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International Conversations: The Global Housing Crisis

by Joe Hoover, ONE DC (International) Member & author, Reconstructing Human Rights
This is Part 1 in a series about Resource Organizer Dominic Moulden's visit to London in March 2018

For a number of years I have been trying to bring Dominic to London. This year I was finally able to do it. In March, Dominic visited London to do some teaching with me at Queen Mary University of London where I work. Our original plan was for Dominic to speak with students in two of my classes about his experience as a community organiser and the work of ONE DC, and to be part of a public lecture on justice in the global city. Even the most carefully arranged plans go awry, however, as Dominic’s visit coincided with the largest-ever strike of University faculty in the United Kingdom, which meant that there would be no classes to teach or lectures to attend while the strike was on. While I was briefly worried that the trip would be a bust, it turned out there were plenty of opportunities for learning, teaching, and making connections.

With classes cancelled and the picket-line assembled across the entrance to the university, Dominic and I met up with Glyn Robbins (another international ONE DC member) and some of my students at the Boundary Estate in East London. Glyn was guiding us on a walking tour of the history of council housing in London (what is called public housing the US). The tour was a “teach out” activity organised as part of the strike, providing students a chance to learn about social housing in London, and meet Dominic and Glyn outside of the classroom. Glyn is a great guide and the tour prompted a number of conversations about the global housing crisis, gentrification, inequality in our cities, and what we might do to create better and more just cities.

Glyn Robbins leading the tour in foreground. Joe Hoover in background against the wall

The following day, with the strike still on, we organised another “teach out” - moving the planned lecture from Queen Mary’s campus to the Ocean Tenants and Residents Association Hall across the street. The discussion we had was about the many injustices that we find in contemporary cities, with the lack of affordable and decent housing a key issue - which was fitting given that the event was hosted on one of London’s largest social housing estates. The speakers included Dominic, Glyn, and Dr. Adam Elliot-Cooper, of Kings College London. And while the audience was small due to the strike and last-minute change of venue, a lively and informative discussion followed.


An unexpected benefit of the strike was that there was more time for conversations than there would normally be, when we are usually rushing through the day’s many tasks. I know Dominic was able to meet with a number of scholars, activists, and communities as part of his visit, while also seeing many diverse parts of London. As just one example, near the end of his time in London, Dominic joined me on protest march organised by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union in opposition to the marketisation of higher education. Marching through central London, we met a colleague who was starting work on a project on the relationship between art and gentrification and for several blocks had a great conversation, which resulted in Dominic making a new and wholly unexpected connection. After the march, Dominic and I went to Brixton to visit the Black Cultural Archives, which is the UK’s only national heritage centre dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of African and Caribbean people in Britain. Along the way we were able to trace the changing fortunes of Brixton through the redevelopment of the many market streets in the area.

Even as things did not go as planned on Dominic’s visit to London, I think the visit was a great success. And there is even more reason to ensure he comes back to London again.


Tell Mayor Bowser: Take Action for Congress Heights!

CLICK HERE to Tell Mayor Bowser to Take Action for Housing Justice at Congress Heights!

“What we are fighting for is our right to live in safe and affordable housing.”

-Ruth Barnwell, President, Alabama Ave/13th Street Tenant Coalition

The Alabama Ave/13th Street Tenant Coalition is the tenant association consisting of the residents of the buildings above the Congress Heights Metro Station in Southeast Washington, DC (1309, 1331 and 1333 Alabama Avenue SE Washington, DC, as well as 3210 13th Street SE Washington DC). The tenants have been living with conditions that threaten their health and safety as a result of the pattern of neglect that took hold as soon as Geoff Griffis (of CityPartners), and Sanford Capital, began working toward the redevelopment of the properties into luxury apartments and retail.

Over the past several years, as they personally endured abhorrent conditions and treatment, the tenants’ steadfastness unmasked a horrific pattern at Sanford buildings and impacted the conversation around affordable housing in the District. DC residents who are recipients of housing subsidies often struggle to find reputable landlords who will rent to them, and many have no choice but to live in Sanford Capital buildings. This means that Sanford Capital profits handsomely from taxpayer-funded subsidies and the affordable housing crisis.

