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Low-Income Families File Lawsuit to Halt Discriminatory Redevelopment of DC-Based Brookland Manor Property

WASHINGTON, DC- As plans move forward to redevelop Brookland Manor, a group of long-standing resident families, along with community-based organization ONE DC, have filed a class action lawsuit today challenging the discriminatory redevelopment by developer Mid-City Financial Corporation and its affiliates.

If allowed to go forward as planned, the redevelopment would eliminate many apartments with three bedrooms and all apartments of more than three bedrooms, and displace up to one hundred and fifty families. Defendant Mid-City Financial Corporation has “justified” this discrimination on the basis that large families are “not consistent with the creation of a vibrant new community.”

Tenants, who have lived at Brookland Manor with their families for years, disagree with this notion. Named plaintiff, Adriann Borum, comments: “They say it takes a village to raise a child. I was raised at Brookland Manor, and have raised 5 children here. Brookland Manor is our village, and our village is being torn apart.”

Ms. Borum has lived at Brookland Manor for 28 years, but her four bedroom apartment is among those that would be bulldozed and left un-replaced in the proposed redevelopment. She and other residents bringing this lawsuit want to preserve their homes, which are among the only affordable apartments with three, four, or five bedrooms in the District.

The complaint filed today details the resident families’ claims that Defendants seek to exclude and displace up to 150 families by eliminating family-sized units (three-, four- and five-bedroom units) in the redevelopment, which will have a discriminatory and disproportional impact on families. The lawsuit also seeks an order from the court halting the proposed redevelopment to prevent any further forced displacement of tenants prior to the resolution of this court action.

Covington & Burling LLP will be arguing the case in court. Maureen Browne, a partner at Covington, notes the importance of this matter, stating, “the residents of Brookland Manor deserve to continue living in a community they have nurtured and supported for many years and, in some cases, for generations. The proposed redevelopment seeks to destroy the fabric of this community by excluding and displacing larger families. We are hopeful that this lawsuit encourages Mid-City and its partners to reconsider and rework the current plan.”

“Discrimination against families in housing is not only illegal, it is wrong. A diversity of family size and familial relationships is essential to a strong and healthy inclusive community. Our clients built and invested in their community at Brookland Manor and should not be pushed out of the very redevelopment that will bring the community amenities,” said Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which joined Covington in representing the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Speaking on behalf of organizational plaintiff ONE DC, who joined the Brookland Manor tenants in bringing this action, Dominic T. Moulden stated that “ONE DC recognizes Black low-income DC residents’ right to housing and right to the city . . . and we defend these rights through legal action to protect all DC citizens’ right to fair, equitable, and large family housing units at Brookland Manor.”

This redevelopment, coupled with the extreme geographical limitations on available affordable family-sized apartments, will perpetuate segregation along economic and racial lines. Moreover, if unable to find housing, the affected families at Brookland Manor may face a serious risk of homelessness, a risk which is even higher for households with five or more people. For tenants, some of whom were homeless before they came to Brookland Manor, this lawsuit is a last-ditch effort to save their homes.

The action was filed by the Covington & Burling LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on behalf of the tenants.

A copy of the complaint is available here.

 


March Against Slumlords and WIN for Affordable Housing in Congress Heights

By Clara Lincoln

Saturday, July 23 at 11am with the temperature pushing 100 degrees, over 40 people gathered around the Cleveland Park metro station to demand an end to the slumlord control of a Congress Heights property.

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March Against Slumlords protest


Read more about the situation from Justice First here.

The protest began as people gathered at the Cleveland Park metro station, crowding into the shade of trees. Eugene Puryear of Justice First and Stop Police Terror Project DC took the mic and riled up the crowd, many of whom held signs about gentrification and slumlords. At least 5 people in the crowd were tenants either from Congress Heights or other buildings organizing to exercise their Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) rights in order to buy their building.

After Eugene's explanation of where we were going and why, we started our uphill, sticky march to Geoff Griffis' house. Griffis is the developer who partnered with Sanford Capital, a slumlord responsible for letting building conditions deteriorate to the point that there are roaches & rats, flooded basements, and trash sitting for months waiting to be picked up. Justice First retrieved the address through online research on Griffis' donations to Mayor Bowser's 2014 mayoral campaign -- a strategic move on Griffis' part. Griffis is also involved in the wharf development, which received $95 million worth of waterfront property from the city for only $1.00.

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Conditions at Congress Heights building

Griffis and Sanford Capital are letting the building deteriorate to try to force the tenants to move out before they can exercise their right to buy the building. But the tenants will not back down. When we arrived at Griffis' house, three tenants from Congress Heights took the mic to talk about their experiences. They expressed how inspired they were that so many people showed up on such a hot day. One said, "We've been fighting for three years. But what we want Griffis to know is you've got rid of some, but you're not getting rid of us," referring to people who have chosen to move away and stop fighting. The President and VP of the tenant association both gave inspiring speeches as people cheered and clapped. We assumed the house was empty since we saw no signs of life, but their words were as much for the crowd as for Griffis' neighbors.

