Monday, March 28, 2016

TENAC Supports Office of the Tenant Advocate (Guest post from Jim McGrath, Chairman)

Jim McGrath has given many good years to the fight for housing justice in DC.  He has been especially militant in his advocacy for lower income renters.  Below his testimony I will also add information about other factors that reduce lower cost rental availability especially which could be provided by individual property owners.  These factors include the arduous procedure for acquiring a Basic Business License needed for anyone wishing to rent out one or two rooms, raising property assessments 10% and more throughout a neighborhood based on one or two sales of highly renovated properties, and laws that allow actual criminals to scam the rental market and frustrate small owners to opt out of the rental market.  

Testimony of Jim McGrath, Chairman
D.C. Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition (TENAC)
OTA Oversight Hearings
Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
Council of the District of Columbia
February 29, 2016

     For the first time since the creation of the Office of Tenant Advocate (OTA) as an independent agency in the District of Columbia, due to continued convalescence from spinal surgery, I am unable to appear in person to offer public testimony on behalf of OTA.  Heretofore, I have attended and testified at every oversight and budget hearing on behalf of OTA.  So “While the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” and while I cannot be there this morning, I am pleased to submit this statement for the record, and thank you for receiving it.
     Thank you Chairman Orange for the opportunity to be heard.  I will be brief.  TENAC has had a long, positive and productive relationship with OTA since its founding.  We strongly favored their creation; we have consistently commended their operations; and we believe they are one of the great D.C. Agency success stories.  The reasons for that are simple.  They are due to the outstanding leadership of D.C. Tenant Advocate, Johanna Shreve and her outstanding staff, including General Counsel, Steve Taylor, Legislative Director, Joel Cohn, and their colleagues. 
     Tenants, of course, comprise the great majority of the District’s population – an estimated two-thirds, in fact.  They need and deserve, therefore, special attention.  As the sole D.C. government agency established to protect and advocate for tenants’ rights, the Office of Tenant Advocate is vital to the welfare of this city.
     Never has the need for tenant advocacy been more crucial.  Never has the importance of rent control, affordable housing, and tenants’ rights been more important or under greater threat.  Everywhere one hears the cry for “affordable housing,” but there is no affordable housing left in this city.  A floodtide of affluence flowing into it has seen to that.  The mayor’s commendable allocation of $100 million to the Housing Trust Fund is welcome, but is a drop in the bucket insofar as addressing this problem. 
     Tenants are especially hard hit, with escalating rents outstripping even middle-class incomes, let alone those on low-income, fixed-income, or the poor.  We  have a model rent control law on the books, but is doing little to alleviate the plight of those seeking affordable housing, or those struggling to retain it.  $1,200-$1,500 per month for a tinker-toy efficiency apartment is not rent control; $1,800-$2,500 for a one-bedroom apartment is not rent control; the sky’s the limit for anything over one-bedroom apartments is not rent control.  The solution to affordable housing in this city is effective rent control; you can’t have one without the other. 
     OTA and TENAC have long worked together to resolve these problems.  OTA does yeoman work in that regard, but we believe needs significantly larger staffing.  Among other things, the rent control law needs to be amended and strengthened to include new rental buildings, and repeal of the absurd 2% add-on to the annual rent increase formula.  Pro-Bono counsel needs to be provided to tenants facing eviction, 95% of whom go into Landlord-Tenant Court without any legal assistance.  Finally, Department of Labor standards advising a limitation of no more than 30% of income allocated for rent payment needs to have some enforcement attached to it, instead of mere wishful thinking.
     Those in our city who favor rampant gentrification, market-rate housing, the condominium conversion craze, and the wish to convert the whole city into an instant Georgetown need to be reminded:  Housing is not a commodity. We are not talking about oil futures, gold-bullion, or pork bellies; we are talking about the roof over people’s heads, the basic means of survival for residents in this city and elsewhere across the nation.
     OTA works hard to achieve these goals, so does TENAC.  We applaud Johanna Shreve’s efforts, and wish her and her excellent staff Godspeed.

