Woman holding flag supporting Joe Biden
Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Five days into office, President Joe Biden visited a local restaurant, and a few hundred tenants calling for rent cancelation paid a member of his team a visit. If the first few days are any indication of the next four years, Biden will actually engage with local D.C., unlike his predecessor, and locals will not be afraid to engage with him or his administration.

On Sunday, Biden’s motorcade pulled up to Call Your Mother in Georgetown, after the president attended mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Biden did not leave his vehicle, but instead a Secret Service agent picked up his order. Young & Hungry learned he ordered toasted sesame bagels with cream cheese.

Background: The restaurant is co-owned by Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients. This location of the “Jew-ish” deli struggled to even exist. Neighbors, including former Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, opposed the zoning changes required to open the Georgetown location. The bagel shop has become a local favorite, not only because of its breakfast sandwiches and latkes, but for the way it treats its employees. Call Your Mother offers employees language lessons, for example.

On Saturday, tenants from across the city visited the home of Susan Rice, who Biden tapped to run the White House Domestic Policy Council. According to Stomp Out Slumlords, more than 200 tenants showed up to Rice’s Palisades home, demanding that rent cancelation be included in Biden’s COVID-19 relief package. The $1.9 trillion package includes some provisions for those struggling, including increasing unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 per week.

“President Biden has made a lot of promises about how he’s going to help,” says Denis Tercero of Tivoli Gardens. “We’re here to make sure he goes far enough to make sure no one loses their home due to the pandemic—not the undocumented, not the unemployed, not the underemployed. I work at a hotel that’s been closed for a year, and there’s no indication of when it will open again. I can only get unemployment through April. What happens to me then? What happens to my neighbors who don’t have papers?”

Background: Tenants that protested in the freezing cold over the weekend have been organizing around rent cancelation for the last 10 months. Residents of Tivoli Gardens in Columbia Heights asked their landlord to cancel rent in the spring because so many of them worked in the hospitality industry, which was decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. Tenants in this building and over a dozen others also pleaded to the D.C. Council to cancel rent. Instead, the Council required landlords to offer payment plans to tenants impacted by coronavirus restrictions.

The Council did extend the moratorium on evictions through the end of March, along with the public health emergency. A new study finds that eviction and utility disconnection moratoria reduce COVID-19 infections and mortality. The research published in the National Bureau of Economic Research has not yet been peer reviewed. In mid-December, a judge in D.C. Superior Court ruled that the Council’s ban on eviction filings is unconstitutional. While they cannot execute evictions, landlords can start the eviction process. The only thing stopping a tidal wave of filings is the ban on eviction notices.

—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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