After about 20 minutes of chants and testimonies, the slumlord appeared. As Schyla Pondexter-Moore from Empower DC held the mic, Griffis stepped out of his house with a box of cold water bottles. Schyla, the tenants and the crowd all turned around, rushed to the fence, and booed. Schyla said into the mic that he was no better than a slave master for the way he's treated the tenants. One tenant yelled, "We don't want your water, we want a change of heart!" Griffis opened the gate, set the box on the ground, closed the gate, gave a curt wave, and walked back inside. Check out our twitter feed to see a video of the end of the encounter. Needless to say, no one drank the water. We had brought enough of our own.

We marched and chanted back down the hill towards Connecticut Avenue. We were so fired up that we walked straight into the intersection and blocked Connecticut Avenue for a few minutes, telling passersby who Griffis was and why we were marching. Police redirected traffic even though we had no permit to block the intersection-- a testament, in my opinion, to DC police's strategy of causing as little noise as possible during protests to keep media quiet.

The protest displayed layers of solidarity. Community members and organizers came out to support the Congress Heights tenants. Luchadorxs in other buildings trying to exercise their TOPA rights showed up for a similar fight across the river. Many individuals and organizations brought water and ice to pass out. And Griffis' neighbors even stopped to listen to what we had to say. It revitalized and inspired the tenants and organizers, educated a crowd and some Cleveland Park neighbors, and left people with a follow-up action step.

Griffis and Sanford Capital want access to even more land near the Congress Heights metro station on which to build luxury apartments. As soon as Justice First found out that the WMATA board was planning to vote Thursday (today!) on whether or not to give even more land to Sanford Capital, they did what they do best-- they organized. At the march this past Saturday, they handed out information sheets like the one below urging the crowds to contact Councilmember Jack Evans, urging him to table the vote. They spread the call to action on social media as well.

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Then, Thursday morning, they learned they had won. Many ONE DC members who had emailed Evans got responses informing them of WMATA's decision. Here is the text from an email Evans sent to a ONE DC intern:

"Thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts on this important issue.  Upon further review of the Congress Heights sale agreement item, I agree that postponing the vote is the most prudent option at this time.  I am happy to report that the WMATA Board also agree and the item has been tabled until a later meeting."

Justice First, Congress Heights tenants, and all those who contacted Evans made this happen. Thank you to our members who called, emailed, & tweeted. This is a WIN that proves the power of collective organizing and solidarity.

But the fight isn't over. The vote will come before the board again. And the Congress Heights tenants are still living in slum conditions. Stay involved in the fight for equitable housing by following Justice First on Facebook.  #DefendAffordableHousing #SaveCongressHeights


Tenants Report Lockdown Situation in Northeast DC

By: Tiffany Joslin - www.notabigspender.com - Follow Tiffany @in_a_tiff

Imagine your granddaughter, age seven, is playing on the grass in front of your apartment building with a group of kids that live in your complex. You and several neighbors are watching over them. A security guard approaches and demands that you get off the grass and go on the sidewalk that lines the edges of Brentwood Road, a bustling four-lane street. This is the first time you’ve heard of this rule. Kids used to be able to play where they wanted. These new, ever-changing rules seem to be an element of the redevelopment initiative, the same initiative which is also transferring families around.

 

This is what Neeka Sullivan, a nine-year Brookland Manor resident, said she experienced in early May. Brookland Manor is an affordable housing complex in Northeast DC that is set to be demolished and renovated starting in 2017. Residents said they have experienced an uptick in numbers of violations and infractions given for activities like children playing on the grass or residents sitting on their front porches. “The kids don’t have nowhere to play no more. All they have is the steps, the rails, and the trash thing,” Sullivan said, referring to a dumpster that she tries to keep the children away from.

 

The situation has turned into a lockdown, said Will Merrifield, a lawyer who represents the tenants. “They are telling people to go inside if they’re outside. They’re hassling old women and children.” Sullivan corroborates this claim. “We don’t have nothing on paper but it’s happening,” Sullivan said. “If a lot of whites lived in this neighborhood, [security] wouldn’t be doing things like they doing.” And, according to Sullivan and other residents, the situation has worsened in the last month.

 

“I can’t respond to that,” Michael Meers, the Executive Vice President for Mid-City Financial Corporation, said in regards to the reported increase in harassment by security staff. “I’m not aware of any changes.” Meers said that the company’s private activities are in full support of its public commitments.

 

Yet tenants and advocates are concerned about the company’s public commitments as well. The new design cuts over 160 of the current low-cost units. Merrifield called this “criminal” because the District is in midst of an affordable housing crisis. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute reported that in 2015, the city contained half as many inexpensive units than in 2002.

