Activists armed with hashtags and paper chains rallied Thursday in front of a makeshift sukkah on the street near the Wilson Building in Washington. Their message to the Council of the District of Columbia: Close the loopholes in Washington’s rent control laws.
“Life is precarious but everybody in the community has to know that when times are rough, there is still shelter that is secure,” Rabbi Aaron Alexander of Adas Israel Congregation told the 100 people gathered. “It is the responsibility of the community to make sure that people feel that security.”
The rally was led by Jews United For Justice, a Washington-Baltimore-based social justice advocacy organization, and was cosponsored by AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, Latino Economic Development Center and Legal Aid of the District of Columbia.
Activists want the council to pass six bills that are under consideration. They range from protecting seniors and people with disabilities from excessive rent increases, providing legal assistance to low-income tenants facing eviction and stopping deceptive practices by landlords to lure tenants.
“We’re here today because the city can and should be doing more to make sure that D.C. residents are living in stable, dignified and affordable homes,” said Allison Fisher, a JUFJ organizer.
The demonstrators were joined by several councilmembers, including Anita Bonds, who chairs the committee on housing and community development.
“We are experiencing the worst housing affordability crisis in modern times and I look forward to working with Jews United for Justice to pass my legislation to close the loopholes and provide relief to families across the District,” according to a statement from Bonds’ office following the demonstration.
Councilmembers Robert White Jr., Brianne Nadeau and Elissa Silverman also attended the rally.
“Affordable housing is our biggest challenge now,” Silverman said in an interview after the demonstration. “We’ve heard from our residents that making the city affordable is a top priority.”
Rent control hits home for Silverman who said her brother has lived in rent-controlled unit on Connecticut Avenue for 17 years and “if he had to search for a similar unit at market rent, it would be unaffordable for him.”
“The challenge with rent control – which if you think about it is government-sanctioned price control – is to find the right balance that allows property owners to get a reasonable rate of return while on the other hand, protecting tenants from being priced out of their homes,” according to a statement from D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in response to the demonstration.
It continues: “The issues in these bills all relate, one way or another, to that challenge. And rent control should be about protecting – to the greatest extent reasonable – those who are economically or otherwise disadvantaged.”
Ronnie Jackson, who has lived in Washington for 18 years and is president of the Waterside Resident’s Association, invoked the presidential election while speaking to the crowd about his experiences with landlords.
“I’ve seen landlords bully people; it reminds me of Donald Trump. You bully your way through life and you get what you want … Stop. Mr. Trump, stop. Landlords, stop,” Ronnie Jackson told the crowd, only blocks away from Trump’s newest hotel. “It’s time for you to consider other people. This is not just a moral issue, it’s a legal issue.”
Following the speakers, councilmembers Bonds and Nadeau took paper chains and put them in a loop to symbolically demonstrate the idea of “closing the loophole.”
Participants also addressed postcards to their elected officials with the Hebrew words for “spread over us a shelter of peace.”
Sarah Novick, of JUFJ, said in doing so “we’re calling on our lawmakers to ensure that every Washingtonian may access a dignified and affordable shelter of peace.”