The tenants’ struggle has led to public outcry, lawsuits filed by the Office of the Attorney General of the District of Columbia, horror expressed by city officials at speeches, public hearings, and roundtables, and extensive media coverage. The Congress Heights properties have been subject to a receivership since September 2017, and Sanford Capital was ordered to ‘negotiate exclusively’ with the tenants regarding the terms of sale for a period of 60 days, starting on November 9, 2017. On December 27, 2017, Sanford Capital quietly transferred the properties above the Congress Heights Metro station to its own development partner for the proposed Congress Heights project: Geoff Griffis/CityPartners.  Griffis is now attempting to move forward the luxury redevelopment that has already caused great harm, and doesn’t reflect the wishes or participation of the residents who currently live on that land.

The Congress Heights Tenants’ Goal: Inclusive and equitable development at Congress Heights

The Coalition seeks to exercise rights under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, and partner with its chosen non-profit developer, National Housing Trust-Enterprise Preservation Corp., in order to redevelop this land in line with the vision and goals of the people who live there, and build nearly 200 truly affordable units above the Congress Heights Metro station.

The key to any redevelopment at the site is an abandoned building that is currently under the control of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development. We are in solidarity with Alabama Ave/13th Street Tenant Coalition as they ask Mayor Bowser and the District of Columbia government to work with the community by transferring 3200 13th Street SE to the Coalition and its representatives in order to achieve a win in the struggle against displacement and for safe, dignified, affordable housing.

 

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Judge Mott Orders $50,000 to Congress Heights Receiver

On Friday, February 16th, DC Superior Courtroom 518 was packed with Congress Heights supporters. Judge Mott authorized a $50,000 payment to the receiver for the Congress Heights properties. The $50,000 is to be paid to the receiver in the short-term in order to address some of the immediate issues on the property, but will not address long-term solutions to the conditions issues at Congress Heights.

Additional funds will be asked for once ownership issues regarding the recent, possibly illegal properties transfer, are clarified. Judge Mott also made clear that it was essential that the tenants be able to live in safe, habitable conditions, until they are able to exercise their rights regarding the broader redevelopment. Tenants at Congress Heights continue to fight to exercise their TOPA rights in order to build 200 units of quality, affordable housing over the Congress Heights metro.

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Tenants have been unwavering in this fight, and have deeply appreciated the solidarity demonstrated by the broader community last Saturday in the pouring rain, and yesterday in the courthouse. In the coming days, the Alabama Ave/13th Street Tenant Coalition and their attorneys will release a major update to the public, including a call for continued action in the fight to preserve and expand affordable housing at Congress Heights.

Yasmina Mrabet, Housing Organizer


Making the Just City Update

MPC is the lead organization for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)
Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL)
grant. MPC director Derek Hyra partners with Dominic Moulden, a resource organizer with ONE DC, and Dr. Mindy Fullilove of the New School on a project centered on understanding the relationships among gentrification, health disparities, and the affordable housing crisis.
 
Recently, the team submitted an article "A Method for Making the Just City" to Housing Policy Debate. The paper advances a “community science” approach to investigating gentrification, involving a systematic knowledge-creation process through intimate community participation. On January 19, the team presented their situation analysis methodology to a group of RWJF’s IRL grantees. Look out for further updates on this innovative, community-based research project.


ONE DC Featured on Loud & Clear with Brian Becker: The fight against slumlords in the nation's capital: Congress Heights tenants fight back

Listen to "The fight against slumlords in the nation's capital: Congress Heights tenants fight back" on Spreaker.

In cities nationwide, longtime working-class city residents face higher rents and increased pressure from landlords and developers. The nation’s capitol is no exception, and two groups are taking the fight to a developer’s own house this weekend, with a march up a main DC street in upper Northwest. The hosts talk about the details of the march and the broader picture of gentrification in DC. Yasmina Mrabet, a housing organizer with ONE DC, a leading organization in the group that put together Saturday’s march, and Will Merrifield, an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless who is representing the tenants of Congress Heights, join the show.

