City Paper is not for tourists
The Lamont Street Collective, a prominent group house for artists and activists in Mount Pleasant, is closing its doors after 41 years. Its landlord moved to evict them this week over a rent check dispute.
The nine members of the collective, which calls itself “one of D.C.’s oldest intentional communities,” had already agreed to move out in July, and their new landlord, Paul Repak, had agreed to pay them a $30,000 settlement to do so. Now, the collective will not receive that money and could be evicted by U.S. Marshals as early as Friday. But the collective’s residents say they do not plan to leave without resisting.
“A house full of direct action activists is not one you want to throw the book at,” says Justin Jacoby Smith, the house’s longest-standing member, an activist who has previously worked to stop evictions with the movement Occupy Our Homes. Smith says the members plan to barricade the back door and zip tie themselves to grates out front when U.S. Marshals and movers arrive.
“It will be an effort to speak out against what Paul Repak is doing to us but also what it represents, which is coming out and removing a community institution and ostensibly replacing it with condos,” Smith says.
In court, Repak has maintained he bought the house to move into with his family. But members of the collective think otherwise, noting that while Repak currently works for the U.S. Department of Transportation, he has previously worked as an evictions specialist.
The Lamont Street Collective, once the headquarters of the D.C. Socialist party, has in recent years served as a home for local and traveling artists and progressive activists, including supporters of Bernie Sanders, activists with Dump Trump, and protesters working against climate change, for immigration reform, and with Black Lives Matter. It is perhaps best known for its community events, which include queer open mics, sci-fi movie nights, Sunday meditation sessions, and its annual Salon de Libertad, which plasters the house in work by local artists and invites the community in. The collective was the subject of a 2013 City Paper cover story.
Most recently, the house held a benefit concert for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, for which it 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.”
“The event was to grieve and celebrate at the same time in a healthy way,” says Kri Van Sloun, a member of the collective and artist, who identifies as gender queer.
On Wednesday, Van Sloun, Smith, and the other members of the house piled their possessions into a moving van and took them to the collective’s new home at Georgia Ave and Park Road NW, though most of them plan to keep sleeping at Lamont Street until eviction day. They say the collective will continue in the new house, though perhaps under a new name, “the Long Shot Collective.” In the new home, rent will be double what they paid on Lamont Street.
“We will lose the walls, the physical space, the connection with the community,” says Van Sloun. “But we will pick up where we left off. We will have our salon in July. We will do a call for local artists to show their art, and also have an open house maybe, to welcome the new neighborhood in.”