Some of the last remaining Chinese residents in D.C.’s Chinatown are fighting to stay in an increasingly pricey neighborhood that barely resembles a place that once served as a hub for Chinese culture.
Dozens of tenants of the low-income Museum Square complex on Thursday stormed into the corporate offices of their apartment building’s owner. They argue that company officials are trying to force them out.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Bush Companies has got to go,” they chanted in front of the company’s Arlington offices. The residents have long contended that Bush Companies is purposely confusing residents into leaving their subsidized apartment units, a process complicated by the fact that many don’t speak English. Residents allege that the company doesn’t deliver them policy changes in Chinese — which it is required to do by law — and falsely informs them they need to vacate the building.
Bush Companies did not return requests for comment.
The tenants, who were bused to Arlington by D.C. activists, hand-delivered a letter outlining their demands. Upon a receiving the letter, an employee at the office said “we are not interested,” but eventually accepted it.
“Stop telling and allowing your staff person to tell tenants that they need to move when they are under no obligation to do so!” the letter reads. “Stop spreading the misinformation to tenants, creating confusion and the belief among residents that they must leave the building, neighborhood, and community they have called home for many years and decades.”
The fight to save Museum Square started more than a year ago when residents in the building’s 302 units received notice that the owners would stop receiving a government subsidy to house low-income residents and, in turn, replace the structure with a pricier one, more akin to newer, high-end condominium buildings in the neighborhood.
But under the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, residents have the right to buy their building before it can be gutted or sold to a third party. Bush Companies told tenants the building would cost them $250 million, or about $830,000 per unit. The residents and some city officials thought the price was arbitrary and exorbitant, prompting tenants to sue in D.C. Superior Court, alleging that Bush Companies had violated the residents’ tenant rights.
They won in that court; Bush Companies appealed the decision, and that appeal is still pending.
The residents said they want their landlords to know they have no plans to leave the building.
“Do not be afraid, not because we have language barriers,” Museum Square resident Jenny Tang said at Thursday’s rally. “Speak up.”
The building’s Section 8 contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development expired in October, which, in theory, meant that rent in the building jumped to market rate. But with the end of the HUD program, tenants have received vouchers for a different, more generous program that could enable some to stay.
“This is our home. We’re longtime residents, lots of memories,” said Vera Watson, who has lived in Museum Square for more than 30 years and is president of the building’s tenant association. “Ain’t nowhere we can go in D.C.”