 

Meers said that the new property will remain “real, deep affordable housing,” unlike several other developments around the city, and said that the planned number of affordable units was “three times what was legally required.” According to the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development website, zoning law requires 8 to 10 percent of new or redeveloped properties to contain affordable units. Brookland Manor will be 21 percent affordable. Even still, Merrifield and residents are continuing to push for the same number, and same bedroom size, of redeveloped units.



RIA—the name chosen for the neighborhood redevelopment—will be a mixed-income community. “Our thought was that a mix of incomes will create a better environment and opportunity for everyone,” Meers said.

 

Yet Brook Hill, a fair housing advocate at the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, disagrees. According to Hill, gentrification is the root cause of D.C.’s affordable housing crisis.“This is a uniquely African American crisis,” said Hill. Many neighborhoods are becoming out of reach to people of color. In the last 15 years, the black population in the 20001 zip code (a large strip down the middle of the city) has decreased by 33 percent. Brookland Manor’s zip code is currently 86 percent African American, but it would be easy to imagine that number falling as well if steps aren’t taken to stop displacement.

 

Most importantly, “if people are displaced from Brookland Manor, they will not move to communities with lower concentrations of poverty or where African Americans are underrepresented,” Hill added. “They will move to communities in Southeast and Prince George’s County that are more racially segregated and that have greater concentrations of poverty.” Hill foresees the attempt to create a racially and economically integrated community in Brentwood—another name for the community—being hampered to a large extent.

 

Washington City Paper reports that with other, similar mixed-income developments around the city, the owner tears down aged affordable housing structures with a plan to rebuild one-for-one. However, according to City Paper, these projects have, “faced tremendous hurdles, putting its four projects well behind schedule and leaving many residents displaced longer than expected.” Moving people off the properties caused a portion of these delays, which Merrifield said has not happened yet at Brookland Manor. Instead residents are being relocated around the property.

 

The relocation process itself remains opaque to tenants. Several families have been asked to move multiple times in the last year. Minnie Elliott, the President of the Board of the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association, was relocated to a new on-site apartment less than six months ago and is now being asked to move again for reasons that weren’t immediately explained to her. “It’s a hardship,” Elliott said of the first move. “If it hadn’t been for my family, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”

 

Elliott said the next move will be even harder. She doesn’t understand where management will place her and the 21 other families that are being asked to move. Elliott said, in response to management’s claims that they have enough space for all the families, “That was a lie.”

 

It is certainly not the goal to move people around multiple times,” Meers said. “It is a complicated and involved process.” In regards to Elliott’s second move, Meers said it came about because of a change in plan from what was originally approved by the Zoning Commission. According to an email exchange with Meers, “the reason for the change relates entirely to being able to build as much replacement housing on site as possible at the earliest possible date.” Mid-City aims to file a Second-Stage Planned Unit Development (PUD) Application for the two buildings this summer.

 

Meers said he understands residents’ fear. “I get why people are anxious. But we are committed to allowing everyone in good standing to stay. Our public commitments stand and we will be accountable.”

 

Tenants, along with community organizers like ONE DC, are fighting back. Through canvassing and one-on-one meetings, community leaders and ONE DC members were able to raise Tenant’s Association attendance to between 25 and 50 residents each month. ONE DC also maintains a database of over 200 tenant contacts. “Tenants will be capitalizing on nearly two years of slow organizing in coming months to put pressure on the city council and zoning commission to withhold approval for the project if all the units aren’t replaced as affordable housing of the same unit sizes,” Hill said.

 

In the meantime, many residents think the developer should do more to ease their worries. And they say that some promises made, like money for moving assistance, have not been kept. “It’s so rough out here,” Sullivan said. “The developer needs to do something to help us relax, because right now they’re throwing people on the street.”




#BlackLivesMatter: Vigil in Support of Longtime D.C. Residents Fighting Displacement

October 26, 2015
Press Contact: Marybeth Onyeukwu, ONE DC Organizer  - monyeukwu@onedconline.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Monday, October 26th, Mount Vernon Plaza Tenant Association, People’s Platform, Justice First and Black Lives Matter DMV held a vigil in support of the Mount Vernon Plaza tenants fighting exorbitant rent increases. The vigil featured tenants, representatives from the Black Lives Matter movement and other community members sharing stories of displacement and making their demands to the Bowser administration. This vigil culminated a week of action demanding the Mayor to shift priorities from policing to reinvestment in Black communities.

After living in their homes for almost twenty years and facing a $600+ per month rent increase, fifteen Mount Vernon Plaza tenants held a sit-in last year at Bowser's office. At the time, Bowser was the Councilmember for Ward 4, running for mayor. As a result, the tenants won a seven-year housing affordability agreement. Since becoming Mayor, however, Bowser has refused to step in on behalf of the tenants. The landlord of the building, Bush Construction Companies, has engaged in numerous intimidation tactics including sending tenants to eviction court and disqualifying tenants from the new affordable housing program. Many tenants have been forced to move.

