On moving day at the Lamont Street Collective, a longtime group house of activists and artists in Mount Pleasant, the resident pup, Moo, nervously pees inside. The mummy that long stood guard on the house’s front porch has been packed away, along with other vestiges of its 41 years of history: stacks of old feminist zines, a poster that reads “Global Revolution??? Yes We Can!”, a dolphin skeleton, and a Socialist Party flag from the time the house served as the D.C. chapter’s headquarters.
Left behind are the words “resist gentrification,” spray painted on a wooden board in the backyard.
“Moving has hurt so much,” says Kri Van Sloun, one of the collective’s eight members and an artist who works at a local nonprofit. “We are losing… the walls, the physical space, the connection with the community.”
The collective has also lost thousands of dollars they expected to receive from the house’s landlord, Paul Repak, who purchased the property in 2015 for $531,000 and who has since pushed his tenants to leave. (Similar-sized houses on Lamont Street are currently selling for $1 million and more.) For a one-time payment of $30,000, the collective said it would move out in July, but last week Repak started the eviction process after a $2,800 rent check didn’t arrive by June 5. A judge negated the $30,000 settlement between Repak and the collective.
Repak argued for eviction with the help of lawyer Rachael Abramson, who is also a real estate broker in D.C. She also appears to be Repak’s wife, according to both their social media accounts. When reached by phone, both Repak and Abramson hung up when asked about the property and about their relationship to one another.
The Lamont Street Collective’s lawyer, Jay Kim, says she initially considered using this information in court to block the eviction, since Repak had argued he immediately needed the home on Lamont Street to move into with his wife and two children. Yet Abramson owns at least three properties in D.C.—one of which is a two-bedroom home—collectively worth $1.3 million, according to the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue.
“While it seems like what they’re doing should be wrong, it’s not illegal,” says Kim. Now, the eviction is moving forward, and it could happen any day now.
But the Lamont Street Collective’s members say they are not leaving without a fight. In a house of their size in D.C., evictions usually happen with the assistance of a U.S. marshal and at least 25 hired workers, including movers. Justin Jacoby Smith, a member of the collective and an activist who previously did eviction protection work with the movement Occupy Our Homes, says the collective and its supporters plan to barricade the house’s back door and zip tie themselves to grates out front when the U.S. Marshal and movers arrive. (Although the collective has moved its belongings from the house, several members are planning to sleep there until eviction day.)
The collective is holding the protest, which Smith says will be peaceful, to show that “this issue is affecting huge parts of the city and many others more than us.”
“All over the city people are being displaced, communities being splintered,” Smith says, “because people are interested in short-term profits and in making a D.C. that works for developers instead of the people that live in it.”
Van Sloun also hopes people will also see that spaces like the Lamont Street Collective are being lost and that such spaces “are needed to maintain culture and activism” in the city, she says.
Culture and activism are indeed what the Lamont Street Collective has brought to Mount Pleasant for decades, since its founding in 1975 by John Acher, a well-known D.C. Socialist. Following a consensus-based model for cooperative living, the house has since attracted a wide array of artists and activists.
In early years, the collective served as a gathering place for Socialists and a crash pad for protesters. More recently, it’s been a home for musicians, artists, and a host of lefty activists: Occupy protesters, climate change activists, Black Lives Matter campaigners, Dump Trump members, and labor organizers. The house has also hosted other community events, including queer open mics, sci-fi movie nights, Sunday meditation sessions, and its annual Salon de Libertad, during which it covers the house in art by local artists and invites the neighborhood in. The collective was the subject of a 2013 City Paper cover story.
Most recently, the collective held a benefit concert for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and raised $2,700. Two of the collective’s residents, who have a band, played a tribute song that night to which the crowd—a mix of neighbors, friends, and supporters—sang along: “We carry you in our hearts today / We stand together unafraid.”
Smith says his favorite part of the evening was the presence of a group of local “queer teen punks” who sang along to the music. “A lot of these kids don’t have the space to be who they are at home when they’re that young,” says Smith. “So they come here. If we’re able to create that space for a handful of people, that’s really special.”
Socially conscious group houses like these were once common in Mount Pleasant. But Jack McKay, a longtime advisory neighborhood commissioner for the Northwest neighborhood, says rising housing costs have pushed these groups out. “No longer is Mount Pleasant a gathering place for people of unusual lifestyles and modest incomes,” he writes in an email. “Gentrification arrived, and now row houses sell for $1 [million] and up… The people who buy million-dollar row houses have different standards, different expectations.”
McKay says the Lamont Street Collective were “good neighbors” about whom he never heard a complaint in his 14 years on the ANC. “I’m sorry to see them go,” he says. “It’s just one more indication of how this diverse, unusual neighborhood is becoming increasingly conventional and ordinary.”
While the collective is leaving Mount Pleasant, its members are moving into a new home (at double the rent) not far away, at Georgia Avenue and Park Road NW. (They’ll host a farewell gathering at the Lamont Street space on Saturday.)
The collective will continue in Park View most likely under a new name, perhaps “The Long Shot Collective.” Members say their annual salon will take place in the new space in July, and Smith plans to hang Archer’s flag prominently out front.
“We are making a stand and then going to do our work somewhere else,” Smith says as he sits on the house’s empty front porch, the packed moving van idling out front. “There is a sense of new beginning now.”
A previous version of this story ran on City Paper‘s website on June 23. This version also appears in print.