Members and supporters of the Columbia Heights Community Ownership Project, a group that took over a building at 2542 13th St. NW nearly three weeks ago to protest what they described as real estate speculation, this week were picketing the home and office of the building's owners.
David Morgan and Edward Sean O'Neill said they bought the 13th Street building as an investment last March for $50,000. In August tenants were notified to vacate their apartments and members of the Columbia Heights group, a neighborhood organization, offered to buy the building for the same price, the owners said. O'Neill and Morgan refused the offer.
"The building is not for sale to them or anyone else," Morgan said in a telephone interview, adding that he and O'Neill do not have any specific plans for the building. He said that rents from the units did not cover the cost of operating the apartments.
To protest the owners' refusal to sell, Columbia Heights Project members began picketing Sept. 16 in front of Morgan's house at 3323 17th St. NW, in Mount Pleasant. The protesters carried signs saying, "People before Profit," "David Morgan: Is money more important than people?" and "Stop the War on the Poor."
On Sept. 16 five persons who had squatted in the 13th Street house since the day before were arrested. At a hearing two days later, they were sentenced to the two days they had already spent in jail, said Perry (Perk) Perkins, a member of the project board of directors.
Since then pickets in front of Morgan's house have been handling out leaflets to passersby that say, "Your neighbor David Morgan is pushing poor people out of their homes to make money. . . . We are prepared to fight profit-making speculators who view our neighborhood and its people as a Monopoly game."
The Project has already bought and renovated two houses in Columbia Heights, one for a family of 10 and an older woman and another for six senior citizens.
In addition to picketing in front of Morgan's house daily, the demonstrators also picket each day at Catholic University Law School, where O'Neill teaches, and in front of the apartment building at 13th and Euclid streets NW during morning and evening rush hours.
"We'll be picketing until the struggle is over," said Steve Wilson, a member of the project's board of directors. "We're picketing to emphasize speculation in the Columbia Heights community and all over the city."
"People are sensitive to the issues we're raising about speculative investment and displacement of families. It's happening here in Mount Pleasant, too," said Mark Lee, a picket and a member of the Project.
Peggy Frantz, a Mount Pleasant resident, said she was picketing, "for personal reasons as well as philosophical. I feel very strongly about what landlords are able to get away with in this city."
"I'm indifferent to the whole thing," Morgan said. "They told us before this began that they're trying to intimidate and embarass us until we sell them the property. We're not going to succumb to those pressures. We're going to vacate the building, and we're going to do it legally."
Morgan and O'Neill had said earlier that they had offered tenants of the 13th Street building moving assistance, but that some had refused.
Rich Siegal, who lives at 3327 17th St. NW near Morgan's home, told a reporter, "I don't like pickets in front of my house, but they have a right to be here. I don't see David Morgan as a speculator. He's trying to make a living in his chosen profession - real estate. He and the tenants are victims of the lack of a city housing program. As long as the city doesn't have a comprehensive housing policy, developers will have to establish their base as best they can."
Ward 1 City Council member David Clarke, who lives across the street from Morgan, said, "I don't have any reaction to the pickets. That's a normal pressure tactic. It's an activity that's their right."