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As a tenant organizer and the program director of the Affordable Housing Preservation Program at the Latino Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), I wanted to add to your article concerning the August Apartments (“Rent Out of Shape,” 6/22). LEDC is currently working at a number of buildings that are confronting the exact same issue that the tenants at the August Apartments are, so we were pleased to see your article bringing this important issue to readers who might now know what’s going on in their neighborhoods.
Residents at various buildings across the city where, like the August Apartments, Tenacity has approached the tenants with a proposal to convert the building to condominiums have received very poor treatment from Dreyfuss Management—the company that manages all of the buildings that Tenacity has converted to condominiums as well as some rental properties that Tenacity is proposing to convert to condo. In buildings where residents have turned down the condo conversion proposal, Dreyfuss has not accepted rent checks from some tenants and then taken these residents to court for nonpayment of rent, brought baseless eviction proceedings against residents, and provided substandard maintenance.
At one such building, the Norwood at 1417 N St. NW, tenants have been without a working elevator for 30 days. Tenant association members feel that the management and owners are using poor building conditions and harassment as a tactic to displace residents. This is certainly a tactic that we see employed by building owners across the city who are looking to get rid of tenants without the “hassle” of going through an official condominium conversion process or invoking the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.
Contrary to “7 Easy Ways to Screw Your Landlord,” low-income residents cannot simply stop paying the rent even when building conditions include a nonworking elevator, bedbug and mice infestation, unreliable hot water, caving-in ceilings, mold, or security problems—problems that all exist in various combinations at some Dreyfuss-managed rental buildings. (Incidentally, these problems do not seem to exist in the condominium buildings that Dreyfuss manages.) In fact, the D.C. Housing Code provides little help to residents with serious code violations in their buildings since only the most persistent residents, with the support of community organizations, the Office of the Tenant Advocate, councilmembers, and the media, can actually even obtain a code inspection to document their problems. To further complicate the issue, it takes a lot of, well, tenacity, to obtain code inspection reports and re-inspections from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which are critical to proving the existence of code violations and getting them abated. These are facts that owners of multifamily buildings in “hot” neighborhoods like Logan Circle and Columbia Heights count on and use as a tactic to convince tenants that life will be easier if they take a few thousand dollars and leave their home so it can be converted to condos and make certain developers much richer while our city’s affordable housing stock is rapidly depleted or run into the ground.
Many of the tenants that LEDC is working with have had considerable success in improving conditions at their buildings and preserving their buildings as affordable, not by “screwing their landlords” or “putting the D.C. Housing Code to work for [them]” but by forming tenant associations, working in coalitions, negotiating with building owners, and, most important, purchasing their buildings as cooperatives. None of these solutions are “easy,” but we all know these are not easy times for low- and moderate-income renters in D.C.
Latino Economic Development Corporation
Whistle While You Walk
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Kimberly Klinger’s article “I’ve Got Your ‘Hey Baby!’ Right Here” (6/22) was so reassuring to read. I have lived in and around D.C. all my life and am constantly harassed by both Hispanic and black men. I cannot recall ever being harassed by a white man. What I find so strange about this is that I’m not that attractive (or at least, not attractive by the conventional standards I believe most men have). I am 5 feet tall, wear glasses, and usually dress like a 12-year-old boy. My curly brown hair is always a mess from having been in my bike helmet, and I am usually filthy and sweaty. I don’t own any makeup other than a few tubes of lip gloss. I rarely wear dresses. But based on the number of catcalls I receive each day, you would think I was a Maxim model. I hate it.
My whole day revolves around avoiding these types of men. I wake up really early to walk my dog so I can avoid the men who harass me. When I come home in the evening I drive two miles up the road, to a nice neighborhood in Silver Spring, so I can walk my dog without being asked for a blowjob in Spanish or for some other sexual favor by a group of black men driving in a car. I have grown to love cold winters because these types of men rarely hang out in frigid temperatures. I have been followed by cars full of men, I have been felt up on the bus, I have had a man press himself against me on the Metro while he had an erection. Sometimes I feel as though my whole day revolves around avoiding these kinds of people. When I ignore these men, I too am called a “white bitch” or something equally degrading. I have had things thrown at me from cars, been followed, and been intimidated. I have reported these things to the police, but I’ve yet to have them actually do anything.
As a result, I, too, have become a racist. Whenever I see a black or Hispanic man, my first thoughts are of the other black or Hispanic men who have recently harassed me. I just can’t get past it. I know this reaction is a physiological one that helps protect us from harm, and I hate the feeling of dread I feel each time I see a group of men that I have to walk by. I have tried a variety of responses: ignoring, looking them dead in the eye, threatening to spray Mace, extending my middle finger, etc. Sometimes these work; other times they just cause the guys to try harder.
What are women to do? What would stop this?
I felt really sad when I read Kimberly Klinger’s articles. It is really a pity that she internalizes catcalling this much. I have experienced the same type of catcalling all through my life—and I am really glad that I don’t get as upset as her. Is it annoying? Sure it is, but yelling back at them doesn’t solve anything, you just put yourself at their level.
I grew up in Latin America, so probably I am more used to it and can handle it better. I don’t think it takes anything away from me, I don’t take it personally—I just see it as men being ignorant.
And by the way, I have confronted men who have done it. I do believe that these (ignorant) men are trying to pick me up—obviously in the worst, least effective way—but I know what their purpose is. So, the times when I have said something, I have just politely turned around and told them—that if they were trying to talk to me, they could have just said hi, but all the offensive things they just said just don’t work. I have gotten apologies, and I have never been called a bitch in these occasions.
Anyway, the main thing I wanted to say is that this is not a racial issue—it is a socioeconomic issue. In the D.C. area, statistically you don’t have poor white men—it is basically black and Hispanic men who are uneducated. I can assure her that if she goes to a poor white neighborhood—she will also be catcalled and this time by white men.
One more thing that kind of bothers me about all this—is to call catcalling harassing. But oh well, that must just be cultural differences.
I am writing concerning your recent article on the incredibly slow progress on the rehabilitation of Banneker Recreation Center in Columbia Heights (“Ramped Down,” 7/13). I saw an immediate increase in the number of kids hanging out in the streets getting into trouble when Banneker closed. For the better part of a year we waited for Banneker to reopen as a way to address juvenile delinquency in the neighborhood—but still we wait. At the Pleasant Plains Civic Association April 19, the Ward 1 Department of Parks and Recreation representative heard our concerns and said the contractor would have it open in “30 to 40 days.” The DPR rep added that the contract had no provisions for penalizing the contractors if the work was not completed on time. This is unacceptable contracting and contract management. I hope the new Fenty administration provides more oversight and savvy with the contracts it signs than the last administration! If not, the taxpayers and kids of this city will continue to unnecessarily suffer.
Hwang Dang Sweet Shebang
Thank you for the write-up and photo noting Jason Kao Hwang’s solo violin performance at Sangha in Takoma Park on Sunday 7/15 (“City Lights,” 7/13). Mr. Hwang was superb, and I was impressed enough to buy one of his CDs.
A funky little venue, Sangha deserves kudos for hosting this and many other inspirational shows by world-class talents in free jazz and folk/Americana/roots music.