From the quiet, tree-lined streets of Cleveland Park to the riot-scarred 14th Street corridor, well-to-do and low-income couples and singles say they hear the same story when it comes to rental housing: No children allowed.
United in their plight, the tenants joined city housing officials at a public hearing recently on a bill that would make it illegal to deny a person a home because he or she has children. The bill would exclude apartment complexes that are solely for senior citizens.
If passed, Bill 3-74, a proposed amendment to the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977, would strengthen the enforcement powers of the Human Rights Office and clarify a section that generally prohibits housing discrimination.
At the hearing, held by the City Council Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, several parents and parents-to-be told council members that landlords who refuse to rent apartments to people with children are driving families out of the city or into overcrowded living situations.
"I've been trying to find a place for two years," said a single mother with two children, ages 3 and 5. "Once they find out you have children they immediately tell you, "We don't accept children."
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, lives with her parents in the 14th Street area.
Mary Jane Simpson, a D.C. public school social worker, shares a two-bedroom apartment with her 10 year-old adopted daughter. After the adoption, she said, she was informed by her resident manager that she could not bring a second child into her apartment. The building, however, will rent to people with one child, she said.
A step toward resolving the issue was taken recently by the Human Rights Commission when it asked the city corporation counsel for a clarification of 1978 opinion that supported all-adult buildings. That opinion was made under former Mayor Walter Washington's administration.
Human Rights Commission President Charles Morgan said the corporation counsel could reverse the 1978 opinion and give the commission the authority to intervene in complaints where people say they are denied housing because they have children. Meanwhile, the City Council will accept additional public comment on the issue for the next two weeks, after which the committee is expected to take Bill 3-74 before the full council.
At the hearing, the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington alone opposed the bill. Caroline Lewis, speaking for the association, which represents about 75,000 apartment units in the District, estimated that 75 percent of the rental apartments in the city accept families with a "limited" number of children. Limitations help protect the landlords against overcrowding and undue vandalism, she said.
If the bill is adopted, Lewis suggested that buildings should be allowed to adopt an all-adult floor policy similar to a practice used by Prince George's County property managers.
"There are some people who just don't want to live around children and they seek out all-adult buildings," she said.
"They can buy a house," said City Council member David A. Clark (D-Ward 1), who introduced the legislation.
Also lending support to the bill were: City Housing Director Robert Moore, Human Rights Director Anita Bellamy Shelton, legal and social service groups and juvenile justice workers. They testified that, aside from affecting widespread displacement, the frustrations resulting from the discriminatory practices against people with children contributed substantially to overcrowding, child abuse, youth crime and academic failure.
Joe Jeff, a Ward 3 resident whose wife is expecting their first child in December, said he faces eviction when the baby comes. Jeff appealed to the committee for quick action in resolving the problem.
"If we get some help you'll be the first honorary godparents," he promised.