On the one year anniversary of the demonstration in Bowser’s office, tenants are, once again, demanding the Bowser administration to intervene to ensure more tenants are not displaced from their homes.

“I think it’s ridiculous the Mayor continues to express a commitment to affordable housing while doing nothing to protect the tenants at Mount Vernon Plaza,” said Eugene Puryear, organizer of Stop Police Terror Project DC and Justice First. “How is it that the Bowser administration can find the funding for more policing, but will claim their hands are tied when it comes to Mount Vernon Plaza? Truly affordable housing is simply not a priority for this administration.”

Mount Vernon Plaza is one battle in the fight for truly affordable housing in the District. Mount Vernon Plaza showcases the racial violence that underlies the city’s growing economic inequities.

What: Vigil in Support of Mount Vernon Plaza Tenants

Who: Mount Vernon Plaza Tenant Association, People’s Platform, Justice First, Black Lives Matter DMV

When: Monday, October 26th at 7:30pm

Where: Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments - 10th & M ST NW

Visuals: Signs, banners, candle light

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ABOUT ONE DC: ONE DC (formerly Manna CDC) was founded in 1997 in the midst of neighborhood change. From early on, ONE DC's approach to community development addressed structural causes of poverty and injustice, an orientation that stemmed from deep analysis of race, power, and the economic, political, and social forces at work in Shaw and the District. As a result, ONE DC’s organizing work centers on popular education, community organizing, and alternative economic development projects.


A summer of “education, action, and reflection.”

By Mia Campbell, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor & the Working Poor at Georgetown

This summer was one of the most rewarding and eye opening times of my life. The Kalmanovitz Initiative Summer Organizing Internship program gave me the opportunity to learn more about my capabilities and myself as well as learn more about others. When I was in high school, I would always try to stay involved in social justice work, keep myself educated about current events, and help communities through volunteer projects and raising awareness about problems. To some degree, this summer was a continuation of the work that I did in high school, but more so, it was an expansion of those skills and an immersion within the community that I was working to help find it’s own strength and power.interns.jpg

Each day in the office, my responsibilities included administrative work such as updating the database with member information, drafting and sending email blasts about our events, creating flyers, participating in meetings, helping plan upcoming events, and most importantly, learn how to use my skills to advance the agenda of the organization. ONE DC and its members work together to strengthen communities through community development or organizing. It helps those who have been silenced by the oppressive structures at play in our society find their own voices and in that, their power. ONE DC addresses the structural causes of poverty and injustice and works to educate people about the realities behind the problems people face in their everyday lives. The leadership structure is most unique and I personally believe it could be a great model for organizing power in the future. Horizontal leadership is the way the organization operates where the leadership is shared along with the responsibilities. Being part of this structure was daunting at first because I am used to working in a top down power structure. It was a breath of fresh air and helped me open my mind to different methods of operation.

There was never a boring day at work. Some days we would be in the office, making calls or writing emails and then one of our members would pop into the office for a visit and brighten up our day. Other days, my fellow interns, my co-workers and I would just start talking about life and the state of affairs. Our conversations would range from friendship to structural problems within our communities and the ways we could change it. I distinctly remember one of our first days in the office. We had a brief meeting to address some of the tasks we had for the week and we were getting ready to tour the Shaw-Howard area with Claire and Jennifer. As we were walking around, Claire would stop and show us a picture of what used to be where we were standing. Seeing those changes in such a powerful way, with the past and present right next to one another, really moved me to want to work hard to help however I could.

One of the most memorable parts of that day was at a later point in our tour when we were standing in front of what is now a luxury apartment building. On that plot of land there used to be a quaint apartment complex. As we were looking at the picture being held up against the current buildings, a man who lives in the area walked by and was shocked. He asked if the picture was what he thought it was; which was the old apartment complex that some of his family used to live in. He had a light in his eyes as he spoke fondly of memories and family and then the light faded as he turned and looked at the new apartment building. He talked about the way his family was pushed out of their homes and how he is working hard to support his family and one day hopes to move out of his apartment and have a house to call his own. That interaction, which lasted no more than four minutes, was the purest way for me to see the impact that gentrification has on DC residents. There is so much lost when a building is torn down. There is history, life stories, memories, and so much more attached to the places that are being destroyed and replaced. My summer with ONE DC really helped me learn to look at things beyond their face value. Now, when I look at new things, I always think about what came before, who was there, and what their lives were like.

freedom_school_2015-21.jpgNot only did I grow as a professional, but I was also given the opportunity to mature this summer. I had to figure out my own living situation, take care of myself, and really grow into adulthood. Each day my commute included a nice walk from my apartment to the metro and a quick metro ride to the office. I looked forward to that morning walk because I really felt like part of the community. There is a church on the corner where the metro stop is and each morning I would pass by and have a nice exchange with the older men and women who always sat outside of the church. I already miss my small studio apartment in Petworth where I would spend so much time reflecting on the work I am doing and how it connects to the work I want to do in the future. In the future, I hope to be a doctor. I want to be a doctor who really gets to know her patients and connect with them on a personal level. Understanding the way new developments and gentrification impacts the health of people is my next step. I want to understand more about sociomedial studies, the connection between health, medicine, and society. This was just the first step and community organizing has made its way into my heart.