Click here to listen to the interview with Loud & Clear's Brian Becker.


People's Platform: Call to Action for Congress Heights

Below is an update from our friends at Justice First. As part of our People's Platform call to action this month, ONE DC and Justice First are calling for continued action and solidarity with the tenants of Congress Heights! Join tenants and their supporters to pack the courtroom at their upcoming receivership hearing! RSVP here.

 
Justice First  
 

Dear Friend,

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This past Saturday, February 10th, 120 people defied rainy conditions to march on the home of Geoff Griffis, in solidarity with the tenants in Congress Heights he hopes to displace (check out a video report here). The march follows what appears to be an illegal transfer of the properties at issue and renewed attempts by Mr. Griffis to distance himself from the terrible treatment of the residents currently living on the site he wants to turn into luxury condos and offices.

This protest was crucial because Griffis, his business partner Ben Soto, and Sanford Capital have been engaged in a multi-year process designed to prevent tenants from exercising their right to purchase the buildings. Despite his current claims Griffis has been involved since the very beginning and only disappeared from the public eye when the slum conditions at the property became known.

The three business partners are peddling a whole range of untruths about what they plan to do at the property in a list ditch effort to push their plan through. Indicative of who they really are, as the rain poured down on the heads of demonstrators Saturday, some tenants were dealing with leaking ceilings that could not be fixed, why? Well the apparently illegal sale perpetrated between Sanford and Griffis has blocked payment to the court ordered receiver who is conducting the repairs.

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They have all the money in the world, and have even hired a slick new PR firm and have politicians in their pockets. So this march was designed to a send a message that not only will the Congress Heights tenants not back down but that we aren’t afraid to make public the real culprits behind the criminal living conditions and displacement plans at Congress Heights.

The struggle for justice at Congress Heights continues this week on February 16th at noon in Room 518 of DC Superior Court. That is the date for a crucial hearing where Sanford Capital will be forced to explain how the sale they engaged in was not illegal. We need to pack that courtroom with as many people as we can and make it clear that D.C. residents do not, and will not condone slums, displacement and unbridled gentrification..

In Solidarity,

Justice First



Justice First · 5614 Connecticut Ave NW, #149, Washington, DC 20015, United States
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Griffis Promotes Imaginary Luxury Development at Congress Heights

Despite engaging in numerous and potentially illegal tactics to circumvent the TOPA rights of existing tenants at Congress Heights, and despite violating an existing court order, Geoff Griffis, through his company "City Partners LLC," is touting an imaginary development proposal to build luxury apartments over top the Congress Heights metro. Previously, Sanford Capital also promoted luxury redevelopment plans at Congress Heights, and have since shut down their website due to their ongoing legal issues as the most notorious slumlords in Washington, DC. Their slumlord activities have been widely reported, including by the City Paper and the Washington Post.

In order for Geoff Griffis's company, "City Partners LLC," to move forward with his luxury redevelopment that would price out and displace current residents at Congress Heights, he would need the following:

  1. For the existing tenants to leave the property without exercising their TOPA rights, which the Alabama Ave/13th Street Tenant Coalition have made clear they will not do, as evidenced by the fact that they have led and continue to lead this fight for the last five years.
  2. To have legal control over the properties, which is currently being challenged by the Attorney General's office, and under review by the tenants legal team, which includes Arnold & Porter and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
  3. To have control over the long-vacant building at 3200 13th St SE, which is under the control of the District government and also tied up in litigation.
  4. To have control over the WMATA parcel of land, for which Griffis currently does not have.

Strangely, Griffis continues with what Ruth Barnwell, president of the Alabama Ave/13th Street Tenant Coalition recently referred to as an "obsession" with gaining control over this valuable land over top the Congress Heights metro, by forcing existing residents out. The tactics remain the same: forced displacement through slum conditions. As we previously reported, the recent and possibly illegal land transfer from slumlord Sanford Capital to Geoff Griffis not only circumvents tenant TOPA rights, but also forces tenants to continue living in slum conditions by interfering with a court-ordered receivership.

