Community

STAY DC Program Subject of Rare Council Summer Recess Hearing

STAY DC, a program to stave off the expected wave of pandemic-related evictions, is a lifeline that the Bowser administration, property managers and community activists say can be effective, despite administrative problems.

The $200 million financial assistance program,  launched in April with funding from the Biden administration, operates to prevent evictions and utility cutoffs for District renters and housing providers who are looking to cover housing and utility expenses.

“This is a good deal for residents,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who leads the Committee of the Whole, said. “People will be able to stay in their homes and keep their utilities going despite economic hardship due to the pandemic.”

Mendelson held the unusual  Aug.30 hearing, which lasted five-and-a-half hours, in light of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ending its moratorium on evictions on July 31 and the Biden administration’s attempt to continue it being rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 26.

All members of the D.C. Council belong to the Committee of the Whole. In addition to Mendelson, D.C. Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) participated in the hearing. The D.C. Council extended the District’s moratorium on evictions in July when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ended the public health emergency due to the pandemic that month.

Under the extension, landlords can start filing evictions with the D.C. Superior Court on Oct. 12 and the process in which people must pay back rent due to the economic effects of the pandemic or face eviction ends on Feb. 22, 2022. The process for non-pandemic evictions started in August.

Bowser Administration

D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio said any tenant having  problems with STAY DC should contact the program’s call center or visit Department of Housing and Community Development offices in person to address rent problems.

“We are here to help D.C. residents stay in their homes,” he said.

He appeared along with Polly Donaldson, DHCH director, and Laura Zielinger, the director of the Department of Human Services, noting that the District ranks only behind Texas and Virginia in terms of spending the rental assistance federal funds that fuel programs like STAY DC.

But during the hearing, which lasted five hours, council members also expressed concerns that the Bowser administration hasn’t moved fast enough to spend $130 million of the STAY DC federal funds, with Mendelson noting if that money hasn’t been spent by Sept. 30, the U.S. Treasury won’t give the District additional money for rental assistance.

Landlords and Utilities

Borger Management Chairman B. Thomas Borger, which controls about 7,000 multi-family residential units in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, pledged to work through STAY DC to blunt a possible wave of evictions.

“We want to keep our residents in their homes,” Borger said. “We work with our tenants to keep them from being evicted and are doing our part to help with the STAY DC application process.”

Donna M. Cooper, president of Pepco Region, said her company has utilized STAY DC to help customers become current with their utility bills.

“We are working hard for people to understand that you can use STAY DC to pay your back rent and meet your utility obligations,” she said.

Community Groups

The Bowser administration has partnered with some community-based organizations, such as the Greater Washington Urban League, to inform residents about STAY DC and assist them with applying for rental and utility assistance.

“Before STAY DC was implemented, we worked with the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help residents with rental assistance,” George Lambert, the president and CEO of the GWUL, said. “Now, when clients come to us for rental assistance, we direct them to the STAY DC portal. It is labor-intensive on our part to help people with STAY DC. Our clients tend to have problems with computer access and utilization, with some of our seniors not using the Internet or email that much. Some of our clients distrust the government and don’t want to give our vital personal information.”

Nevertheless, Lambert said STAY DC “is a good program and the Greater Washington Urban League remains committed to it.”

Babatunde Oloyede, the president and CEO of the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, agreed with Lambert on the issue of some residents distrusting the District government with their personal information and having problems with computer and Internet access. Oloyede said the District government needs to do a better job working with community organizations on promoting the benefits of STAY DC.

“We are the trusted messengers in the community,” Oloyede said.

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