P.O.  BOX 7237    WASHINGTON ,  DC   20044   (202) 288-1921

The Basic Business License:

     This license which anyone grossing more than $4000 should have [this is a figure I saw several years ago], was foisted on us in early 2000s and has made it much harder for anyone wishing to start a small business including renting out rooms.  This property owner describes how difficult it can be for a person trying to rent out one or two rooms.  He points out "The World Bank has a fairly crude measure of how easy it is to start a business in different countries and ranks the US 13th.  Canada ranked third with just one "procedure"--a paperwork filing, basically--needed to launch a business.  In America, it takes more like six."  He says DC has a score of F, as do NY and other large cities.  [Is this on purpose to speed up gentrification and drive lower income people out?]
      An elderly acquaintance with hip, knee and shoulder joint replacement surgeries wanted to hire a company to handle rental of her apartment while she was out of town.  They said she needed the BBL and they would be happy to do the work for $300 plus cost of BBL.  Having a low SS payment she tried to do it herself.  Spent many painful hours waiting and shuttling back and forth between DCRA and OTR, then had to drive all the way to Anacostia to finish the process.  What senseless cruelty!!

      Here the issue of renting space out within one's own home is discussed.  Apparently almost no one is getting a BBL for this but if the rental is income, a DC tax form D-30 should be filed if gross income is above $12,000.  This figure has not been upgraded for inflation since 1986.  I spent years trying to find out how to file the D-30.  Finally in the 1990s I spoke with a tax lawyer at a tax service who said that people with so little income usually didn't bother to file the D-30 and he didn't know how to do it.  Recently the mandatory minimum tax of $100 was raised to $250.  This must be paid even if there is no profit, but the $12,000 was left unchanged.
     My solution to the BBL is to not require it for anyone grossing less than $250,000. Require a half day training in doing the D-30 with a modest payment like $35.  Requiring the BBL after the first year the business has grossed at least $250,000 would discourage entrepreneurs less.
     In addition, simplify the D-30 for those with only IRS Schedule C and Schedule E income and where appropriate allow those Schedules to be submitted to meet some requirements for income only earned in DC.

Inflated Tax Assessments for Neighborhoods:

     I'll never forget the year my  property assessment was raised 79%.  When I examined assessment increases for neighboring properties I discovered they had all been raised 79%. Then I checked properties further down the block--same increase.  The whole block had been raised 79%.  Fortunately I won my tax appeal.  Unfortunately, I was not politically active at that time, so did not organize my neighbors in this fight.  Last year I saw tax increase of 10% to 14% in homes with no improvements based solely on sales of high end renovations with granite counters and stainless appliances nearby.  With regular annual increases at the level the tax rate will double in about 7 years, even with NO improvements.
     Without improvements, taxes should only increase with inflation.  Increases based on changing neighborhood should only occur when properties are sold to people who know what they will be paying, and consequently what their tax rate will be.  How can property owners be expected to keep their rental rates  low when their taxes are increased so unfairly.

Eviction Processes Unfair to Owners:

     In 2014 I became acquainted with 2 cases of owners who were trying to evict tenants for non payment of rent.  Non payments had begun in August.  One owner discovered that the deadbeat tenant had cheated the previous owner out of 4 months rent, which the old apartment's manager had not known when the previous rental history was checked by the new landlord.  Since the new rental was considerably higher it was an obvious intent to defraud.  Then a more detailed internet check discovered the tenant was a wanted criminal.
     In Landlord & Tenant Court, the fraudster lied to the judge who then said it would have to go to trial and the tenant should deposit the monthly rents with the court.  This never happened and the next month they did not show for the trial.  With all the times and documents required for eviction, by this time it was December.  Since eviction could not take place unless there were 24 hours above freezing with no precipitation, eviction did not occur until mid March.  The eviction crew charged $300.  Thus, in addition to court costs, the owner lost over 7 months rent and now plans to get out of the rental business.  The deadbeat no doubt is off defrauding someone else.
     The 7 1/2 months it took to evict could have been shortened by about 2 months if the naive owner had started eviction proceedings a week after non payment.  Instead they swallowed the hard luck story they were given.  They also should have included a "waiver of the 1 month notice of intent to evict" in the signed lease.  More than a week could have been saved if the lease had also contained a "signed statement from the tenant that they were not in the military nor did they expect to be," provided that this was true, of course.  Upon receiving court approval for the eviction, the owner still had to contact all the military services to determine that the tenant was not a service member before contacting the eviction service.  
     With the bad weather the time limit on the eviction expired, and a new payment had to be made at the courthouse.  In all, 6 to 8 trips are most likely needed to accomplish any eviction, and all done during regular business hours.  There are also court costs.  The second person mentioned was still having problems in December, and I have no information on how that turned out.  Both people said they would probably want to sell their property soon rather than continue to provide modest cost rentals.

     After learning about this, I decided to check on what evictions are like in Baltimore.  There apparently evictions only take a month or two.  This seems a bit quick, especially if the tenant is sincere and having temporary fixable difficulties.  If the DC eviction process continues in its present form it will only force more small landlords to give up and sell.  This will not help the low and moderate income rental picture in DC.  Political activists should consider how the above problems could be reduced with appropriate legislation.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

McMillan Park, 3/2/16 Testimony by Daniel Wolkoff, and How Our Water System Functions

A number of hearings on McMillan Park have been held.  Many people come out in support of a park for all people, but the big developers keep on demanding to maintain their NO-BID status.  They must not be allowed to win.  Here is a particularly strong piece of testimony.  At the bottom is a very good link describing how DC's water system operates.

