Affordable housing advocates score a rare win against gentrification in one of Washington, D.C.’s longstanding predominantly Black neighborhoods. A settlement was reached on Jan. 7 in a D.C. Superior Court case that was ten years in the making, sparing Congress Heights Apartments, an affordable housing property on the city’s southeast side.
Gentrification has had a sweeping impact on Washington since the year 2000, according to the Institute for Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota.
The institute says the nation’s capital is the hardest-hit city in the country by gentrification and displacement. Typically, the biggest losers have been the city’s low-income Black and brown communities who are forced out of their communities in favor of new development.
Eugene Puryear is the field director for Justice First, an organization that helped tenants of Congress Heights apartments organize and form a tenant association by educating them on their rights to fight off money-driven developers targeting their community.
Puryear says he once lived in Congress Heights and noted it is prime real estate near a Metro station, hospital, and other amenities. Congress Heights was on the verge of becoming another casualty to gentrification where residents are pushed out and the property is renovated for bigger profit, but in a rare move, its tenants not only stopped the takeover, but they also reclaimed the property.
Congress Heights was previously owned by Sanford Capital in 2010. Since then the 47-unit property fell into a state of despair. “There’s heating issues, there’s air issues, the washing machines may be broken on a regular basis and it’s hard to fix them, if you have a water issue it takes people a long time to deal with that, a rodent issue so pretty much all these things were coming up in regard to Congress Heights,” Puryear said.
Puryear says this practice otherwise known as constructive eviction is common among property owners in Washington, targeting low-income housing residents.
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