D.C. Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large) met Nov. 7 with Ward 8 residents at the R.I.S.E Demonstration Center for a roundtable discussion about their experiences of trying to access the city’s dwindling affordable housing.
In the meeting, residents expressed their frustrations with finding affordable housing and maneuvering the public systems that operate to assist them.
One ANC commissioner said she has noticed numerous Ward 8 residents experiencing difficulty in getting repairs and other issues addressed by their landlords.
“Some of these investors saw an opportunity for investment … but along with that opportunity came responsibility when you’re providing a place for someone to live,” said ANC-8A Commissioner Holly Muhammad.
She said many of the landlords she has interacted with are seemingly ignorant to the city’s tenant laws such as maintenance requirements and the eviction process.
“You should not be able to get a business license to rent property without that basic knowledge,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad said repairs are being used by landlords as leverage to force tenants out of their homes.
Several residents explained to the council members the lag between scheduling a housing code inspection with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs when they suspect their rental dwellings have housing code violations, and the actual completion of the inspection.
Many others also expressed concern about obstacles they face, such as credit checks — even when they have housing vouchers to pay the rent — and restricted access to housing authority case managers.
“Homeowners are not willing to rent to Section 8 voucher holders anymore because they can get people in their house that have jobs that can pay the escalated rent they are asking for,” said Lanette Preston.
Preston said she found a home in Ward 8 accepting her voucher, but has been unable to secure a date for the inspection necessary to move into her new home.
Others simply felt as though the District’s affordable housing was disappearing.
“There is no affordable housing in the District of Columbia,” said Betty Newell, an owner of various properties in the city, who added that she has noticed rising housing prices in Southeast.
White said the meeting was important because it helped shed light on the specific issues Ward 8 residents face in the city’s housing market.
“Most of the time people are so disconnected when they come to this side of town,” White said.
Bonds, who chairs the council’s Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, said her office was aware of some issues with housing agencies and would work to resolve some of the issues raised by residents.
She and her staff took contact information of those who voiced concerns for specific issues and requested a few weeks for her office to help resolve their complaints.
She said as additional funding in this year’s budget, which went into effect Oct. 1, would help provide additional resources to some of the agencies that deal with housing in the city and help improve their service.
“Those of us who don’t live here [in Ward 8] don’t get to the depth of the issues here,” Bonds said. “I don’t have an answer, and I don’t think my colleague does, either, as to why our government seems to be unresponsive when it could help with many of these issues.”