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Mendelson and Bowser Clash over STAY DC Program

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson recently voiced concern about STAY DC’s sluggish pace on distributing funds to needy tenants who face eviction but a key Bowser administration official says the program has worked well.

“STAY DC needs to move more quickly,” Mendelson told the Informer on Sept. 10. “We have had a number of residents who are at risk of being evicted and writs to that effect have been issued. We need to get money immediately out of the door.”

STAY DC serves as a financial assistance program for District renters and housing providers who need help to cover housing and utility expenses and offset the loss of income due to the coronavirus pandemic. Federal funds largely fuel the $352 million program. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public health emergency in the District in March 2020 because of the coronavirus. The emergency made it illegal for tenants to be evicted because of non-payment of rent. The mayor lifted the emergency in July, thereby setting up a timetable for landlords to go to D.C. Superior Court to file eviction notices.

The D.C. Council intervened in July, setting up a process for landlords to evict tenants for back rent accrued during the pandemic. Those evictions, according to the council’s intervention, could start on Oct. 12. However, confusion has set in as some tenants reported in late August as getting eviction notices.

John Falcicchio, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, has said the August eviction notices are for tenants in the pre-pandemic eviction process, not those affected by the coronavirus. Additionally, federal officials have told Bowser administration officials that a large chunk of the money needs to be used by Sept. 30 or it will go back to the U.S. Treasury.

Mendelson Vents

The chairman said he wants to limit evictions to as few as possible.

“We have money available to help tenants with their rent; and if the tenant is eligible, they shouldn’t be evicted,” he said. “There are several hundred evictions that could take place in the coming weeks.”

The chairman said about 70 evictions are set to occur between Sept. 13 and Sept.19. He said those evictions won’t occur if STAY DC applicants aren’t subject to bureaucratic processes that prevent tenants and landlords from getting their money.

The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate said 290 evictions are scheduled to occur between Sept. 13 and the end of October.

Mendelson has sought to meet with  D.C. Department of Human Services officials. DHS is one of the  agencies managing STAY DC. The chairman said DHS officials said they didn’t have time to meet and that upset him.

“They’re not willing to meet with me,” he said. “It seems that they don’t aren’t interested in addressing this problem and stopping the evictions next week.”

Falcicchio Responds

Falcicchio told the Informer on Sept 11 that STAY DC funds cannot be used for tenants at risk of being evicted before Bowser declared the emergency. The eviction notices tenants received in late August are for residents in the process before the emergency set in.

“The STAY DC program is critically important to the District’s recovery from COVID, it is not the one and only eviction prevention program,” he said.

Falcicchio said the tenant advocate’s office and DHS seek to help pre-pandemic tenants stay in their homes.

“It is important to understand tenants can pay their full balance up until the day they are scheduled to be evicted,” he said. “Plus, we are working with the Housing Counseling Service to provide quick money to tenants who could be evicted soon.”

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