Tenants have been clear that despite Griffis's attempts to force them into agreeing to buyouts or forced relocations, that they will continue to fight to exercise their TOPA rights in order to move forward with their plan to work with premier non-profit developer NHT (National Housing Trust) to build 200 units of high quality, affordable housing in the midst of an affordable housing crisis in the nation's capital.

Earlier this afternoon, on the WPFW 89.3 FM show "Taking Action," hosted by Empower DC's Parisa Norouzi, featuring Congress Heights tenant Robert Green, we gave an overview and update of the ongoing tenant-led struggle at Congress Heights. Click here to listen.

Join us this Saturday, February 10th, as we take the fight for affordable housing directly to slumlord Geoff Griffis's doorstep, and stand in solidarity with the tenants of Congress Heights. RSVP here.

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To learn more about the tenant-led struggle at Congress Heights, including a full history, visit the Justice First website at www.justicefirst.org.

For the latest Congress Heights updates on the ONE DC website, check out www.onedconline.org/congress_heights.

Yasmina Mrabet, Housing Organizer


Griffis Hires Seven Oaks Media Group Amid Displacement Deal at Congress Heights

Following a recent and possibly illegal land transfer from slumlord Sanford Capital to their business partner Geoff Griffis, Griffis hired Seven Oaks Media Group. As you can see from their website, linked here, Seven Oaks specializes in crisis communication and media placement. Clearly, Geoff Griffis is attempting to wage a campaign in the media to obscure the facts, which are these:

1. Geoff Griffis’s latest move has forced tenants to remain in slum conditions at Congress Heights properties by interfering with a court-appointed receivership, which facilitates Griffis's continued attempts to displace tenants.

2. Geoff Griffis’s latest move has interfered with a court order instructing Sanford Capital to negotiate exclusively with Congress Heights tenants by selling their properties to NHT (National Housing Trust), in order to prevent displacement and build 200 units of affordable housing.

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Click here to hear directly from Congress Heights tenant leader Robert Green, as he provides an overview of Griffis's dealings.

Stand in solidarity with Mr. Green and the Congress Heights Tenants Association:

MARCH AGAINST SLUMLORD GEOFF GRIFFIS

Saturday, February 10

12 Noon

Meet at Cleveland Park metro station

(RSVP)

To learn more about the tenant-led struggle at Congress Heights, including a full history, visit the Justice First website at www.justicefirst.org.

For the latest Congress Heights updates on the ONE DC website, check out www.onedconline.org/congress_heights.

 

Yasmina Mrabet, Housing Organizer


Making the Just City

By Raheem Anthon

In December 2017, the Making The Just City team based in DC made a trip to conduct a learning exchange with the team in Orange, NJ. The meeting started off reaching agreement on the type of analysis we will use for the project in the following year. Situation analysis, put forward for discussion by Dr. Mindy Fullilove, examines complex interpersonal episodes in their embedding context in order to: 1) name the situation and 2) discern a set of strategies for action. The team decided this was a good way to delineate the episodes taking place in both cities.

The Making The Just City project started in early spring of 2017. The acting team members in DC, Serita El Amin and Raheem Anthon, were selected by IRL (Interdisciplinary Research Leadership) members Dominic Moulden and Derek Hyra, with input from the ONE DC Shared Leadership Team. The Making Just City project also has a New Jersey team: members Dr. Mindy Fullilove, Molly Fullilove, and Audrey Murdock.

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Gentrification across different cities shares many similarities such as displacement, rent increases, extreme poverty, and many more crippling effects. Yet, within each city that faces gentrification, there are unique episodes. Examining these unique experiences provides an opportunity for a deeper understanding of the effects. Since Orange is in the beginning stages of gentrification and DC in a late stage, applying situation analysis will give the team the ability to examine both areas and compare them to come up with solutions.

