Mayor Marion Barry told more than 100 citizen activists at a conference on the quality of life in the District that he is concerned about "tenants who are trying to keep ahead of private condominium conversion."
"The 90 to 120 days are up fast. It's an empty gesture," he said, referring to the time tenants must be given to organize and to obtain financing if they want to buy a building that would otherwise be sold or converted to condominiums.
"There are 150,000 potentially displaceable people in this city," the mayor continued. "The majority... are not leaving the District of Columbia. They're leaving Shaw and Adams-Morgan for Anacostia and Northeast.
"I'm awfully concerned that over 10,000 units have certificates of eligibility to convert to condominiums. If you up the rent levels, landlords will get hardship petitions to raise rents. It's vicious cycle."
The mayor said he also feels "strongly about the subterfuge of apartment hotels being converted from apartments. I don't want residents to be displaced and forced out.
Housing problems and ideas for citizen participation dominated discussions at the Washington City Care Conference at Foundry Methodist Church in Northwest Washington. Participants attended workshops on housing, urban architecture, environmental issues, health and land-use planning.
"It's extremely important that people involved in environmental and city projects get together," Barry said. "This government has to be responsive. You shouldn't have to beat it to get something done."
"It helps to push and be active," Barry told the audience. "Part of our housing thrust will be to ask community groups to help."
In response to a question from the audience, Barry said he would like to see "a waterfront park, green space and tennis courts" on the Georgetown waterfront. "I'm opposed to development with buildings," he said.
Ellem Pickering, a conference participant and an independent member of the Alexandria City Council, told the audience that "by organizing in neighborhoods with your own programs you can get (together with) people with the same interests. You can, through your own efforts, make it known to your local officials what you want."
At a workshop entitled "Housing: Starting with Basics," Ann Turpeau, chairwoman of the D.C. Commission on the Status of Women, described housing as "the key element in our urban environment."
Community design, transportation, child care and supportive services are needed to provide "a decent environment," she said. "New perspectives in environmental planning are needed. Planners should recognize the need to integrate home, social services and job opportunities. Women who work outside the home are rarely relieved of duties inside the home."
Dr. James McGhee, a staff member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, cited findings of a recent study on displacement by the Washington Urban League as reason for alarm.
"We found a very disturbing phenomena in terms of people being displaced," he said. "Two-thirds of homeowners had been approached (by real estate agents or potential buyers) to sell their homes.
"We have a picture of urban nomads -- people being forced to move.
"Displacement occurs when a household has to move due to circumstances beyond its control," McGhee continued. "HUD cites private speculation, gentrification, federal programs and abandonment of house as reasons for displacement. People who move out tend to be elderly, minority and renters."
In another session, Oliver Johnson, president of Neighborhood Planning Councils (NPC), described the work of his organization. NPC is an 11-year-old group that runs 20 job-training and community involvement projects for youths.
"In addition to operating a planning program," said Johnson, "we teach adults and young people to have constructive, creative militancy and to actionize."
Serving 16,000 young people, NPC programs include "a ceramics factory, shoe repair training program and a program with Channel 7 where youth work on public service announcements," he said.
NPC is funded by the federal Community Services Administration and the city.