Agency Performance Oversight Hearings Fiscal Year 2015-2016,
Committee of The Whole
Testimony of Daniel Goldon Wolkoff
March 2, 2016
MCMILLAN PARK-The biggest land theft since Manhattan!
With some edits added since testimony was submitted.
Our Declaration of Independence states:
“government’s derive their just powers from the consent of the governed”
Please Council members, contact me to explain how you developed consent from the people of DC, for the “surplus” of McMillan Park to Vision McMillan Partners and their alliance with DMPED (Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development). Tell me about the forums you held, the polls you took, the community meetings, Ballots cast, and all the analysis you did of the various options you presented your constituents. Tell me how your Committee hearings are not a charade, blocking public input in reality! I see the empty seats on the dais, and have seen our 15 copies of testimony thrown in the recycling bin before the Committee of the Whole has completed its hearings. I expect each Council-member to read my testimony, contact me and explain how they gained consent of the people on this land transfer, explain to me and all of the District, how they are executing their responsibility to provide oversight of this massive multi-billion dollar development project.
The United States Constitution First Amendment guarantees OUR right to “petition the government for redress of grievances” Please Council-members explain to me how the DMPED/VMP hiring, in Dec 2013, of a Baltimore Public Relations firm, Fontaine Company, who’s stated goal is to “neutralize opposition” to VMP's oversized development of McMillan, is not a violation of the citizens constitutional first amendment rights? What does “provide continual cover to elected officials”, actually mean? Why did these consultants, VMP, hire Carmen Group with our money to lobby our own officials, spending $100,000 just for one appointment with David Grosso, tell us please, how is that ethical? And why are we the taxpayers being forced to foot this bill?
Is this the way the business of the people of The District of Columbia is to be conducted?
Please explain how DMPED project Manager Shiv Newaldous and Deputy Mayor E. Jeffrey Miller can commit perjury in sworn testimony to Chair Bowser on Feb. 11, 2014. They lied to the Chair that DMPED did not pay for the Fontaine agency, despite his signature on the invoice from Dec. 2013. So please explain to me, are Mayor Bowser and current Chairman Phil Mendelson guilty as well, as they cover this up, are all you city officials guilty of “obstruction of justice”? Chairman Mendelson said it was “kind of a PR nightmare”, well yes, it’s ACTUALLY a criminal violation of the peoples first amendment rights!
Shoving VisionMcMillan Partners (VMP) and all their lies and manipulations down the people’s throats is the “nightmare!” Then Mendelson, himself, proceeded to lie about McMillan Advisory Group support for VMP, at the “surplus” 5 year extension.  Thus committing Bowser’s successor to the same crimes you are guilty of, and to this grotesque project.  By 2022 she will likely be working directly for the developers, whereas now she just does their bidding against the “public interest”. The “revolving“ door with Trammel Crow, DMPED Jeff Miller's former employer and a parade of DC officials going in and out of Holland and Knight would be illegal at the Federal Govt. and you act proud? It is disgusting, The District of Corruption!
The Mayor and City Council have dictated to the City, and the People, that OUR public land be given away in “massive corporate welfare FRAUD.”  There is no attempt to gain consent; and Fontaine is impersonating the community, “neutralizing opposition”, with the stated “goal” to “shift community dialogue and general perception to that of majority support for VMP plans”.
Council-members please explain to me how this is not deserving of a class action suit in Federal Court for $100’s of millions, to bloody the nose of our “out of control”, and dictatorial government as it continually sells out public interest and “The Commons” to corporate interests for private profit at the People’s expense!
Democracy doesn’t end the day after an election, and Mayor Gray was not elected, rather installed by campaign and electoral fraud, bribery, at least 3/4 million dollars in illegal contributions and obstruction of justice. Our Federal Prosecutor, Ron Machen, said DC corruption in your Council offices, and the Mayor's, “tests our resolve”. Imagine the scope of the “cover-up”, if he had no “resolve”.
Mayors have lied about 75 years of expressed, voted on, and testified to, public need for McMillan Park in false declarations. It was said “there is “no public need” for the “surplus and disposition” declaration on McMillan which also calls for “increased competition.” It is this City Council’s blatant acts of criminality, collusion, and rubber stamping of subordinate agencies here at DMPED, OP (Office of Planning), HPRB (Historic Preservation Review Board), and the DC Zoning Commission that justifies criminal charges and prosecution.
Council members, I recommend you get on the right side of the law on McMillan because you’re running on arrogance, and abuse of power, little else, not legality, this shear delusion isn’t going to sustain you forever. Thank God for Elissa Silverman the only Council member who voted in favor of the people, and Auditor Kathy Patterson who are honest, and in the rare honest vote, tried to deny Mayor Bowser 7 years to pull off this “No Bid”, “Exclusive Rights”, “Abuse of Power”, and massive “land Theft.”
                   Pope Francis
"We have created new idols.
The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose"