Developers have continued a type of “Jim Crow era” housing polices whereby poor Brown and Black folks are kicked out, replaced by an increasingly white population largely removed from the existing community. The DC team discussed this before arriving in Orange, referencing scenes from Baltimore. When looking at Baltimore, it becomes clear how displacement is not just made up of bad policy decisions, but is an attack on the Black and Brown (and even poor white) communities that have been occupying these spaces for years.

After the discussions, the Orange team guided the DC team through the Valley District. The area is working class (majority Black and Brown residents) with many industrial buildings vacant, which was the same situation in DC before gentrification. The team also learned some history of local organizing, such as Ironworks; a youth-led organization that focuses on culture, art, and community. After leaving the Valley, the team made a trip to the inner city of Orange, stopping at a local bakery whose owners expressed their dedication to staying connected to the changing community.

Once the tour was over, the team gathered for a community concert that celebrated the day Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white customer during the Jim Crow era, sparking protest that eventually evolved into the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The concert had many musical performances, from Oakwood Avenue Community School singing “Vivir Mi Vida” by Marc Anthony, to a solo performance by cellist Terrence Thornhill preforming “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” dedicated to his recently deceased grandmother.

On the final day of the trip, the MTJC team summed up how we want to apply “situation analysis” within our area of study. We drafted a chart of who were the key players within the communities (residents, politicians, developers, and business owners) to delineate a conceived observation of each area. In the coming year, MTJC will be working on a plan on when to conduct the interviews, meetings, and one-on-ones. The team is looking forward to making sure that this project will be a cornerstone of research dealing with community health as related to gentrification and displacement.

Click here to learn more about the Making the Just City project


Congress Heights Residents Plan March Against Slumlord

By Yasmina Mrabet, ONE DC Housing & People's Platform Organizer

Two days after Christmas, on December 27, 2017, real estate developer and slumlord Geoff Griffis cut a back door deal with long-time partner and fellow slumlord Sanford Capital in an attempt to acquire their properties at Congress Heights, via an irregular and possibly illegal land transfer. This attempted transfer is a desperate and last minute move by Griffis to circumvent two Court orders that would have otherwise resulted in either a negotiated agreement with Congress Heights tenants to prevent displacement and jump start the building of 200 units of affordable housing, or, a $2 million payment to the court to be used to repair the property as part of the ongoing receivership action.

This shameless attempted transfer of property from Sanford Capital to Geoff Griffis also took place during a 60-day period within which the court ordered Sanford Capital to negotiate exclusively with Congress Heights tenants via their chosen non-profit developer, NHT (National Housing Trust). In response to this latest maneuver by Geoff Griffis, Attorney General Karl Racine filed a contempt motion against Griffis in an effort to expose the underhanded nature of this latest displacement tactic.

To be clear: Griffis's intent is to stop money from being paid to the court by Sanford Capital (his partner), thus preventing desperately needed repairs that would protect the health and well-being of Congress Heights tenants. Moreover, the move is designed to prevent tenants from being able to exercise their rights under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), thus depriving them the opportunity to take control of the redevelopment process for themselves.

This usurping of tenant rights in the midst of an affordable housing crisis prevents tenants from doing exactly what TOPA was designed for, namely, giving the tenants a legal tool to prevent their own displacement, and also, to preserve and expand affordable housing in their own community.

Geoff Griffis is willing to subject Congress Heights tenants to continued unsafe, unhealthy conditions in order to push forward a luxury development plan at the expense of community interests. However, Congress Heights tenants are in the midst of fighting back. Their legal team, including Arnold & Porter and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, is actively working to dispute Griffis's attempts to circumvent TOPA and the receivership.

Justice First and ONE DC are gearing up for mass mobilization in support of affordable housing and against displacement at Congress Heights. Tenants have worked for four years in order to control the land in their community. This is a line in the sand and a battle that cannot be lost. Join us at noon on Saturday, February 10 as we march on the home of slumlord Geoff Griffis!

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Click here to RSVP