Residents and Affordable Housing Activists Rally to Save Their Homes

More than 100 affordable housing activists, including residents of the Museum Square Apartments, cheered and rallied outside the Mount Vernon complex on June 14 to save their homes. Since 2013, tenants of 401 K Street NW have been fighting against Bush Companies, which owns their building and plans to demolish it to pave the way for new luxury apartments in its place.

The apartments currently house low-income tenants receiving rent subsidies through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 8 voucher program. It is also one of the last buildings in D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood that is primarily occupied by Chinese people.

Tuesday’s rally marked the end of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants’ (NAHT) four-day conference where people from across the country, like the residents of Museum Square, assembled to share strategies and learn skills to fight for affordable housing.

Each year NAHT picks an issue to highlight during their annual conference. For the past two years, they have chosen to rally with the tenants at Museum Square, according to Ed Lucas, president of NAHT.

“We are here to make sure Bush [Companies] knows y’all are going nowhere!” Lucas told the cheering crowd on K Street.

In hopes that the residents of Museum Square don’t have to leave, NAHT went to the Court of Appeals to contest the price of the building. According to District law, a building’s owner must give tenants the option to collectively purchase it before it is sold or demolished. Bush Companies set the price at $250 million, which factors out to about $830,000 per unit, according to a source who works in housing counseling services.

NAHT appealed that this was an unfair price for the residents to have to pay and won the case. It has been months since the decision, and residents are still waiting to hear what the new price will be.

In the meantime, many residents worry about where they will go if they can’t afford to buy the building from Bush Companies. Joseph Liggins has been living in Museum Square for 15 years through the Section 8 program and said he has no alternate plans for housing if he is forced out of his apartment. “People who are middle class and below—I don’t know where we’re going to live in Washington anymore,” said Brenda Holliday, another tenant.

Visiting NAHT members said they were experiencing similar issues in their own cities. Stephanie Brandon of San Francisco said the owner of her building tried to sell it without telling the residents. Once they found out, the tenants used knowledge some of them had learned from previous NAHT conferences and won a lawsuit against the owner, allowing them to stay, according to Brandon.

The residents of Museum Square are hoping that their battle against Bush Companies will end similarly.

“Don’t move out,” said Vera Watson, president of the Museum Square Apartments Tenant Association, to the protesters. “We’ve come so far. We need to fight and keep fighting.”

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