About 175 D.C. tenants rallied yesterday afternoon outside the District Building in support of a moratorium on condominium conversions and for the continuation of the city's rent control law.
"The name of the game is greed," speaker Kathryn Eager said about condominium developers. "I believe in free enterprise, but not at the cost of human suffering."
The afternoon entertainment also delivered the tenants' message. To the beat of guitar and percussion, a singer for the Family Jam Band sang loudly, "We need lower rentals, higher priced condos got to go." Tenants carried signs saying, "Hell No We Won't Go, No More Condos," and "Housing for People not Profit."
Last year, the city's condominium regulation office granted certificates to convert 10,481 apartments to condominiums. An owner can get a certificate based on rent levels. For example, efficiency apartments would have to rent for $221 or more a month in order for a building to be eligible.
Figures for this year show that from January through April of this year alone, nearly 1,300 apartments have been approved for condominium conversion and an additional 1,856 are about to be approved. The owners of about 6,800 units applied for conversion from January through May 4, and more than 1,380 apartments have been registered as actual conversions already this year.
Two attempts to get a moratorium measure before the D.C. Council have failed recently. The last attempt occurred May 8 during a stormy session when council members refused to consider a bill that would have imposed an immediate moratorium on condominium and cooperative conversions.
D.C. Councilman David Clarke (D-Ward 1) said the Council probably will vote on some emergency condominium moratorium measure at its Tuesday morning meeting.
Clarke, who attended and spoke at yesterday's rally, said he and three other council members are working "to see if we can get something strong." They will meet today with other council members to try to convince them that some type of moratorium is necessary, he said.
Clarke said he hopes to see some measure approved that will go beyond requiring only a certificate of eligibility in order for an owner to convert.
The Montgomery County Council also is expected to vote Tuesday on a bill that would impose a three month moratorium on condomium conversions.
D.C. tenants at yesterday's rally voiced fears about the loss of rental housing and the displacement of many lower-and moderate-income families. One speaker said the owner of her Southeast building applied for a certficate to convert recently. "It scare us," she said, "so I'm here."
D.C. tenant spokesmen offered strong support for a bill that would allow conversions of apartment buildings only if 60 percent of the tenants agree. That measure also would allow elderly or handicapped tenants to remain until they die or leave voluntarily. It is sponsored by Council members Hilda Mason (Statehood-At large) and Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8). CAPTION: Picture 1, Kathryn Eager of the Committee to Save Rental Housing, speaks at District Building yesterday.; Picture 2, Two people attending the rally post signs protesting conversions to condominiums. Linday Wheeler - The Washington Post