Each election season, the D.C. Tenant Advocacy Coalition (TENAC) holds a Candidates Forum to challenge prospective Council members to protect tenant rights in the District. TENAC promotes its mission to promote rent control in the District in four ways: lobbying, testifying before the council, building local tenant associations, and holding Candidate Forums. TENAC held the candidate forum at the Sumner School, 17th & M Streets, NW on May 16.
TENAC asserts that the 10-year extension of rent control protections in the District is insufficient, allowing rent amounts to be increased too rapidly. D.C. law allows landlords to raise the rent in accordance with the cost of living index, plus 2 percent. TENAC seeks to restrict these rent hikes, pointing out that landlords in the District are already entitled to a 12 percent annual rate of return under rent control law.
For the many who face high rent costs in the D.C. area, TENAC organizes tenants to hold politicians and landlords accountable for destructive housing policy.
At the forum, TENAC Chairman Jim McGrath told the crowd that “Rental housing is in crisis in the city” and that “there are serious problems with our rent control law.” The stage was decorated with large posters advocating for tenants of the Washington Home and Community Hospices nursing home, which serves sick and elderly patients in the District.
The posters read “Hey, Washington Home. Please let your patients RECOVER or REST IN PEACE — Don’t SELL!” and “Hey, Sidwell Friends. Be a friend! DON’T EVICT elderly sick and DYING from The Washington Home!”
The audience heard presentations from candidates on the subject of rent control and other tenant-related issues. Candidates for delegate to U.S. Congress, and for the D.C. Council offered remarks.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, current delegate to the House of Representatives who is running for reelection, told the audience that the District faces a great many housing-related issues. Norton co-sponsored a bill called the Ending Homelessness Act, which is seeking $13.27 billion of mandatory funding over the next five years to work toward eliminating homelessness nationwide. She is also co-sponsor of the Fair Chance Housing Act, which focuses on sentencing reform and would allow those who have committed crimes in the past to benefit from public housing that currently excludes them. However, she said, “To move any of these bills we’re going to have to change the Congress,” a comment which was met with tremendous applause.
When Norton finished speaking, a Street Sense vendor in attendance asked her why homeless people in the city had been unable to visit her office directly to make proposals for ending homelessness. She promised to meet with him and his group, offering contact information to schedule an appointment with her office.
As the night continued, questions about the Washington Home closure were posed to the candidates. Robert White, at-large candidate for D.C. Council said he would use his leverage as a council member to bring Sidwell and The Washington Home to the bargaining table, and pointed out that this problem would never have reached crisis levels if there were more beds available for the sick and elderly in the District.
Jack Evans, Ward 2 council member up for reelection, spoke about his interest in preserving good hospice care in the city. He noted a personal connection to the Washington Home because his wife died in the facility after living there for five years. He agreed to meet with organizers at the forum to work specifically to do whatever possible to save the home, whether as a private or public entity.
Advocates told the audience that “closing homes for the sick and elderly is a disgrace,” and that many of the District’s most vulnerable citizens are at risk of becoming homeless if the Washington Home closes its doors with no oversight from the city government. McGrath declared that individuals “should not be facing eviction at the end of life… Housing is not a commodity.”
Remarks from candidates and advocates were followed by a straw poll of TENAC members, who cast votes for president, delegate to U.S. House of Representatives, at-large member of the Council, Wards 2, 4, 7, and 8 members of the Council, and U.S. Representative.
More information about TENAC is available at at www.tenac.org, or by calling (202) 288-1921.