It was a summer of growth, self-discovery and realizations of the best kind; learning how to finding my voice and using it to help however I can. It was a summer of growth in consciousness; an awakening. My eyes have been opened and now there is no turning back. Thank you to all of the people at the Kalmanovitz Initiative who made this summer possible. From my conversations with the other summer interns, I believe that they did a wonderful job pairing interns with organizations. Nick, especially, was extremely helpful with prepartations for the summer and I am so grateful. Thank you to Dominic, Jennifer, Claire, Marybeth, Rosemary, Kevin, Assata and everyone from ONE DC for being part of this journey with me.


Those Truly Resilient in DC

By Kevin Ruano, Kalmanovitz Intiative for Labor & the Working Poor at Georgetown

I don’t know whether I want to work as a community organizer. Whether that be because I possibly discovered, in me, the fool who has determined that if he works at an office, he might as well be making bank, or because of the type of organizing that I experienced and performed at ONE DC, I don’t know either. What I do know is that my work at ONE DC gave me a new perspective on organizing, myself organizing, and myself.

From the first day on the internship, it was clear to me that the work ONE DC does—organizing to establish a more economically and racially equitable city—was absolutely needed. What affirmed my conviction was not only the sight of new luxury developments in the Shaw neighborhood of the historically black university, Howard, and the thought that these buildings had taken the place of homes to black communities and peoples, but the encounter with a young man during our tour of Shaw.

We were standing on the other side of the street on which the Jefferson Marketplace Apartments are located. Claire, an administrative organizer, pointing to the building and showing us a picture of another building was telling us that the building across the street was built where the building on the picture was destroyed. A man walked by, surely seeing the picture in Claire’s hands for he walked back to where we were standing. He stood there silent, just looking at the picture. Claire asked the man whether he recognized the picture. He responded yes and said that the picture was of the residence Kelsey Gardens—home of several families—that used to be across the street and was destroyed and replaced by the new luxury complex.

Not only did the young man confirm that communities had been ousted, he also commended ONE DC and encouraged us to continue organizing as we walked back toward the office.IMG_20150609_134806836.jpg

Mia, a fellow KI Intern, and I were tasked with running outreach. We made flyers, Facebook event pages, drafted emails, and phone banking scripts, and phone banked all in an effort to promote ONE DC events namely the upcoming Juneteenth Press Conference, Resisting State Violence Freedom School, and First Source Jobs Action.

Having many days be from 11am-6pm in the ONE DC office mainly concentrated with making calls was never easy. Dialing numbers, and calling those in ONE DC’s database went from an initial fear that I was going to say the wrong thing, to a feeling that I knew the script, to the final thought that I was merely repeating words, not knowing the issues fully and never truly engaging with community members. For me making calls—no matter how necessary the staff of ONE DC said it was and how much they thanked us for the help—became a reminder to me that I felt more of a community at home rather than at the ONE DC office helping out with outreach. Nevertheless, I remember one phone call with one woman who gave me courage.

I was calling to invite people to the Juneteenth Press Conference where ONE DC was going to release a report on the flawed Marriott Marquis training program and First Source Law—how after 200 million dollars to build the hotel and create a jobs training program to connect DC residents to jobs, only 178 of the more than 700 program graduates were hired. I asked the person on the other side of the line how they felt about the program and low hiring rate. She responded that the program was outrageous; how the program run by Goodwill, the Marriott Marquis partner for the training, enforced a zero tolerance policy that required anyone who missed one class to leave the program; how the program made attendees choose between taking care of their children, their own health and wellbeing and looking for other employment all in the hope that they would end up hired. She told me how she, a previous labor organizer at another hotel, came to the defense of classmate who has to attend a family funeral and hence missed a class, and was dismissed from the class, escorted out by a security guard. She said she never ended hired.

The woman asserted that we had to keep those in power, those corporations receiving subsidies paid by taxpayer money and the government giving out the subsidies, accountable to the community. She was talking about what ONE DC was and is: empowering a community. This community—the community to which I was only merely coming into contact with through phone calls; the one I heard through this woman; the community that I got to see and meet through going with members to meetings with the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, attending People’s Platform meetings, learning with them about how the state inflicts violence, and demanding with them that First Source be enforced. It was these, the disenfranchised, and robbed by a system of economic and racial oppression that ONE DC worked with.

