Voicing anger over the rapid increase in evictions from rental housing, representatives of tenant groups throughout the city rallied at the District Building last weekend to seek help from the City Council.
With five City Council members present, tenant spokesmen proposed a 90 day moratorium on evictions that are based on an owner's notice that he plans to sell a building, demolish it, do extensive repairs or discontinue its use as rental property. In addition to the moratorium, the tenants were seeking a 90-day extension for those city residents who already have recieved eviction notices.
On Tuesday, taking note of tenant unrest, the City Council took emergency action to increase the amount of time given to tenants who are evicted from their homes. The council voted to extend the current 90 days' notice to 180 days before tenants must leave.
The council action drew praise from Evelyn Onwuachi, chairman of the City-Wide Housing Coalition, who said, "We've been waiting for this to happen for a long time. Our 'Stop People Removal' campaign began last spring. We've been working for strong eviction and rent controls. Tenants who got notices because their buildings were to be discontinued now have extra time."
Her sentiments were echoed by other tentant representatives, including Gretchen Young, a member of the Mintwood Apartments Tenants Association, who said, "I think it's fanstastic. It means the City Council recognizes that there's a housing crisis in D.C. This is a real vicotry . . . Tenants will have more time to organize and fight their evictions or put money together to buy their buildings."
According to figures tenant spokesmen said they obtained from the city Rent Administrator's Office, 788 eviction notices were issued during March. The reason given for 731 of the notices was that the owner planned to discontinue the housing use, that is, to take the units off the rental housing market.
Between September and March, 1,867 eviction notices were filed with the rent administrator. Eighty-seven percent were for discontinuance. The number of notices filed with the rent administrator was as follows: 91 in September, 44 in October, 42 in November, 259 in December, 74 in January, 569 in Febuary, and 788 in March.
The morantorium proposal was drafted by tenants and representatives from University Legal Aid and the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association. About 30 percent associations were represented at Sunday's meeting in City Council chambers, attended by more than 200 people.
City Council members Marion S. Barry Jr., David A. Clarke, Hilda H. Mason, Rev Douglas E. Moore and Wilhelmina Rolark were present.
The rally was organized by several tenant groups, including University Legal Services, the Metropolitan Washington Planing and Housing Association, City-Wide Housing Caolition, Strongforce, D.C. Fight Back and the Emergency Committee to Save Rental Housing.
A statement prepared by the tenant groups said:
"The City Council should recognize that over 1,512 households have recieved eviction notices in the past four months by landlords wishing to discontinue renting their propoerties, the displacement of which will cause great chaos. None of these housholds has rights to any relocation money or relocation resources, or assurance of places to move to.
Ann Loikow, a resident of the Swarthmore Apartments at 1010 25th St. N.W, said the Foggy Bottom area is "being considered by developers as an extension of the Connecticut Avenue and K Street commericial area. We are a prime area for developers." She reported that three buildings in Foggy Bottom, with "700 or 800" tenants were facing evictions because the owner planned to convert them to apartment hotels.
Most of the tenants who spoke at the meeting said they were facing evictions because the premises were either converted to apartment hotals or condominiums or were going to be discontinued as rental housing.
Under the new rent control law, the landlord who discontinues use must take the property off the rental housing markets for one year. He must sign an affidavit that no rehabitation or rental will be undertaken during that time. Under the old law, which expired last month, the discontinuance period was for only six months. Most tenants at the meeting had recieved notices under the old law.
Councilman Moore, a candidate for chairman of the City Council, told the standing room-only audience, "I will introduce a bill on Tuesday tp prevent tenants from being evicted for 120 days."
He added, "Tenants are tired of the Lustines', the Shannon and Luchs', and the Howars," he said. "I have courage and integrity to keep fighting the landlords."
One Tuesday, Moore introduced a bill which would provide a 90-day extension to persons who have recieved eviction notices and required landlords to give assistance to tenants who have been evicted.
Barry, also a candidate for mayor, expressed concern for those residents who are facing evictions. "I care about everyone who's being evicted. We ought to push for more ownership so that you won't be fighting landlords and slumlords."
Clarke said that "he was goingto support the moratorium," but expressed a need to look at other issues. He pointed out that escalating property tax assessments are also causing displacement of city residents.