By: Kavin Mistry

For Some, Rent’s Too Damn High in D.C., Too


In 2005, Jimmy McMillan ran for office in New York with a simple, resonant message: “The rent is too damn high.”


A decade later, D.C. tenants are saying the same.


At the District’s 9th annual Tennant’s Town Hall on May 7, 2016, locals from across the area aired their grievances and offered support and advice on having more of a say in what they pay for housing.


The tenants gathered at All Souls Unitarian Church on Harvard Street, praising legal advances pushed through by elected officials and organizations while sharing stories of high rents and evictions.


Most in the church were older citizens, but younger tenants could be found throughout the meeting, each with different housing situations.


“We want to go …  because the cost just keeps getting higher. It’s almost getting up to what it was without the rent control,”  said Aaron Morks who lives in Tenleytown.


Morks and his roommates are looking for a new place to live, as he’s become frustrated with the conditions of his rented home and the way his landlord is “unresponsive” to his concerns.


“I don’t know much about the economics behind it … but it shouldn’t cost as much as it does” he said.


Morks described grappling with a shower with falling parts, broken doorknobs and snapped keys. Despite these problems, rent is rising by “a couple hundred bucks.”


Pamela Escalante recently graduated from George Washington University. The semester’s ended, and students are moving out of their dorms.


Escalante is staying in the area and has found it hard to find a landlord even willing to deal with her.


“The rent is incredibly expensive,” Escalante said, but she also noted that most landlords aren’t willing to rent for only a few months, especially to possibly disruptive college-age grads.


She considers herself lucky, eventually finding a two-bedroom apartment to share with three roommates for the split price of about $400.


Not as lucky as her brother, however, who lives in Michigan.


“He was like, ‘Yeah, it’s really expensive, I have to pay $200 a month,’” Escalante quoted, laughing. “If I could pay $200 a month, I could almost not work, you know what I mean?”


Other millennials she knows are sharing single bedroom apartments while still paying $1,000 or more.


Hafid Dumete, who works in Operations and Finances at United We Dream, a non-profit benefiting undocumented young adults agreed about splitting the rent.


“The only way to make [convenient housing] possible is to share a space with multiple individuals,” Dumete said.


Dumete attributes the rising costs of rent to the convenience of living in an area near so many jobs as well as  major educational institutions.


Dumete didn’t attend the town hall, but he and his three roommates are in a similar situation to Escalante and Morks, paying $650 a month.


“And to say the least, there are the restrictions I might face as being undocumented, for instance … “ Dumete said.


Certain states allow landlords to refuse to rent to undocumented immigrants. The Equal Rights Center released a study where they found Latinos in Virginia received adverse treatment when they submitted rental applications in 58 out of 106 cases, as well as more scrutiny compared to white applicants.


Immigration issues aside, Dumete said in the current job market, owning his own home was “not foreseeable.”


In 2015, D.C.’s Office of Revenue Analysis found that only 17 percent  of millennials in the area were homeowners.  Across the rest of the nation, the number was 34 percent.


D.C. tenants in general have been concerned the last few years that rent is rising at a pace their income cannot feasibly support.


During the town hall many of them expressed fear and fury at the thought of being evicted from the homes they’d lived in for decades.


Escalante believes that while millennials are affected by high rent, they’re also the reason older Americans fall victims to gentrification.


“It’s hard too, because the areas that are most affordable, are the ones with a lot of gentrification,” Escalante said, while acknowledging she is uncomfortable about being part of the problem.


But Morks disagrees, saying millennials are simply navigating an economic system they have no part in controlling.


“It’s not their fault,” he insisted. “I mean, it’s the way the system is set up.  It’s not the ‘young wealthy people’s’ fault, it’s the people who control the system.”


Ronnie Jackson, president of the Waterside Tenant’s Association, said both the young and old need to have more protection.


“Once you send your rights to the landlord, you really don’t have any rights after all,” Jackson said. “Once the [paper] work is done, they can come to you and go ‘Bye bye.’”


Jackson called for the younger generation to show more awareness, otherwise they will be the ones on the receiving end of an eviction notice.


D.C.’s not alone in this issue. New York, San Francisco, San Jose, and other major metropolitan areas in the country are experiencing skyrocketing rents. In London, recently, students went on a renter’s strike over the rising costs, showing the crisis isn’t confined only to America.