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Shaw Residents and Community Organizers Strategize to Stay in Their Neighborhood

By Brenda Hayes, This Light: Sounds for Social Change

In a town rife with Non-Profits that seemingly have all the answers for what ails longtime D.C. residents as they face gentrification-fueled displacement, ONE DC’s July 26th meeting was a much needed breath of fresh air for me. I asked permission to record the meeting for my radio show This Light: Sounds For Social Change, thankfully permission was granted to me to do so.

The meeting opened with a visual recap of June’s meeting. A 1950 to present timeline of redlining and economic cycles that lead to displacement hung on one of the walls. An adjacent wall held a visual that had the word “Concentrated Poverty” written in the center, surrounding those words were some of the commonly held beliefs about people who live in poverty; rampant drug abuse, crime, apathy.

We all sat in a familiar “meeting circle,” introduced ourselves and said how long each of us has lived in D.C.; there was one man who has lived in D.C. since birth, 60+ years.

eyesclosed.jpgNext we were led to do an exercise in which attendees were asked to present a physical movement that represents their perspective of gentrification and displacement. Some of the poses and movements included a young white woman who stood with her back to the rest of the group as she covered her eyes, blind to what was going on just behind her. A few people held stances of defiance, arrogance, indifference and helplessness.

For the second part of the exercise, we were asked to physically represent empowerment, action and change. I was most struck by what one Shaw resident, who happens to be a black woman, did; she held an invisible protest sign high above her head, two young white participants quickly stood in support behind her holding their invisible placards up. What these three participants represented to me is the need for community lead, driven, and sustained movement for equity in housing, work, and education.

Before the meeting, I interviewed longtime community activist Linda Leaks who handed out Terms of Empowerment, a seven page glossary of housing-related terms in which residents should become familiar when trying to remain in neighborhoods besieged by gentrification.

I also interviewed Patricia Trim, a 40+ year Shaw resident. During our conversation Ms. Trim told me how her mother would come to D.C. during the week for her job with the Federal Government and leave her with relatives in Virginia. Ms. Trim’s mother couldn’t afford to have her stay here in D.C. until she was sixteen years old. Ms. Trim and her mother moved several times, Champlain Street in Adams Morgan, 18th and Wyoming, 17th and T Sts., each time staying in apartments until the rent was raised to a prohibitively high amount. protest.jpg

Ms. Trim recently drove to Columbia Heights to see a dentist on 14th Street. As she drove to her appointment she realized she was in the neighborhood where she grew up. After her appointment, she
decided to drive around a bit and was astonished at and dismayed by all the changes that have taken place in recent years. She couldn’t bring herself to drive down Champlain Street the street where she first lived when she and her mother moved to D.C.

When she arrived back home that day, she went to her bedroom to pray. She tearfully asked “What I have done to fall so far from grace to be treated less than a human being.” I fear too many D.C. residents people are asking that same question.

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Phyllissa Bilal of Barry Farm Study Circle Testifies Against Displacement

My name is Phyllissa Bilal and I am the cofounder of the Barry Farm Study Circle. Though I am the cofounder of BFSC I feel it necessary to present as a public housing resident in addition to cofounder of the Barry Farm Study Circle. Below I have included my accounts of causes to question the application to demolish the Barry Farm community due to violation of the basic human rights of residents in the community.