While I mainly made calls, ONE DC had done and continues to be doing groundbreaking work—work that is aware of injustice, the pain of and value of those who have experienced the destruction of their home, and shortcomings of the law. At ONE DC, I only got a glimpse of those truly resilient in Washington DC. They are not politicians, businessmen or those who are in buildings that appear on the post cards but those in buildings that are threatened everyday by development that is unsympathetic to the feelings and needs of the community whose roots are in DC, who is DC and soon will become who was DC.

I tell you, I don’t know whether I want to organize because stories are best gotten to know and told when I can see your face aka I might never want to see a phone banking script in my life. But that doesn’t change how undoubtedly grateful I am to ONE DC for giving me the opportunity to meet those who are fighting so that they don’t get uprooted; those whose stories need to be told; those that ONE DC is making sure are heard.


Barry Farm Organizers Deliver Their Demands!

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Barry Farm Study Circle, Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Association, Empower DC, and ONE DC continue to fight to preserve the history of Barry Farm and stop displacement of public housing residents. Barry Farm organizers presented their demands to DC City Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson and City Administrator Rashad Young. Our next meeting will take place onMarch 18th with Chairperson Mendelson, the Director of DC Housing Authority, and the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

HERE ARE OUR DEMANDS:

1. Appeal the approval to demolish Barry Farms (From Zoning Commission, DC City Council, and National Capital Planning Commission) as there are no funds to complete these plans they approved.

2. Halt and suspend moving forward with ANY redevelopment/demolition plans for Barry Farms.

3. Audit of the Barry Farms Redevelopment Process. Audit will consist of:

ALL Documents signed by ANY resident council member regarding the redevelopment process.
A Funding report to include:
Funding necessary to complete the proposed project.
Funding necessary to provide for relocation and relocation wrap around services.

4. Analysis of how New Communities works here compared to similar programs in other areas, and how to improve:

5. Answers to the following questions:

a. Why are people relocated en masse long before construction will be complete?
b. Why are replacement units no longer public housing? Why are the leases held by the property's private management company (with hard to meet criterion)?
c. Why are units not replaced? (See Arthur Capper/Carrolsburg, Temple Courts, Lincoln Heights)

6. Immediate repairs made to units in Barry Farms. Fill ALL outstanding maintenance work orders. DCHA is purposefully neglecting this property in regards to maintenance! This is unacceptable!

7. Feasibility study on redeveloping in place to prevent displacement. (This was stipulated in the Small Area Plan approved in 2006 by the Council)

8. Immediate Moratorium on the demolition of Barry Farms. (We are in a serious HOMELESS CRISIS! It is irresponsible and very poor planning for the city to continue with the demolition now!)

9. Meaningful exploration of Converting Barry Farms to cooperative or limited equity cooperative.

Barry Farm organizers also "educated" DC City Council Chairperson Mendelsen on the "myths" of deconcentration of poverty. Check out a few articles for yourself.

http://www.huduser.org/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol16num2/ch10.pd

http://herbertgans.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Concentrated-Poverty.pdf

http://www.qc.cuny.edu/Academics/Degrees/DSS/UrbanStudies/FacultyStaff/Documents/Myth%20of%20Concentrated%20Poverty%20-%20Steinberg.pdf

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/05/the-problem-with-mixed-income-housing/

http://ssascholars.uchicago.edu/mixed-income-development-study/content/new-public-housing-stigma-mixed-income-developments

http://www.nhlp.org/files/greenbook4/Chapter12/FN%20183%20Schwartz,%20Tajbakhsh%20-%20Mixed-Income%20Housing,%20Unanswered%20Questions%20%281997%29.pdf

http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2003/0703williams.html


Fueled by reflections from the ONE DC Freedom School, Congress Heights residents testify at Zoning Commission Hearing

By Caroline Hennessey

On January 22, residents of Congress Heights fought back against development aimed to line the pockets of one of the largest slumlords in the District. The development project seeks to displace families with the intention of capitalizing on their conveniently locates homes near the metro station, demolish 5 rent-controlled buildings, and eliminate an affordability requirement intended to keep eleven units accessible to low-income families. One after another residents testified at a hearing before the Zoning Commission to the deplorable conditions they have been continuously subjected to, and expressed their sentiment that “these slumlord do not deserve to be granted this new property”. Alternative forms of inclusive development were put forth as well: “I would like to see a housing co-op for our buildings” stated one resident. Ultimately, the project was not approved for the time being due to the articulately expressed concerns and ideas of residents, community members, and organizers of ONE DC.

