Friday, November 16, 2007

Op-Ed: Would you pay $200k for an apartment with bedbugs, no heat, and no working elevator?

UPDATE: Norwood to be featured on "Metro Watch" with Gloria Minott
Tune in Thursday, Nov. 29 at 9:35am-WPFW FM 89.3 Washington, DC and Around the World here.

DC Mayor Adrian Fenty unveiled his plan for Affordable housing earlier this week. The plan is decidedly long overdue for the District, but it could represent a refreshing step forward in the battle to preserve and build our affordable housing stock.

The Norwood tenants are most interested in the Mayor's plan to combat slumlords who profit at the peril of tenants:
"Another part of the mayor's plan is to prevent slumlords from converting deteriorated apartment buildings into high-priced condominiums. The legislation will be prepared by the Fenty administration to prevent landlords with persistent and unaddressed housing code violations from raising rents in rent-controlled buildings and from converting the building into condominiums to be sold at market rate."

We have penned the "Letter to the Editor" below to highlight the story of one building which represents many. We all have the right to safe and decent housing, a fact that is sometimes blurred by greed and apathy.

Would you pay $200k for an apartment with bedbugs, no heat, and no working elevator?

We are tenants at the Norwood apartments in Logan Circle. The city has cited our building with over 300 housing code violations in the last 14 months. As rents continue to increase, bedbugs, mold and a non-working elevator continue to worsen. Instead of addressing the Norwood’s problems, our absentee landlord sent developers to pitch condo conversion.

Mayor Fenty recently unveiled his plan to preserve affordable housing and prevent slumlords from converting deteriorating apartment buildings into high-end condos.

In the two years since we organized the Norwood Tenants Association, we have seen that the problems in our apartments are not unique. Indeed, our problems are replicated thousands of times throughout the city. We learned this by reaching out and partnering with community organizations such as the DC Tenant Advocacy Coalition (TENAC), the Latino Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), and the DC Office of the Tenant Advocate. As a result, we helped establish the DC Tenants Rights Alliance, a coalition of twenty deteriorating rent-controlled buildings across the city who are fighting off condo conversion attempts.

Despite our efforts to improve the unsafe conditions in our home, a building-wide bed bug infestation and other housing violations thrive. We continue to receive yearly rent increases with no improvements, and are presently engaged in multiple lawsuits against our slum lord.

Last may, our slum lord, offered us the building for the outrageous price of $12 million, “as is.” Our slumlord now wants to be rewarded for neglecting the building by squeezing the last bit of residual value from the declining real estate market.

It is critical that the city enforce the law that prohibits landlords from raising rents where there are persistent and unaddressed housing code violations. Today landlords take nearly automatic rent increases, regardless of problems. Tenants' only recourse is then to enter into a lengthy and expensive lawsuit process. The Mayor’s new plan supports tenants’ rights and saves money by prohibiting improper rent increases and illegal condo conversions before they happen.

The Mayor’s proposal gives us new hope. Someone is listening to the thousands of families in DC who grasp at the diminishing stock of affordable housing in the face of opportunistic developers and bad landlords. We urge the City Council to back the Mayor’s proposal, and to expand the focus beyond the four neighborhoods cited by the Mayor’s affordable housing protection team.

Buying our building may be the only way to preserve our affordable housing and to fix our problems. The city should budget part of the projected surplus funds for tenant purchases, co-ops and affordable condo options.

Norwood Tenants Association

David Fabian
Silvia Salazar
Randy Green
Henry Jones

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What the hell is going on? Why is the city not taking a more active part to resolve the bedbug infestations that are going on? Do they not realize the social stigma associated with having bedbugs? I do not have bedbugs, but I am trying to deal with the phobia. Sooner or later, I feel that I will have to deal with them first had if the government doesn't step in and do something about it. I just don't understand humanity. There are people living with these nasty bugs, not only them, but babies and children are getting eaten up by these nasty critters. Something has to be done to resolve this issue. Landlords can't afford it. What about the insurance companies and their CEO's who can have thier house cleaners resolve thier bedbug infestations while they stay at thier vacation houses. What the _ _ _ _ is the government doing to resolve the issue. Everyone I speak with doesn't even realize there are bedbug infestations in this area. What the _ _ _ _