Soon after moving into the community in January of 2012 I found out the community was in the process of being redeveloped and my family would soon have to move. I thought how could management forget to share that with me prior to my move-in date? I sent an email to the project manager Reyna Alloro who called me and told me that I would not have to move for at least two years. I would soon receive email invitations to project and planning meetings in the resident council office. These meetings led me to question the process even further. During this time I was volunteering for the resident council to take the minutes for meetings on the property. Ultimately I was questionably excused from the resident council. I started the Barry Farm Study Circle after testifying at the DCHA Counsel to try to get a better understanding of how this resident council was operating and attending meetings where the human rights, wants, needs and questions of residents were being completely ignored. For example, at a meeting facilitated by Janice Burgess in 2012 I questioned her directing residents to move to offsite housing specifically Matthews Memorial Terrace and Sheridan Terrace. I asked her if residents who had already been relocated would write their rental checks to DCHA as they had done while living in the Barry Farm community. Her response was no. I then asked her if Matthews and Sheridan are tax credit properties and if residents had entered into a tax credit property lease. Her answer was yes. My answer to her was that means these residents are no longer housing authority residents therefore how can they be placed back on the housing authority list since it had closed. She agreed they would not be allowed back on the list. I attended two other meetings one of which was an oversight hearing facilitated by Muriel Bowser where Linda Miller the former Resident Council president gave heartbreaking testimony that she had been tricked into moving to offsite housing and now was being told she cannot return. She gave similar testimony in a meeting facilitated by the cofounder of the Barry Farm Study Circle and the Chairperson to the Citywide Advisory Board Karen Settles.

Additionally, in 2012 I sent a letter to Reyna Alloro who is the DMPD project manager for the Barry Farm property asking for better clarification about the redevelopment process which turned into an invitation to attend planning meetings in the resident council office. As stated before, those meetings left me with more questions and concerns. One evening in particular I received a call from Janice Burgess of the DC Housing Authority. She said she had been given my name by Nella Peterson the resident council president at the time and Ms. Burgess was going to give me a list of developers and I would have to go through them and condense the list down to seven. Then she said that the deadline would be the next morning at 8am. I declined her request and sent an email to Ms. Peterson explaining why I declined, stating that I felt it was not a fair process to the residents of the community.  In short the Barry Farm Study Circle believes the continued path of demolishing public housing properties will only increase homelessness in DC. In fact, DCHA has not been transparent or inclusive in their process to redevelop our historical community and have used other harmful tactics against us, which I will not include at this time. As I wake up some mornings and look out my windows I still do not know why the houses of some of my neighbors have been boarded up and, more ominously, where are they now.

Today the rights of public housing residents have been violated all across the city. There has only been a 8-13% return rate of residents to their original and newly developed communities. And in the case of Temple Courts no return rate at all because the community is now a parking lot renting spaces for $8 a day. 

More recently the Barry Farm Study Circle had received several complaints of a 30 day eviction notices and suddenly inflated rental ledgers for amounts such as $6000. Through our partnership with the United Planning Organization Petey Greene Center we found their housing caseworkers shared the same concern for the influx of complaints and requests for support. We put together an outreach team consisting of United Planning Organizations workers, One DC organizers and members, and American University students. We did door-to-door outreach in Barry Farm on March 22nd in the Barry Farm community to collect 30 eviction notices and inflated rental ledgers, as well as to connect residents with legal support and other resources through our partnership with Neighborhood Legal Services.

The fight to have the voices and basic human rights of Barry Farm public housing residents protected and included in the redevelopment process continues. We only asked that the Zoning Commission take a stand against the human rights violations that continue in the Barry Farm community.

Thank You,

Phyllissa Bilal

Cofounder Barry Farm Study Circle

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Affordable Housing and Mount Vernon Plaza

"For Ebony, Brown, and Tesfamariam, the expiration of Bush’s tax-credit obligations has meant paying more rent, struggling to get by, and most likely trying to move in a year’s time, when the rent will rise to the full market rate. For some of their neighbors, it meant moving out immediately. In both cases, the previously affordable units were lost forever to the ever-rising demands of the free market."

--from Aaron Wiener, "Why D.C. Is About to Have Even Less Affordable Housing," Washington City Paper 8/6/14

Read the full article describing the organizing efforts of ONE DC members and analyzing DC low-income housing policies here.

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Mount Vernon Plaza Residents Take a Stand!

By Mount Vernon Plaza Tenant Associationmount_vernon.jpg

We are residents of Mount Vernon Plaza. Some of us have lived in Mount Vernon Plaza since the affordability program, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, began. When we moved in, we were never told that the affordability program would expire this year. We only found out two months before we were asked to either sign a new lease paying up to $600 a month more or move out!

We have families and some of us are on a fixed income. But our backs were up against the wall and many of us felt we had no choice but to sign the new lease. We were shocked to learn that there is no affordability provision after the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit expires. This means thousands and thousands of residents in the District will soon be in the same position that we are in today.

