Greedy landlords are responsible for the housing crisis in Washington, D.C. Too many landlords refuse to cooperate or play fair with D.C. Housing Authority and renters.
I was shocked to learn in my job as housing coordinator 30 years ago, when I first moved to the district, that landlords consistently added $300 to the rent when I approached them about accepting a housing voucher. Landlords know the district is desperate for affordable housing — so a $900 per month apartment across the river near Benning Road and Capitol Street Southeast rents for $1,200 per month with a voucher. Landlords did this in 1987, and they continue to do it in 2017.
I appreciate the housing voucher programs. Without them, many people could not live in the district. However, the housing vouchers reward greed. Isn’t there a way to hold landlords accountable? Don’t they receive tax breaks, incentives and all kinds of gifts from the city? When are they going to give back?
Landlords extort money from all of us with high fees: a $50 credit check fee here, $100 holding fee there, a $400 administrative fee – and that’s just to apply for renting the apartment. A late payment penalty fee sets one back by 10 percent of one’s rent, and, at some apartments, mandatory renter’s insurance fee means another $15 per month. To add salt to the wound, landlords often do not return security deposits. And in the past 10 years, landlords added utility bills. That automatically increased our monthly bill another $100 to $200. No wonder the economy won’t jumpstart! After paying rent, people have very little to spend.
Why does one of the richest countries in the world have homelessness? Why are we paying 50 percent to 100 percent (if you earn minimum wage) of income on rent?
When I was in college in 1968, we didn’t have homelessness like we have today. About 1.5 to 3 million people experience homelessness every year in the U.S. Historically, the U.S. only experienced homelessness during severe depressions, like after the Civil War and during the Great Depression of 1930s. So why do we have homelessness today?
We have homelessness because of greedy landlords, greedy developers and greedy people with second homes who want to flip houses and get rich quick.
The greed is so perverse, that more than once I’ve had to find shelter for 70-year-old grandmothers. A frail 88-year-old lady was evicted from her apartment of 35 years in upper-Northwest D.C. She ended up in a shelter on 2nd and D streets. Some nut pushed her, and she broke her hip and ended up in a nursing home. After three to four months, I was able to place her into an efficiency apartment. In the process, she lost three storage units of valuable art and antiques. Despite the stress, she lived another six years. (The life expectancy of a person experiencing homelessness is just 48 years, according to the advocacy group Healthcare for the Homeless Maryland.)
So what can you do? Call the City Council members at (202) 724-8000. Tell them you want affordable housing. Ask them to support Bill #22-025 to reduce yearly rent increases and Bill #22-100 to limit the amount landlords can raise rent when apartments become vacant.
You can help right the system in D.C.
This author has extensive experience working as a case manager with a local nonprofit and elsewhere. These days she is an advocate who spent seven years facing homelessness in her youth.