The strength that tenants displayed at the hearing and their ability to stand up and speak the truth regarding the devastating realities of the current development model for poor black DC residents was due in no small part to a change in perspective after becoming involved with ONE DC. In December, a group of residents from Congress Heights attended a Freedom School organized by ONE DC that shaped the conversation by exposing many of those who would be affected and afflicted by the unaffordable, non-inclusive proposed development to other alternatives. Residents discussed the root causes of the hardships of displacement and the hostile living environments they have endured for years, and compared and contrasted the status-quo of capitalist, profit-driven development and “investment” with collective models based on principles of a solidarity economy. ONE DC worked with residents to expose them to the deep-seeded imbalance of power that perpetuates development beneficial only to those most privileged in our society. Together they watched videos and discussed other examples of instances where oppressed people have come together to take back power by realizing their own alternative collective visions of labor, housing, and food cooperatives. These ideas and visions were then applied to the specific situation facing residents of Congress Heights today. Some weeks later, these same residents took what they had learned through this discussion to the floor of the Zoning Commission in the first step of what will likely be a long fight for their housing.

The Freedom School is intended to grow and expand to include, unite, and empower residents throughout Ward 8 and DC to take back the city that is theirs. To this end ONE DC has and continues to work tirelessly to connect with residents and educate them in the fight for a fair and inclusive Washington DC.


Towards a New Gentrification Mythology

By Jennifer Bryant, jbryant@onedconline.org

Originally Presented at A.C.T.O.R. Deconstructing Gentrification Panel 1/4/2015

I studied English in college and I’ve always been fascinated by stories. In order to deconstruct gentrification, we first have to start by looking closely at the narratives we've built up around it.

One of my favorite quotes, and the epigraph to the novel I’m writing, is a quote from the Egyptian artist and writer Hassan Khan. He says: “Maybe we’re all guilty of building our own mythologies.” I love that quote because we’re constantly creating myths to make sense of, and in many cases to justify, what’s going on in the world around us.

I want to begin today by deconstructing the mythology of gentrification. There are many pieces to this puzzle but I want to zoom in on one recurring myth - and that is that gentrification is not a race issue but purely an economic issue. I want to explore this myth by lifting up a true story about a house on a tree lined street in Bloomingdale in Northwest, Washington, DC; and then I’ll end by exploring alternatives to our current model of development.

I live in Congress Heights in Ward 8. Every time I’m walking up Alabama Avenue I pass the Jewish cemetery that sits on the side of the road not too far from the metro station. It’s a visible reminder that this wasn’t always a predominantly Black neighborhood. Congress Heights was established around 1890 when Arthur Randle purchased land in the area and laid out the streets. Restrictive covenants were attached to deeds, as they were in many parts of the city, to prohibit the sale of land or buildings to African-Americans. This is why, for many years, Congress Heights was predominantly white.

Restrictive covenants were around for generations until May of 1948 with the landmark Supreme Court case Hurd v. Hodge. This case, one of the most crucial housing policy cases in the nation’s history, involved the issue of restrictive covenants in Bloomingdale right here in Washington, DC. The Hurd case is critical to understanding how race and class operate in DC, and ultimately to understanding how gentrification is a continuation of race-based housing policy.

In May of 1944 a Black couple named James and Mary Hurd bought a house at 116 Bryant Street NW. The home had a restrictive covenant on the deed that, quote, prohibited “the sale of the house to anyone of the Negro race.” A few doors down from the Hurd’s new home, at 136 Bryant Street NW, there was a white couple named Frederic and Lena Hodge. When they found out Black people were moving into their neighborhood they filed a District Court lawsuit to prevent the Hurd’s from living on their block. They argued that Black residents would bring down their property value. Because institutionalized racism is so deeply embedded in the fabric of the American legal system, the Hodges won their lawsuit, and the Hurd’s were forced to move.

Thankfully that’s not where the story ends. Our brilliant radical scholar ancestor Charles Hamilton Houston – a native Washingtonian, graduate of Dunbar High School, and former Dean of the Howard University School of Law - took up the Hurd’s case, took it all the way to the Supreme Court and won. One of his arguments was that restrictive covenants created overcrowding in Black communities which exacerbated the issues of poverty and crime and relegated millions across the country to permanent second class citizenship. That last point is significant, because race-based housing and economic policies continue to exacerbate issues of poverty and crime around the country and in the District.

As many of you know, there is a movement growing right now across the country where people have taken to the streets under the banner “Black Lives Matter”. The Ferguson Action Coalition and organizers all over the country have declared 2015 “The Year of Resistance to state violence against Black lives”. We know that there are gross inequalities in policing, that’s what kicked this whole thing off. But there are also gross inequalities in housing, education and labor. What this movement is doing, that is very important, is drawing the connections between all of these things. So when we say Black Lives Matter, we’re not just talking about state violence at the hands of police. But we understand that poverty and gentrification are forms of state violence too.

In April of last year Salon published a piece by Daniel Jose Older called “Gentrification’s Insidious Violence: The Truth about American Cities”. In it he explains that the violence of gentrification takes four main forms – cultural, political, economic and racial — and that these four pillars lead cities to go to war with themselves. He says:

“It is a slow, dirty war, steeped in American traditions of racism and capitalism. The participants are often wary, confused, doubtful...
To forge ahead, we require an outrageousness that sees beyond the tired tropes and easy outs that mass media provides. This path demands we organize with clarity about privilege and the shifting power dynamics of community. It requires foresight, discomfort and risk-taking. It will be on the Web and in the streets, in conversations, rants and marches. We need a new mythology.”