There’s no point in having an affordability program if after it expires residents are forced to be homeless or imprisoned in sky-high rents! But we have ideas about how we can fix this.

First, we need immediate relief now; we need the council or DHCD to start subsidizing the expired LIHTC buildings like Mount Vernon Plaza now. We want subsidy for all of the expired LIHTC units, even the units that were forced to start paying market-rate rent.

IMAG0344.jpgSecond, we need legislation passed that compels tax-credit owners to enforce at least a year notice before any rent increase. But this legislation must also say that any expired LIHTC buildings immediately revert to rent control.

Read More Here & Take Action to Support Mount Vernon Plaza

Please also visit savemuseumsquare.com for more info about the tenant struggle to resist displacement at Museum Square, a sister property of Mount Vernon Plaza.

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Affordable Housing Preserved at Bass Place

Linda Leaks, a ONE DC member and long time DC organizer, is supporting the Bass Place tenants in an effort to purchase their building and convert it into a limited equity cooperative.  University Legal Services and Martha Davis asked ONE DC to provide cooperative housing education and organizing for 5100 Bass Place Tenants Association. The Department of Housing and Community Development signed a commitment letter to approve financing for the tenants to purchase their building.

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Ella Baker's Legacy Continues to Influence Community Leaders

By Nadia Johnson

Being a young president of a tenant association one faces many challenges, such as the people you are fighting for don’t see a reason worth fighting anymore. I was starting to feel like these challenges and many other challenges yet to come was unique to me and vice president Kimberly because of our age and our inexperience of being a part of a tenant association.

However, that was all before we went to a community organizing and leadership development institute in Chicago. Not only did we discover that there are many people who are going through the same struggle we are going through when it comes to public housing and organizing tenants, but that it is a struggle that crosses racial, sexual orientation, class, religion, and educational borders. We also saw how there are so many young people who are fighting for the same beliefs and principles that we are fighting for and that was refreshing to both see and hear. What was the name of this great leadership conference where we got all this new inspiration from? Well, if you really want to know, it was the Ella Baker Institute.

ONE DC members & other EBI participants visit local Chicago muralist Hector DuarteONE DC members & other EBI participants visit local Chicago muralist Hector Duarte.

Ella Baker founded an organization called the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) which was a civil rights organization that combated racial inequality during the 1960s. In developing SNCC, Ella decided that this organization should hit two fronts-- direct action and voter registration. Ella believed in "participatory democracy,” meaning each person should get involved individually and have a voice in the organization. She also argued that "people under the heel," referring to the most oppressed sectors of any community, "had to be the ones to decide what action they were going to take to get (out) from under their oppression.”

In learning this at the retreat, I have decided to take the Heritage at Shaw Station Tenant Association into a different direction. This direction is going to be broken down into two pieces: direct action by the tenant association and the tenants; and to have every tenant on the property, both new and old, to see their place in this fight and to commit fully to participating.

All in all, I am glad that we attended this retreat about leadership. I not only learned about Ella Baker, but I also got to see the sights of Chicago and be revived spiritually, emotionally, and mentally by the culture of Chicago, the common sisterhood and brotherhood of other leaders in the struggle, and the wonderful and inspirational poetry that we heard. It is my hope that along with vice president Kimberly, we can take the necessary steps forward and bring the tenant association into new heights.

For more info about Heritage at Shaw Station, formerly Lincoln Westmoreland II, click here

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ONE DC Members Attend Ella Baker Institute in Chicago

By Nkechi Feaster

I became an advocate, not because of my idealistic heart and character; but because I saw how the low income community was highly discriminated against in DC. Stereotyped, held back, dismissed, and diminished further than just being black, or single parents, or low-income. It was tragic. Speaking out against the wrongs against my community was easy for me. I have learned how to channel the voice my mother always said I used too much growing up to speak against these wrongs, so advocacy came easy for me.

