Mayor Marion Barry assured Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners last week that he was committed to finding a solution to city housing problems and said a "policy paper" on the subject would be released later this month.
Barry addressed more than 350 persons who gathered in the city council chambers to hear the mayor and a panel of city administrators and housing experts discuss the city's needs for more housing, as well as expanded recreational and youth employment opportunities.
Reaction to the four-hour meeting ranged from cautious optimism to pessimism.
Department of Community Development Director Robert L. Moore told the commissioners that to "protect our local needy, we must increase economic stabilization and increase economic development and foster new development."
"The Department of Community Development must be active, not reactive as it has been in the past," Moore said.
Marie Nahikian, a staff member in the office of the department's director, urged ANC members to take the initiative to solve housing problems. "Look to your own neighborhoods for solutions and bring them to our attention," she said.
The 10-member housing panel was made up of representatives from government, the housing industry and tenant organizations who discussed the shortage of low-cost and rental housing, as well as the increase of condominiums.
One panelist complained of the lack of interest by city hall in assisting elderly residents displaced by condominium conversion. "We have called the housing department and they haven't answered our calls," said Joseph Davis, of the Emergency Committee to Save Rental Housing, a coalition of 60 community housing organizations.
"Our battle is a David-and-Goliath. They have 5,000 typewriters. We have 25 working members and two rickety typewriters," David said.
The other tenant representative on the panel, Michael Williams, assistant director of Capitol East Coalition for Housing and Neighborhood Improvement, told city officials that "tenants need and deserve aggressive and progressive housing by government."
"Tenants need to know that when they pay their rent, the next note they get won't be an eviction notice," Williams said.
"Twenty thousand units are already in the process of conversion (to condominiums)," said Williams, who criticized the city moratorium on condominium conversions for being too loose to protect tenants adequately.
H.R. Crawford, a developer in the city, said, "There is no such thing as low-cost housing. It takes just as much to construct (low-cost housing as) conventional housing."
"I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," Crawford said, closing on a pessimistic note.
This was the second time Barry met with ANC members to discuss community issues.
"I think it's a sincere attempt to get moving on this," said Carol Currie Gidley, American University Park and Friendship Heights ANC chairman. "I think the meeting gave me a better understanding of the problems. This administration is dedicated to turning things around."
"It was a good gesture on the mayor's part," said Frank Smith, an Adams-Morgan commissioner. But Smith said he felt key issues were not addressed, including subjects such as higher utility costs.He said tenants need to be aware that landlords must obtain consent forms from them before applying for conversion to condominiums of a building in which rents fall below a level specified by city law.
The mayor will hold a housing summit June 30 for discussions with tenants and housing activists based on the administration's policy paper.