Adams Morgan tenants who are facing evictions and rent increases in four apartment buildings met last week with members of the We Won't Move Coalition to organize resistance to what they describe as problems caused by land speculation in their neighborhoods.
The coalition is trying to organize "tenants' associations and community groups to help stop evictions, keep rents down and create jobs for people, possibly by renovating houses for the present residents," said Gretchen Young, a member of the group and a resident of Mintwood Place NW.
Representatives from the Mintwood and Adams Mill Road Tenants Association spoke at the meeting. Residents of the Mintwood, an apartment building at 1843 Mintwood Place NW, have been told to move out and tenants of three buildings on Adams Mill Road are facing large rent increases.
The We Won't Move Coalition is made up of several groups, including D.C. Unite to Fight Back, a city-wide activist group concerned with tenants' rights, among other issues; the Ontario Lakers, a youth athletic group in Adams Morgan; the Mount Pleasant Neighbors, and the Mintwood Tenants Association.
While Harris, a member of the steering committee of the Adams Mill Road Tenants Association told the group that tenants at three buildings on that street "recently received notices of 24.3 percent rent increases."
Howard and Maxine Bernstein, owners of the buildings at 2611, 2627, and 2633 Adams Mill Road have filed a hardship petition with D.C. Rental Accommodations Commission, seeking permission to raise the rents.
Harris said tenants in those buildings are "banding together" (to fight the increase) because "services have decreased. The landlord used to furnish washers and dryers and exterminations," he said. Harris also cited housing and fire code violations in the buildings, calling the structures "unsafe."
"There are no fire code violations that I know of. We have no record of any outstanding violations," Howard Bernstein countered, in an interview.
Bernard Jones,supervisor of D.C. Housing Code Regulation Division, said, however, that "as of now, those buildings do have housing of cases, but one of our inspectors will be doing a complete investigation of all three buildings in the next few weeks."
The Rental Accommodations Commission will hold a hearing next Thursday on the Bernsteins' petition. Tenants said they hope then to be able to testify against the proposed increases.
Tenants of the Mintwood received eviction notices last November, after Walter A. Brown III sold the three-story brick building. Brown, who still manages the building, said the new owners ordered the tenants to move because "they have to remodel extensively." The 90-day eviction notices tention to let the building stand empty for at least six months, a valid reason for eviction under D.C. law.
Brown said he does not know what the owners plan to do with the building after the remodeling is completed.
Mark Brodsky, who owns an interest in the Mintwood and is an attorney for the new owners, would not identify the owners and would not comment on their long-range plans for the building.
Saver Morell, a resident of the Mintwood for 12 years and a member of the tenants' association, said he came to the meeting "to find out what we have to do to find a suitable place to live with reasonable rent. We've been put out in the cold. We are here to try and get help in relocating to a new place."
Ed Jackson, a member of the executive council of the Adams Morgan Organization (AMO), invited the audience to AMO's twice-monthly meetings. "AMO is interested in keeping people in the neighborhood who already live here," he said. "We can win this war if we stick together."
Tenants should lobby City Council members and let their concern be known in this election year, said Julia Wall, a resident of one of the Adams Mill Road buildings where rents are being raised and a member of the Adams Mill Road Tenants Association.
Others at the meeting suggested that the tenants' organizations share information and tactics and consider hiring attorneys and accountants to work with them.
Activists in the Adams Morgan area say they are concerned about the displacement of low-income families and the change in the character of the neighborhood as a result of the influx of upper-income single residents and childless couples.
In a leaflet that has been distributed in the 18th Street and Columbia Road area recently, the We Won't Move Coalition accuses "the banks, the speculators and the city government" of working "hand-in-hand to turn this area into another Gerogetown."