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A deadly fire that killed two tenants in an illegal basement unit in Northwest over the summer is emblematic of a bigger problem: affordable housing.

Housing and legal experts said as much during a Council oversight hearing on Monday. They called for stronger tenant protections and greater government oversight on slumlords who take advantage of the status quo. 

“The D.C. Council is well aware that low-income tenants have few options left in this city that has lost more than half of its low-cost rental housing in the last 15 years. It is therefore more important that we as a city ensure every low-cost unit in the District is safe and habitable,” says Elizabeth Falcon with D.C. Jobs For Justice. “Through weak enforcement of housing code and conditions, we are placing an undue burden on low-income tenants.”  

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) failed to address unsafe living conditions at 708 Kennedy St. NW, even though police discovered and reported the issues. The end result: a fire at an unchecked property killed 9-year-old Yafet Solomon and 40-year-old Fitsum Kebede. The city government failed tenants the day of the fire, on Aug. 18, and the days that followed. The 911 call center failed to send help in time, taking four minutes longer than the national standard. And five tenants who survived continue to live in a hotel months later because the city hasn’t placed them in temporary housing yet.  

Solutions? “It means not being complaint based,” says At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman. “Because the people who are living in these properties are not going to complain for various reasons, some of it might have to do with their status in this country. Some of it might be skepticism about the government. Some of it might be very practical, ‘I can’t afford to live in this city and I know if my building gets condemned, I don’t have any place to go.’” 

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Some advocates suggested the Council should overhaul DCRA and replace a part of it with an agency focused on tenants. There’s a bill that effectively does this and it gets a public hearing on Dec. 10th. DCRA also outlined how it’s changed its practices since the fire.—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? Email agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

CITY DESK, by Amanda Michelle Gomez:

  • 17-year-old Shaquan Buggie shot and killed in Southeast over the weekend, making him the 13th juvenile homicide victim this year in D.C. [DCist]

  • Charter responds to attempted kidnapping of students on campus. [Twitter]

  • Low-income bus riders to lose if WMATA goes through with $0.25 upcharge for cash riders. [GGW]  

  • Tip from Arlington: Redevelop religious spaces to mitigate housing crisis. [WAMU]

LOOSE LIPS LINKS, by Mitch Ryals (tips? mryals@washingtoncitypaper.com

  • Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans popularity plummets in the wake of an ethics scandal. Six out of 10 Washingtonians say he should resign. [Post]

  • The Jack Evans Scandal: A guide. [DCist]

  • Today, the Council’s ad hoc committee will hear from the lawyers who investigated Evans. [DC Council]

  • To force a recall election of Evans, activists need 90 percent accuracy for the 5,600 signatures handed to the board of elections yesterday. [WAMU, Post]

YOUNG & HUNGRY LINKS, by Laura Hayes (tips? lhayes@washingtoncitypaper.com

  • Vinoteca is closing after 12 years, but the owner is holding on to the space for a new concept. [Washingtonian]

  • Chick-fil-A promises it’s done donating to anti-LGBTQ groups. [Eater

  • Inn at Little Washington Chef Patrick O’Connellto be honored by Trump. [Post]

ARTS LINKS, by Kayla Randall (tips? krandall@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • Reporter John McNamara was killed in the Capital Gazette shooting. His wife made sure the book he’d been working on, an ode to D.C. hoops called The Capital of Basketball, got published. [Kojo Nnamdi Show]

  • The saga of the search for new Smithsonian headquarters continues. [DCist]

  • Bye bye, Bei Bei. [Post]

SPORTS LINKS, by Kelyn Soong (tips? ksoong@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • Capitals forward Garnet Hathawayadmitted to spitting at Ducks’ Erik Gudbranson after Gudbranson swung at him during the Caps’ 5-2 victory last night. Hathaway was ejected from the game, which will most likely be remembered for the spitting incident. [Russian Machine Never Breaks]

  • When I decided to run a marathon in 2014, I set out for what I felt was a tough but reachable goal: run 26.2 miles in under four hours. What ensued was a five-year journey that included several failed attempts, lots of calf cramps, and the occasional loss in confidence. I wrote about how it feels to finally accomplish it. [WCP]

  • Has the Washington football team finally hit rock bottom? Scott Allen of the Post takes a look at the many times it’s felt that way over the years. [Post]

MAKE PLANS, by Emma Sarappo (Love this section? Get the full To Do This Week newsletter here. Tips? esarappo@washingtoncitypaper.com)