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Housing and Home Ownership

Mayor Vows to Block Ouster of 211 Families
By Washington Post
Apr 28, 2006, 21:07

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By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 28, 2006; B01

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he would not allow federal housing authorities to evict 211 families from a run-down housing complex 10 blocks north of the U.S. Capitol, but it was not clear yesterday what the city could do to block the plan.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed that HUD has notified Bush Construction Corp. that the agency plans to terminate a contract that pays the rent for the poor families who live at the Temple Courts complex. Bush Vice President Andrew A. Viola said his company was told that formal notice could be issued by early June.

The termination of rent assistance at Temple Courts, one of the largest federally subsidized properties in the District, would oust people from their homes and complicate the mayor's ambitious plan to preserve affordable housing in one of the city's fastest gentrifying neighborhoods. It also would allow Bush Construction to convert the property at North Capitol and K streets NW to luxury apartments, diminishing the city's supply of low-income housing.

Nationally, groups that advocate for affordable housing have accused HUD of being too quick to terminate rent contracts, which generally apply to entire buildings, and replace them with portable rent vouchers, which require low-income families to search for landlords willing to accept them.

But HUD spokesman Jerry Brown said the agency had little choice in the case of Temple Courts, where the owners have allowed the building to repeatedly fail federal health and safety inspections.

"They have not made the improvements that they have said they were going to make," Brown said. "We want to preserve affordable housing here in D.C. But preserving affordable housing does not mean putting people in conditions that are simply unsafe."

Viola said that Bush Construction has paid for numerous repairs at Temple Courts but that residents have continually damaged the property, which includes a high-rise and several townhouses.

"We are not slum lords," Viola said in an e-mail. "We make every effort to maintain the building."

HUD first threatened to shutter Temple Courts two years ago after the complex failed repeated inspections, raising the prospect that the federal agency would launch foreclosure proceedings. Landlords faced with foreclosure have the option of paying off their HUD mortgages, leaving them free to redevelop their properties at market rates. Tenants get vouchers to seek housing elsewhere.

The property and two others were spared after 300 tenants and community activists protested at HUD headquarters, and City Administrator Robert C. Bobb and then-housing director Stanley Jackson met with HUD officials.

Less than a year later, the mayor unveiled his "New Communities" initiative, which seeks to replace Temple Courts, Sursum Corda and other substandard housing in the neighborhood with new townhouses and apartments that would attract families of all income levels. The redevelopment plan awaits approval by the D.C. Council.

At the heart of the proposal was a promise that none of the poor families who live in the neighborhood would be displaced. If HUD ends the Temple Courts rent contract, however, its tenants would be scattered.

In an interview yesterday, Williams (D) said that no matter what happens to Temple Courts, its residents will be entitled to return to the rebuilt "new community." But first, he said, the city will work to prevent their eviction.

"The city would not allow 211 families just to be thrown out on the street," he said. "No, no, no."

But Jackson, now deputy mayor for economic development, said there is little the city can do to halt HUD's plans. Fixing the property would only benefit Bush Construction, Jackson said, and the city doesn't have enough money to cover the residents' rent payments.

Jackson said he has dispatched a team to interview residents "so we can gauge the seriousness of the challenge."

"I am prepared to take a look at what we can do on the short term," Jackson said. "But it makes no sense for the city to spend millions of dollars trying to address a myriad of [safety] violations, only to then turn around and demolish the building."

© Copyright 2005 by ShawDC.com

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