we believe we have a communal responsibility to ensure equitable development without displacement. Additionally, there are rules in place that require plans like those of private company Mid-City at Brookland Manor to gain PUD approval through the government zoning process. This process is designed to ensure that plans like Mid-City’s protect the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Clearly, a plan that eliminates affordable housing while tripling density on the 20 acre site, and one that eliminates family housing in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, does not promote the health, safety, and welfare of the community, and therefore should not be approved by the D.C. Zoning Commission. This is the legal standard that Mid-City must be judged by.
Tenants at Brookland Manor propose that Mid-City be allowed to redevelop and triple density only if they include the 535 units of affordable housing that currently exist on site at their existing subsidy levels and bedroom sizes. Furthermore, tenants ask for the right to access employment opportunities through the rebuilding of their own community, which they have a fundamental right to be a part of. Working class residents of color who are affected by the affordable housing crisis have a right to seek to preserve affordable housing at every turn, whether it be through private redevelopment plans that require zoning approval, or through the preservation and expansion of high quality, high functioning public housing. The government to this point has completely failed in that respect.
The Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association has repeatedly offered to partner with Mid-City and with Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie to access money through the Housing Production Trust Fund in order to finance a true one-for-one replacement of existing affordable units at the redeveloped property. To this point, neither Mid-City nor Kenyan McDuffie has taken the Residents Association up on their offer to work together to preserve the existing affordable housing at Brookland Manor as a part of redevelopment plans moving forward. What is happening at Brookland Manor illustrates why Washington, D.C. is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis that is only getting worse. Sadly, city government officials like Kenyan McDuffie continue to refuse to act in the interests of their constituents, and instead work to increase the profit margins of private companies like Mid-City.
Brookland Manor tenants continue to lead a fight to preserve affordable, family-accessible units at Brookland Manor, and it is critical that we continue to keep up widespread public pressure on a system that puts the interests of profiteers before those of the people, and one that continues to develop by way of displacement. We expect the D.C. Zoning Commission to finally make a decision on Monday, May 22, as to whether Mid-City can move forward with its planned displacement of working class Black residents from Brookland Manor to make way for a redevelopment that will build over 1,750 luxury apartments. On that day, once again, we will come out in big numbers to demonstrate our continued solidarity with tenant-led struggles to save affordable housing and family housing in the District of Columbia, and to demonstrate our continued commitment to working class black communities under attack by private developers and city officials who do their bidding.
Please join us on May 22nd. We will rally outside of 441 4th St NW at 5:00PM, and then move into the building starting at 6:00PM to pack the zoning hearing, which will begin at 6:30PM.
RSVP here: Final Action Rally! Support Brookland Manor!