How Tenants in Washington, D.C. Fought Against Gentrification and Won

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When gentrification strikes, the biggest casualties are frequently poor Black Americans. Affordable housing backers notched a major victory against gentrification in Washington, D.C.

The triumph is a big deal because the nation’s capital has been cited as the most severely affected by gentrification and displacement in America. It reportedly has been a city issue for over 20 years.

According to reports, the D.C. Superior Court provided a settlement earlier this month in favor of Congress Heights Apartments, an affordable housing property on the city’s southeast side. The settlement came after being reportedly unfinished for roughly a decade.

Eugene Puryear, the field director for Justice First, and his group were supportive. The organization helped tenants at Congress Heights organize, form a tenant association and understand their right to combat glutinous developers preying on their community.

Congress Heights was owned by Sanford Capital in 2010. The 47-unit property became irreparable since then.

“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 stated per the Atlanta Black Star. He added, the practice otherwise regarded as constructive eviction is typical among property owners in Washington.

Uplifting news broke that the city approved tenants at Congress Heights to sell their ownership rights to new developers. The new developers plan to make the site a mixed-use project with 179 affordable housing units inside the final construction, per the Washington Post. 

Still, Congress Heights is a rarity and not the standard. Derek Hyra, director of the Metropolitan Policy Center at American University in Washington, made that clear.

He stated, “When you’re trying to fight to stay in place, you often don’t just need political power, you need legal power and you need to have the political, the people and the legal power all lined up and ready to fight over a long period of time to fight against capitalism.”