A major homeless shelter closed, several government agency heads departed, and the D.C. Auditor’s reports criticized the city’s efforts to create affordable housing.
Everywhere across D.C., from Trinidad to Anacostia and Michigan Park, it’s getting more expensive to live. For the first time, the Washington Business Journal reported in October, the median sales price of a single-family home in the District topped $700,000. (It’s now north of $730,000.) Renters aren’t exactly having better luck: Though median rental prices are down slightly since 2017, it’s still about $2,160 a month to rent a one-bedroom apartment.
In the shadow of a ballooning housing market, there was a slew of high-level departures this year. Chiefs of the Office of Planning, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and Department of General Services—all of whom have a hand in where (and how well) people live—were asked to step down shortly after Mayor Muriel Bowser’s re-election.
Budget cuts threatened some of the District’s most vulnerable people, as well as lauded non-profit housing organizations, and Attorney General Karl Racine announced lawsuits against some of the District’s worst slumlords.
City Paper also reported on a little-known program within DCRA that helps big developers pay more to fast-track large construction projects, like an Apple store in Mount Vernon Square’s Carnegie Library, as well as the start-to-finish mess that was the construction of a luxury hotel in Adams Morgan.
Below, some of the most significant pieces of news from this chaotic year. The biggest takeaway? It is very, very expensive to live in D.C.
At the beginning of the year, Mayor Bowser doubled down on her commitment to close DC General, the city’s largest family homeless shelter, by the end of 2018.
Smaller replacement shelters in wards 4, 7, and 8 opened a month apart from each other this fall, though the latter two were delayed after the company hired to build them bungled the job. (And residents of the Ward 4 shelter are already complaining about its quality.) Neighbors of planned homeless shelters in wards 3 and 5 continued to mount legal challenges against each of them, though construction is now underway on both. A court recently gave approval to the shelter in Ward 3, allowing the final phases of its construction to move forward. Construction is also ongoing on Ward 6’s shelter, and District officials plan on opening the three of them between the summer of 2019 and spring of 2020.
In October, Bowser finally shuttered DC General on what would have been Relisha Rudd’s 13th birthday. (Rudd was a resident of DC General when she went missing in 2014. Law enforcement officials have not located her in the intervening years, and she was last seen at a Holiday Inn Express with a janitor who worked at the shelter.) Advocates for the homeless loudly protested Bowser’s decision to fast-track the shelter’s closure, arguing that she did so to offer valuable District land to Jeff Bezos for Amazon’s East Coast headquarters. (The company eventually announced that it would split HQ2 between Long Island City, New York, and Crystal City, Virginia.)
DC Housing Authority
The DC Court of Appeals struck down a redevelopment plan this spring for Barry Farm, the beleaguered public housing complex in Ward 8, where District officials later found traces of lead. The discovery, made during a structural audit of DCHA’s housing portfolio, was representative of more pervasive issues across the authority’s housing stock. Almost one-third of its units are nearly uninhabitable, the audit found. DCHA will need an estimated $343 million next fiscal year to make interim repairs, and is preparing a commensurate financial ask from the city come budget season in the spring. Also this year, a member of DCHA’s board of commissioners stepped down after he organized a “unity” rally where an attendee referred to Jews as “termites.”
A seniors-only apartment complex in Ward 6, the Arthur Capper senior center, endured a mammoth fire this summer that displaced dozens of residents. Many of those seniors are living in hotels around the city until Capper is restored.
The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. filed a lawsuit against DCHA this year after security guards of a DCHA property allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Filed in U.S. District Court on Aug. 30, the lawsuit alleges that a “profoundly deaf” tenant of Ward 2’s Claridge Towers, who experienced difficulty breathing, was unable to access health services in a timely fashion.
Affordable housing developments
Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White held demonstrations against the construction of two housing developments in his ward—Maple View Flats and Reunion Square. White protested the construction of Maple View Flats, alleging that the developer, Tim Chapman, lied about how many Ward 8 residents he hired to work on the project. Reunion Square was a proposed tax increment financing project in Anacostia that would have boasted tens of thousands of square feet of retail and office space, as well as some affordable housing. White sunk that deal in November, arguing that it was too generous to the developer.
Another tax increment financed project, the redevelopment of Rhode Island Avenue NE’s Brookland Manor, passed the D.C. Council this winter. Dozens of residents and their advocates lobbied against the project, believing that it will lead to the displacement of low-income families and those with large households.
DCHA broke ground this year on Parkway Overlook, an apartment complex on Robinson Place SE long-planned for redevelopment. Once home to 1,000 low-income residents, the property fell into disrepair, with $5 million in vacant property taxes owed at one point on the complex.
And hitting back against landlords they say violated the city’s housing code, tenant associations across the city organized actions against them this year, launching rent control strikes in Brightwood Park and legal action in Deanwood, among others. Dozens of these tenants live in apartments without heat or clean water, and where mold, pests, and crumbling infrastructure are the norm.
A controversial move to limit how frequently homeowners list their spaces on Airbnb passed the D.C. Council, even after the District’s chief financial officer estimated that the city could lose $21 million annually in hotel tax revenue. The Council also introduced a bill to seal eviction records, and passed separate measures to make ownership of limited liability companies more transparent, make the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act more restrictive, and help curb rent concessions scams. The Bowser administration finally published regulations to implement the District Opportunity to Purchase Act, which will allow the city to buy apartment buildings, ostensibly providing another opportunity to keep rental units affordable.
The D.C. Council also weighed how to legislate around eviction reforms, after the U.S. Marshals Service told City Paper in April that it would change its enforcement of evictions. USMS no longer mandates that landlords move former tenants’ belongings onto the street, making evictions in D.C. more like those in other major metropolitan areas.
Former Councilmember Kathy Patterson, now D.C.’s auditor, released multiple reports this year criticizing the District’s efforts to preserve and create affordable housing. Those include audits skeptical of the efficacy of an affordable housing “trust fund” within the Department of Housing and Community Development, as well as an audit criticizing DCRA’s ability to effectively oversee the abatement of housing code violations.
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