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#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.


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.

 


DC Government Tells Owner of Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments to Stop Rent Increases

After successfully demanding a meeting with Councilmember Muriel Bowser, the People’s Platform Alliance, including Mount Vernon Plaza residents, won a temporary reprieve from the management of Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments. Several residents received a thirty-day extension to the initial notice to pay an extra $600 a month or vacate the property.

 

In a letter dated October 21st, officials from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) notified the owner of Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments to “cease and desist with any attempts to raise the rents on the rent restricted units without DHCD consent and in violation of affordability restrictions.” In response to this most recent development, Mount Vernon Plaza tenant, Quitel Andrews, had the following to say:

It is clear the only way tenants are guaranteed any kind of protection is when we organize. Landlords will use any and every opportunity to take advantage of the increasingly expensive rental market even if that means pushing longtime D.C. residents out. It is imperative that city officials use every legal mechanism available to protect tenants. If we did not organize and demand Councilmember Bowser to step in, the owner would have gotten away with unethically and quite possibly illegally displacing residents.”

 

Despite the letter, property managers at Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments continue to employ intimidation tactics to force residents out.  On Friday, one resident, Alem Gheremariam, received a notice to vacate his apartment before his lease had expired.

 

The situation at Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments demonstrates the importance of passing legislation that ensures permanent housing affordability in the District and ultimately a comprehensive strategy that addresses the housing needs of all D.C. residents.

 

The demonstration in Councilmember Muriel Bowser’s office is the first step in holding elected officials accountable. D.C. officials must be pushed to embrace a more inclusive housing plan for the city. Most importantly, the next mayor will play an integral role in creating a truly equitable D.C for all residents.

 

The People’s Platform Alliance will continue to organize until the economic, racial, and gender inequities affecting low-income people are eliminated.

 

Press Contact: Rosemary Ndubuizu, ONE DC organizer
rosemary.ndubuizu@gmail.com
(323) 397-8347


Demonstrators Descend On Bowser's Office With Affordable Housing Demands

By Sarah Anne Hughes, DCist

About two dozen demonstrators attempted to enter Councilmember Muriel Bowser's office in the Wilson Building today to ask for legislation in support of their affordable housing plan, but were blocked as a group from entering.

"This is the people's house," one demonstrator with ONE DC told a guard blocking the door. "They can't do this. ... I'm a D.C. resident, and I pay taxes here." The guard explained that, while the building is open to the public, Council staff may restrict entrance to offices if the activities are expected to create a disruption.

Five people, some residents of Mount Vernon Plaza, others affiliated with ONE DC, were eventually allowed to enter the office to explain to Joy Holland and Robert Hawkins, Bowser's chief of staff and legislative director, respectively, their demand: A written comment from Bowser on the People's Platform, which includes a call to freeze rents at places like Mount Vernon Plaza, one apartment building where local and federal affordability requirements are soon set to expire. Residents of Mount Vernon Plaza say they were not told a Low Income Housing Tax Credit was set to expire at the end of 2013, increasing their rents by hundreds of dollars.

Read More


Mount Vernon Tenants & People's Platform Members Hold sit-in at Bowser’s D.C. Council Office

More than a dozen residents of a D.C. apartment building and advocates for the poor staged a sit-in Monday at the council offices of Muriel E. Bowser (D-Ward 4).

Members of ONE DC, a social justice group, said they had unsuccessfully requested a meeting with Bowser, the chair of the committee with oversight of housing issues, since July regarding rising rental costs at Mount Vernon Plaza apartments.

Under terms of public loans and grants to the property dating to the 1980s, owners of the building had long been required to maintain more than 60 apartments as low-rent units. That obligation recently expired, and tenants in the building near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center began receiving letters warning that rates would increase $500 to $600 a month, or about 50 percent. Rents would rise again next year by a similar amount, the letters said, to reach market rate.

Read More


BREAKING: Long-time D.C. Residents Stage Sit-in inside Wilson Building

protest.jpgToday long-time D.C. residents are holding a demonstration inside the office of D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser demanding a clear plan to preserve and create affordable housing. The demonstration highlights a very important issue: the rapid evaporation of affordable housing in desirable neighborhoods in the District.

The People’s Platform Alliance including Mount Vernon Plaza residents will not leave Councilmember Bowser's office until the following demands are met.

  • A meeting with Councilmember Muriel Bowser to discuss legislation that will protect residents from Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments from displacement.
  • Immediate legislation that places a moratorium on rents being raised on tenants as a result of federal or local affordability covenants expiring
  • A public hearing to discuss low-cost housing specifically the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) and strengthening rent control with the elimination of hardship petitions

As Chair of the Committee on Housing and Economic Development, Bowser has the unique opportunity to stem the tide of massive displacement by introducing legislation that will guarantee stronger protections for D.C. residents.

Take Action

  1. Send an email to Councilmember Bowser demanding she introduces legislation for protect residents from Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments from displacement.
  2. Call Councilmember Muriel Bowser at (202) 724-8052

Call Script

Hi, my name is ______ and I am calling to ask the Councilmember to take a stand in support of affordable housing.

Forty-five buildings financed through low-income housing tax credits and tax-exempt bonds have affordability restrictions set to expire in the next five years. Losing these affordable units will further exacerbate the housing crisis in the District.

In one of those buildings, Mount Vernon Plaza near the Convention Center, residents are on the verge of being displaced or homeless in the coming days if immediate action to stop the rent increase isn't taken.

Can I count on the Councilmember to advocate on behalf of Mount Vernon Plaza residents?

3. Send a tweet to Councilmember Bowser

Sample Tweet
@MurielBowser If you truly support affordable housing, address huge issue of expiring LIHTC buildings, start with Mt.VernonPlaza #DCision14


If Councilmember Bowser does not step in several residents will in fact be homeless next week. Please consider supporting the residents protesting in Councilmember Bowser's office by making a phone call today!


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.


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.