City Will Offer Rent Subsidies for Fire Victims

By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

District officials said yesterday that the city will provide $275,000 in rent subsidies for up to two years to help the mostly low-income tenants burned out of a Mount Pleasant apartment building.

At a news conference, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the city money will subsidize the temporary relocation of about 200 people who were living at 3145 Mount Pleasant St. NW until a massive fire destroyed the structure last Thursday. The cause of the fire, the first five-alarm blaze in the city in 29 years, has not been determined.

Almost all of the 85-unit building will have to be gutted and renovated, a process that the owners, Deauville Partners, told city officials could take almost a year and a half, Fenty said.

In an attempt to speed up the rehabilitation, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs will create a team of building inspectors and others to work with the owners and the construction contractor. "The priority is to reduce the [construction] time frame," Fenty said.

The mayor said that assigning a DCRA team to the building during renovation will help avoid delays and possibly shave two months off the reconstruction schedule.

The mayor also reiterated a statement he made last week, saying that the city will work with the owner to get the tenants back into the building at rents they can afford.

DCRA records show that the property was cited for more than 7,100 housing code violations between 2004 and last year, and a years-long legal fight by residents about conditions and rent increases was about a week away from being settled when the fire erupted.

The settlement was to include a commitment to maintain repairs -- which had been made in the past year and a half by the landlord and the city -- and to stabilize rents, said Blake Biles, the attorney for the tenants association.

Various city and nonprofit agencies are searching for apartments and interviewing tenants to determine their housing needs. Most displaced residents are being housed temporarily in two hotels, but relocations to temporary apartments could begin as soon as Monday, city officials said.

Although the city has said it would work to find apartments in Mount Pleasant and surrounding neighborhoods, officials said tenants will probably be housed across the city. Priority in Mount Pleasant will be given to families with children in neighborhood schools, Fenty said.

Clarence Carter, director of the city's Human Services Department, said the Red Cross will provide emergency money for security deposits.

If necessary, he said, the city will subsidize the difference in rents at the new apartments and the Deauville-owned building, which was rent-controlled and occupied mostly by low-income Latino residents.

Carter said the subsidy will be paid out of the city's Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which in the past 14 months has helped more than 4,300 households avoid eviction or leave the ranks of the homeless.

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