Many have posed the question, if not gentrification – what? When we step outside of gentrification mythology we see that there are, in fact, many alternatives. The central alternative is this: equitable development rooted in a solidarity economy. ONE DC, the organization I work with, has joined forces with our members who are long-time DC residents, and progressive organizations across the city to create the People’s Platform - our plan for equitable development in the city. The main push is for community control and equitable development without displacement.

This alternative is not only possible, but it already exists. Before I close, I want to lift up two ways equitable development is happening right now in the District.

Washington, DC has the second highest number of limited equity housing cooperatives (coops) in the country after New York City. Limited equity coops are a shared ownership housing model that helps to preserve affordability for existing and future residents. Unlike renting, coops provide direct control over one’s housing. They allow for long-time residents, including those on fixed incomes, to not be priced out of their neighborhoods.

Worker owned cooperatives have similar benefits, providing worker-owners with direct control over their labor. There are many different worker coop models but they are generally all democratically run businesses owned and/or operated by workers. When the business makes a profit the worker owners collectively decide how the surplus should be distributed. This is different than traditional business models that are common in the District which pay low wages and exploit workers. Currently, there are only a handful of DC-based worker owned coops; however, ONE DC has joined forces with Impact HUB DC, COOP DC and others to begin to develop and incubate new worker-owned cooperatives.

The District’s current model of development is not the only way forward. We can creatively and collectively chart a new course for this city – one that makes room for all of us, especially long-time residents. Together we can create a new mythology – one that is rooted in our collective values and honors each of our right to coexist in this city without the threat of displacement.

[1] Source: http://househistoryman.blogspot.com/2008/06/hurd-v-hodge-dc-racial-covenants-50th.html

[2] Source: http://www.weown.net/LimitedEquityCoops.htm


DHCD Negotiates Sweet Deal for Developers at the expense of Taxpayers and Low Income Tenants

On December 15th officials for the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) reached an agreement with Mount Vernon Plaza Associates L.L.P, which allows tenants in previously rent-restricted units to apply for a new program for “very low income” and “low-income” families. According to the agreement, the owner of Mount Vernon Plaza is not allowed to charge any more that 30% of the 50% area median income for the Washington, D.C. area for 63 set-aside units. Furthermore, tenants will be eligible to receive a refund of the “amount of rent collected that was in excess of the difference between the set-aside rent and the market rent.”

The agreement also stipulates that management for Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments must notify all the tenants in the previously rent-restricted units of the new program including individuals that have vacated the property. However, to this day, only ten tenants have received notices.

“It is outrageous that management expects us to wait to be notified of this program while we continue to pay the rent increase,” says Quitel Andrews, member of Mount Vernon Plaza Tenant Association. “In fact, we were threatened with legal action if we stopped paying the rent increase. Most of us could potentially be refunded for the money we have struggled to pay for the last year. Meanwhile city officials are using our story as a PR campaign, which does a complete disservice to us. We organized for the last year to get this point. For city officials to fail to hold the owner accountable feels like a slap in the face.”

“Most of us had to take a second job to be able to afford the 50% rent increase. Now they are telling us the rental housing preservation program is for very-low income and low-income families, says Danielle, a resident of Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments for the last 11 years. “I am worried that I will not qualify for the program.”

“It was a very difficult decision to leave Mount Vernon Plaza in the dead beat of winter with a child. The decision to end the program should have been given a year in advance. The increase would have taken so much away from me as a single mother. Why do developers get a break and not the tenants?”

City officials negotiated the land lease sale date as well as the remaining $3.35 million on a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan in order to subsidize the new Rental Housing Preservation Program. Under the new agreement, the owner applies payments that would have been made to DHCD towards the subsidy. Upon the execution of the new promissory note, the sale of land will be considered complete and the remainder of the lease is nullified.

WHO: Mount Vernon Plaza Tenant Association

WHAT: New Rental Housing Preservation Program

WHEN: Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Press Contacts:

Marybeth Onyeukwu, ONE DC Organizer
monyeukwu@onedconline.org
(202) 590-9949

Quitel Andrews, Member of the Mount Vernon Plaza Tenant Association
(202) 415-2608

ABOUT ONE DC: ONE DC (formerly Manna CDC) was founded in 1997 in the midst of neighborhood change. From early on, ONE DC's approach to community development addressed structural causes of poverty and injustice, an orientation that stemmed from deep analysis of race, power, and the economic, political, and social forces at work in Shaw and the District. As a result, ONE DC’s organizing work centers on popular education, community organizing, and alternative economic development projects.