Organizing, I found, was a different breed of the same fight, however. I had to learn to quiet my own voice and help others either find theirs, learn how to use theirs, or give them the proper avenue to use it. I had to learn to build my political analysis, learn the lingo of the field, and learn how to fight the good fight. And I am still learning.

I started learning with ONE DC as an organizer. ONE DC, in my opinion, gains much respect from me for not only fighting the good fight, but HOW they fight it! They put the needs of the community above all else, to the point that it’s not until they go out to hear the voices in the community that they even design their campaigns and fights. A community-based organization that is actually about the community!

So when ONE DC asked me if I was interested in going to Chicago to attend the Ella Baker Institute’s Training, I jumped at the opportunity. I was always interested in visiting Chicago, but only during one of the few warm months of the year, so even the timing was perfect and it ended up being the best trip I have taken thus far!

I, along with a staff member of ONE DC and the president and vice president of the Heritage at Shaw Station Tenant Association that is supported by ONE DC, landed on a Thursday afternoon. Since training didn’t start until the next day, we got the opportunity to see a little bit of the city. We were able to attend the Taste of Chicago, sample some of the city’s delicacies and even see Janelle Monae perform! As a lover of music and a fan, I wasn’t able to stop dancing the whole time! It was the perfect opening to the next 5 days.

The very first day of training, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I came in simply ready to learn. I ended up being deeply inspired by Climbing PoeTree; a social justice poetry group that was selected to open the training. As a writer and poet, this touched me in more than one way. Climbing Poetree not only put beautiful words to the fight that we all were fighting, but also served as a muse to everyone in the room to keep on fighting.

The next 5 days were filled with speakers on many social justice issues; from racism to feminism; from colonialism to reparations. We even had the honor of hearing from two women from Palestine speak on the tragedies that have been going on in their homeland. There was so much information to cover that even two weeks after the trip, I am still neck deep in research and reading. I wasn’t expecting to get answers on how to end the fight for justice, but I did not expect to get so much information on those who have already been fighting.

I was also able to see a lot of the culture of the city. We were able to go on a mural tour of the Pilsen neighborhood and even meet one of the artists. We were able to visit a phenomenal open mic, which again, as a writer touched the creative side of me. We were able to go to the top of the former Sears Tower and get a view of the beauty of the city as a whole.

The entire trip was beautiful and spoke to many different sides of me. The nerd in me was filled with information. The creative talent in me was inspired by murals, paintings and poetry. The organizer I am becoming was given inspiration to keep going and do it better. I am so happy to have been given an opportunity such as this!

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Good Jobs Nation Rally and Press Conference

Join OUR DC and Good Jobs Nation at a rally and press conference tomorrow to highlight the plight of low-wage federal contract workers who are calling on the President to do more than the minimum, and issue a Good Jobs Executive Order (read about it in the Washington Post).  

TUESDAY, JULY 29 at 9am, UNION STATION

Hundreds of Good Jobs Nation workers will gather to declare that the President’s $10.10 Executive Order is a great first step, but it's not enough to lift them out of poverty.   These workers need more than the minimum – they need a Good Jobs Executive Order that makes sure federal contractors respect collective bargaining rights, pay living wages and benefits, stop wage theft, and don’t pay CEOs excessive salaries.

WHAT:  Press Conference for Low-Wage Contract Workers

WHO:  Low-wage federal contract workers, Sr. Simone Campbell, Members of Congress

WHEN: 9am on Tuesday, July 29th

WHERE:  Columbus Circle, in front of Union Station

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Equitable Development Moves Forward in the Nation’s Capital

Written by GREGORY D. SQUIRES, DOMINIC T. MOULDEN AND KALFANI N. TURE

"Angela Glover Blackwell set the tone in her keynote address when she called for a new national narrative on community development; one based on current demographic and economic realities, not just morality. [...] Recognizing the continuing racial and class segregation of cities she focused a laser on the significance of place in shaping the nation’s opportunity structure. She reminded the group how neighborhood determines [...] virtually all aspects of the quality of life, including life expectancy itself."

For the full article, click here.

The second annual Equitable Development Symposium will take place March 26, 2015.

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Our Streets: An Exhibition of Collected Stories

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