On Friday, Mayor Bowser announced the composition of the “Saving DC’s Rental Housing Market Strike Force.” Despite being tasked with making recommendations to prevent eviction and increase the supply of affordable housing, twelve out of the Strike Force’s eighteen non-government members represent landlords, developers, or their interests. Only three members represent tenants or their interests. Legal Aid is concerned by the lack of tenant voices, eviction defense lawyers, homeless services providers, and tenant organizers on the Strike Force. If the Strike Force’s recommendations are to be given any weight or treated with any seriousness, the Mayor must fix this gross imbalance.
The Mayor first announced that she was creating this Strike Force on December 29, 2020. In the initial order, the Strike Force was tasked with preparing a report of recommendations by March 4, 2021. The report needs to include recommendations on eviction, including the eviction moratorium, rental assistance programs, what to do when local and federal funding is exhausted, maintaining the tenancies of low-income renters, and increasing the supply of rent-restricted units in the District. In addition to government participants, the Strike Force was supposed to include 17 other members, and at least one representative from each of the following categories: “membership organizations that supports the housing and economic development,” “housing providers,” “housing counseling organizations, tenant advocates, or tenants,” “the financial services industry, “the judicial branch and legal services organizations,” “housing policy research groups,” “philanthropy,” and staff of the DC Council.
While the categories themselves were clearly crafted to ensure that the Strike Force was lopsided towards the interests of landlords – tenants and their advocates were grouped together in a single category, thereby technically requiring only one tenant representative on the Strike Force – the composition of the final membership list is shocking:
- Only three members were appointed under the “housing counseling organizations, tenant advocates, or tenants” category, and only one those three is a tenant representative. Contrast that with the five members that fall under the “housing providers” (also known as landlords) category.
- No one was appointed pursuant to the “judicial branch and legal services organizations” category.
- All but one of the six members she appointed under the “housing and economic development” category exclusively represent landlords, developers, or their interests, including the Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA) – self-described as representing “the interests of the commercial and multifamily property management industry” – and the Small Multifamily Owners Association – a recently formed “trade group representing owners, investors, developers, managers, and suppliers of rental properties.” While some of the other members in this category do represent nonprofit housing developers and landlords, and we appreciate their inclusion on the Strike Force, they are not a stand-in for tenants and tenant advocates.
- The “financial services industry” representative finances affordable housing developers.
- The DC Policy Center, appointed as a “housing policy research organization” representative, recently released a report opposing rent control reform and, in 2019 alone, received at least $100,000 in support from AOBA, the largest lobby for landlords in the District.
If this Strike Force is going to offer real solutions to the eviction and affordable housing crises – two crises that have impacted low income and Black tenants in the District long before the public health emergency started –it must include more tenants and tenant representatives than landlords, not the other way around. Fortunately, it is not too late. We call on the Mayor to fix the gross imbalance on her Strike Force and ensure that tenant voices are heard. There is no reason the Strike Force cannot be expanded to include additional members, including tenants living in poverty, members of OAG, the legal services community, homeless services providers, and tenant organizers.