a few points about the june 30 story on DCRA (“DCRA: Defending the City’s Ruling Aristocracy,” 6/30), and then some observations about life for the people who work at the agency:
First, Ryan Grim’s version of recent rent-control events is so laughably wrong—you really need to give him a primer on D.C. Politics 101. Regarding the bill which the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee (CRAC) adopted 4–1 in March over the objections of its chairman, Jim Graham: Does Grim really think that two councilmembers running citywide (Adrian Fenty and David Catania) and another at-large member barely a year into his first term (Kwame R. Brown) voted for a bill that “would have all but eliminated rent control”—in a city that is 60 percent renters?
The four CRAC members voting for that bill instead of what their chairman wanted did so because they recognized the alternative for what it was, a residential version of Graham-zilla: something seemingly intended to protect tenants, the actual effect of which would be to so severely reduce the ability of good housing providers to maintain and improve their properties that it just fuels the fire for them to sell.
And when they sell, who buys? The tenant association, you say? Well, yes…but using money provided by a luxury condo developer fronting as a savior of the tenant right to purchase. And the tenants “own” the building only for a minute— just long enough for some tenants to collect the payoff money from the condo outfit for vacating the building, while a few others sign a contract for a discounted price on their unit, post-condo makeover. What was once an affordable rental building is gone forever.
But what about the lower-income tenants who wanted to stay on as renters? There are lots of them—they just lose out in the tenant association votes, and then they are SOL. They’re forced to move; yes, with some new cash in their pocket, but how far does that take them in this market? Here’s a City Paper story idea: drive around Ward 1 and note the demographics in its many now-hip, converted buildings; then, spend a little time tracking down some of the former tenants of those buildings, and give us a then-and-now piece. The tenant-friendly credentials of Councilmembers Fenty and Brown are hardly impaired by voting against incentives for luxury condo conversion and tenant displacement disguised as “rent control reform.”
Grim is deficient in Conversion/Sale 101, too—he’s got it totally bass-ackwards when he says the 95/5 transaction is “laying the groundwork for a massive condo-conversion.” D.C. law prohibits a building’s condo conversion without the consent of a majority of its tenants, and 95/5 couldn’t change that. An indisputable hallmark of every 95/5 transaction, though, was that the building in question remained rental housing, and its rent-control status was completely unaffected by the transaction. It was the one alternative to the predatory developers’ “buy off the tenants’ right, then convert to luxury condo” scenario that is robbing the city of its rental housing. People who fashion themselves as tenant advocates truly ought to think about this. But never mind, 95/5 is gone.
The best thing about Grim’s piece is that someone finally let Linda Harried say her piece. A quiet, capable 32-year public servant who never asked to be a public figure, and whose DCRA job certainly didn’t make her one, Harried was subjected to what amounted to a public lynching of her professional reputation and career last year, and she was hounded out of the government. First came vague assertions and innuendo from the CRAC chairman suggesting she was corrupt; when she would have none of that, there was an effort to depict her as being incompetent and bamboozled by real estate lawyers. Then, she was accused of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
The problem for the chair, too, was those pesky judges ruling on the tenant cases claiming that 95/5 was a sale—about six of them by then, D.C. and federal, trial and appellate. They had looked—closely—and refused to buy any of the assertions, legal or factual, about Ms. Harried. Take U.S. District Judge Kennedy: “As demonstrated by the affidavit of Linda Harried… DCRA has determined that a sale of less than one hundred percent… does not constitute a ‘sale’… .This interpretation is consistent with the Sale Act’s plain language and… legislative history.” Or Superior Court Judge Boasberg, citing judges in several other cases who had reviewed and validated Ms. Harried’s work: “This Court, in line with these courts’ determinations, has no reason to discredit Harried’s conclusion…” Ms. Harried is right, she is owed an apology, not only from Mr. Graham but from the executive branch, for the shameful and pathetic way it failed to defend her in the Grand Inquisition.
Many people wonder, too, what our friend Theresa Lewis might have said, if given the chance. Theresa and I came up together in D.C. government, and she spent 26 years in DCRA, rising to become its deputy director and chief of staff. In that time, she truly had become the embodiment of DCRA, appreciated by its citizen and business clients, and revered by its employees, including the dozen or so directors she worked for in that time. She gave the D.C. government everything she had, and it took it, including making her a punching bag for the Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee in the last year of her life.
When Lewis was terminally ill a few months ago, a mayoral proclamation of “Theresa Lewis Day” was eventually issued, and photos of the issuance were put on the DCRA Web site, just not in time for Theresa to see them. The council, too, grudgingly issued a proclamation, too late for her to see, but just in time for Mr. Graham to present at her funeral. Hundreds of past and current DCRA employees at the service heard him make light of the misery he had inflicted in her last year, writing it off to his penchant for “theater,” and then saw him leave midway through the service.
So, let’s review: Give your entire career to DCRA service; spend years producing, not loafing, in an agency notoriously short on staff and resources; unfairly get the crap kicked out of you, for sport, by your legislative oversight committee; meet the demands of an executive branch that sucks the life out of you, but then declines to even have your back when you’re under siege; and get depicted as stooges and lackeys by a so-called “peoples’ paper.”
To the next mayor: Good luck in your recruiting.
Senior Vice President of Government AffairsThe Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.