A few weeks ago (4/28), Loose Lips curiously and incorrectly named me and only me as being among the people who attempted to “shout down” Mayor Anthony Williams and Councilmember Jim Graham at a recent WISH forum at which the mayor was the invited guest.
I readily admit to shouting “No gentrification!” three times. But, LL, let me pull your coat. It’s called public participation. Unsolicited vocal participation in public assemblies (movie theaters and church included) is also a black thang. Yeah, I’m guilty of SUB—speakin’ up black.
So beat me.
I thought Williams’ treatment was bush-league. He was neither formally introduced nor thanked in even the most perfunctory manner for his appearance. And he was not invited to speak.
Even so, I am no great fan of the mayor’s. I am in many ways critical of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ ill-advised and hasty initial actions in its issuing of condemnation orders and eviction notices in the deplorable situation involving exploited apartment dwellers in Columbia Heights and elsewhere. I applaud, however, city officials’ subsequent efforts in retreating from forced evictions, working with tenants and public-interest groups to constructively enforce the city’s housing code, and criminally prosecuting slumlords.
As for the crowd attempting to shout down Graham, I don’t recall that the councilmember publicly uttered a single syllable the entire time I was there.
So much for Loose Lips.
By many accounts, the WISH meeting was disorderly, its “facilitators” obtuse and exasperatingly polemical. But the group serves a useful purpose. WISH has joined the efforts of community-based groups like CARECEN and the Asian-American Center in organizing tenants at the grass-roots level. With the input of the Tenant Action Network, me, and others, WISH’s Coalition for Housing Justice has fashioned an agenda that should have the active support of lawmakers, city officials, civic and religious organizations, and everyday citizens: (1) an immediate halt to evictions (except in cases of imminent danger to tenants—my addition!), (2) stepped-up enforcement of the housing code, (3) extension of rent control and the Sale and Conversion Act, (4) enactment of tenant-receivership legislation, and (5) development of a comprehensive housing plan for the city.
Graham’s staff currently is reworking the late Councilmember John Ray’s 1993 Rental Housing Receivership Act, drafted to provide tenant receivership as a remedy when conditions exist that pose a threat to the safety and security of tenants in a rental property. Although Graham’s recent efforts have been helpful, his penchant for compromise, sometimes at the expense of equity and effectiveness, will continue to get him into hot water with constituents if he persists in proffering watered-down or ill-advised legislation and parading it as panacea. Graham’s bill must be at least as strong in its tenant protections as its model. District residents committed to a vibrant, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse city and to social justice are insisting on tough legislation from the D.C. Council to protect tenants’ rights.
I am one among the city’s 65 percent population who rent. We deserve and demand strong protections against discrimination, exploitation and degradation by slumlords, profiteering by the Apartment and Office Building Association, and displacement by opportunistic developers. We are diasporic African, Latino, Asian, and white; young, middle-aged, and elderly; striving and accomplished: Democratic, Republican, Statehood, and independent. We are many, and—elected officials, take note—we vote where we live.