Residents at Museum Square's sister property, Mount Vernon Plaza, received letters mandating a $500+ a month rent increase.
Azieb Tesfamariam, a recent immigrant from Eritrea and single mother of three, was looking for housing early last year. She couldn’t afford her yearly rent increase of $50 a year so she went out searching for something more affordable. She found Mount Vernon Plaza. Even though she laments that many Americans cannot understand her Eritrean accent, she carefully explained to the leasing consultant in April 2013 that she needed a housing unit that had little to no annual rent increases a year. He assured her that Mount Vernon Plaza had an excellent affordable housing program that would not exceed her budget.
She moved into the unit on April 1, 2013, paying a little over $1000 a month for her two-bedroom apartment. On December 16, 2013, she received a letter from Mount Vernon Plaza’s Associates telling her that her rent will no longer be affordable. She will have to start paying $1624.50 a month starting March 31st 2014. Confused, she took her letter to all of the government-sponsored housing assistance agencies in the city. She asked them how is this possible. She’s a single mother who works at a nearby hotel cleaning rooms; paid work is never a certainty since she does not have seniority yet. “Why did the management ask me to move into this apartment, if they were going to end the program that year,” she questioned?
Over the Christmas holiday instead of worrying about what gifts to purchase for her children, she was desperately searching for affordable housing. By January 31st, the final date the management demanded a decision about whether she will leave or stay, she signed a new lease with the MVP. Dejected and financially broke, she currently spends all of her money on rent, occasionally asking family members to help when she can’t earn enough money from her part-time job.
Eventually, someone referred her to Organizing Neighborhood Equity, a long-time organizing group that organizes residents around their right to affordable housing and good living-wage jobs. ONE DC and Mount Vernon Plaza residents discovered they are not covered by project-based Section 8 protections, unlike MVP’s sister property, Museum Square. MVP residents are not guaranteed a voucher or even the right to purchase when the building goes on sale or when the project-based section 8 affordability ends. Residents under this program must either pay near or at market-rent or move out. This is the reason the Mount Vernon Plaza’s owner/lawyers gave when residents cried foul.
But MVP residents insisted something sinister and unethical is going on. Not only is the same owner moving to demolish its sister company, Museum Square, the owner refuses to be transparent with the MVP residents about their now-expired LIHTC program. When residents moved in, the management company gave no indication that the program would end in 2013 or that they would have to move or pay exorbitant rents after the program expired. “The management had to know that the program would be ending in 2013; why did they leave us in the dark for all this time?,” Trayawn Brown asked. “And they still haven’t told everyone in the program that the program is over. I think they are just trying to avoid mass vacancies.”
Instead, they were given a two-month notice and expected to pay for units that many residents argue are in various states of disrepair. In state of panic, residents have been moving out left and right; some are moving in with family members, becoming essentially homeless.
Through organizing, residents realized that there’s a bigger –citywide—problem. The city has almost universally relied on LIHTC to produce “affordable” housing in the city. Yet this type of affordable housing goes by income that’s based on the Area Median Income (DC’s AMI currently stands at $108,000 for a household of four). LIHTC is generally priced at 60% AMI or 80% AMI. As the general income of DC and the surrounding areas rises, so does the LIHTC rents—which now hover around over 1000 for a one bedroom, when priced at 60% AMI. Without a voucher and supplemental income, residents like MVP renters cannot find comparable housing in the quickly gentrifying areas of NW, where many of them have lived for close to two decades.
But more than that, LIHTC has no provision mandating affordability after the tax credits expire. In 1990, the city mandated additional 15 years on all LIHTC properties after the initial 15 year affordable period ends, but that law does not apply to MVP residents because the law was not retroactive.
All of DC’s primary affordable housing programs are under attack—Public Housing, LIHTC, and Project-Based Section 8! “We are a sign of things to come for LIHTC properties in the city,” Quitel Andrews, MVP resident says. “If we don’t change this policy now, thousands and thousands of LIHTC renters will be homeless by 2020.”
Mount Vernon Place residents recommend the city enforce two immediate legislative actions now. We stand with MVP residents. We urge the mayor & city council to enact these demands today!
- The city should immediately subsidize the tenants who were on the LIHTC program, including those who were forced to signed new leases with MVP management under duress like Ms. Tesfamariam.
- Expand Rent Control to all “set aside” affordable housing/LIHTC units already in place and to a portion of newly built apartment units
MVP residents and ONE DC have been moving swiftly to compel the city council and Mayor Gray to act now. The time is of the essence. Help Us Take Action!
If reporters want to speak with Azieb Tesfamariam, please be certain to have an Amharic translator speak with her. She can be reached at 202-413-9587.
Quitel Andrews, Mount Vernon Plaza Resident
Traywan Brown, Mount Vernon Plaza Resident,
Rosemary Ndubuizu, ONE DC community organizer