Successive administrations, and the DC City Council, have colluded with private development conglomerate Vision McMillan Partners ( ), to transfer massive public wealth and publicly owned 25 acre McMillan Park, the last large open green space in the city, to private corporate profit.
Over $300 million in subsidies, no legitimate developer would need in this hyper real estate market, including the government paying all the pre-development and land preparation costs, and almost $11 million in consulting and legal fees, are all highly unusual.
The issue is the theft from the people of District of Columbia, and the Nation, of a significant work of landscape architecture and industrial design, by its own Mayor and City Council and subordinate agencies who have failed to protect the people of Washington and violated the law.
These officials have committed theft, of the historic protected work of turn-of-the-century master designers, brought to Washington by Senator McMillan, an important historic site, a critical public amenity, and a potentially lifesaving backup system for clean water. Our clean water system is currently being threatened by ground water movement of contamination from WW1 chemical warfare American University laboratory waste dumps in Spring Valley, adjacent to the Dalecarlia Reservoir.
The McMillan Sand Filtration Site, a registered National and DC Historic District, on “Emergency Evacuation Route”, North Capitol, is DC’s Central Park. Parks are development for the people.
We can become founders and create a conservancy, when the “Monstrosity on Michigan Avenue”, a mammoth National Harbor office and condo park, is defeated. If VMP/Gray/Bowser’s McMillan Town Center is such a great idea, let’s get a section of Rock Creek Park ceded to DC and build it there. Or at Washington Hospital Center, where extensive parking lots cause horrible storm water runoff and sewage flooding in Bloomingdale. We can put VMP engineering experience to solving that, rather than constructing 50 buildings, massive medical office towers, 700 condos and 3000 parking spaces, right on top of this preexisting failure.
Enjoyed from 1907 to 1941 as DC’s only racially integrated park, we still have African-American seniors who remember the community activities and sleeping out on the breezy embankments and reservoir on steaming DC summer nights.
Does the civil rights and social justice history explain the Army Corp of Engineer's fencing off the site in 1941 for fear of Axis sabotage, but never reopening it at the end of WW11? Why was the predominantly African-American community denied its healthy outdoor green space when privileged upper NW was lavished 5 times the parks, Rock Creek’s stream valleys, wooded hiking trails, Civil War fortifications, and other natural and beneficial space. Can anyone imagine a 25 acre green space in Georgetown or Chevy Chase fenced off with barbed wire, excluding the public, for 75 years! The “just” answer to obvious racial and economic class discrimination is opening McMillan Park.
We need a fascinating large outdoor “great space” in the center of the city, not massive corporate welfare abuse, and 20,000 more cars on area streets where the air already stinks with the highest air pollution measured in DC; and, where ambulances and fire trucks are regularly blocked by traffic congestion, NOW!
Adaptive re-use, the repurposing of historic sites, so successful around the world, would preserve the 20 acres of “underground filtration cells”, 12 foot high acre sized masonry galleries perfect for numerous community and commercial activity, including sustainable urban “indoor” agriculture. Five times more productive than surface farms, no pesticides, little water use, providing millions of pounds of fresh ripe, vegetables and farmed fish. The “farm to table” movement for our restaurants, an end to “food desserts”, with community owned urban farms, a “nutrition/exercise hub” to improve the health of our residents and visitors to this tourist destination. We can train our youth and under-employed in masonry, carpentry, urban agriculture, and technology careers restoring the site and running the farms. Quality oriented restaurants with wine cellars located right there could use the nutritious and organic foods produced on site.
Please see this fascinating video on “vertical indoor agriculture”:
Vision McMillan’s massive development, with millions of tons of pollution and carbon emitting concrete structures, requires demolition of the 20 acres of underground masonry galleries, and decades of construction on the site.
Saving the underground for adaptive reuse, will preserve the entire 25 acre surface park for generations to enjoy, including community gardens, DC Wolf Trap and Glen Echo type entertainment events, and other creative uses, not corporate profit.
We reject as illegal the “collusive partnership” between “our representatives” and connected corporate developers, given a no bid “exclusive rights agreement”, rubber stamped by subordinate DC “regulatory” agencies, working for the interests of the developer and against the community.
The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Jeffrey Miller, himself a former VP of the lead developer, Trammel Crow, has hired an “Astroturf” PR firm from Baltimore, Jamie Fontaine, to violate the people's “First Amendment” rights to “petition their government for redress of grievances”.
Long time activist for McMillan Park, landscape architect Mary Pat Rowan reveals the PR firm's “Astroturf” campaign in this City Council Committee Oversight hearing with Muriel Bowser, and Historic Restoration artist
Daniel Goldon Wolkoff, explains adaptive re-use of restored McMillan Park.

The Mayor and City Council have dictated to the City, with no attempt to gain consent, and Fontaine is impersonating the community, “neutralizing opposition”, with the stated “goal” of “shift community dialogue and general perception to that of majority support for VMP plans”. They have a “talking point”, harped on by Bowser “the site was never a park”. Finally, Office of Planning Architectural Historian, Kim Williams, wrote the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places years overdue, and the site was designated a park. It was originally designed by America’s Foremost Landscape Architect, Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr., as has been related by Bloomingdale seniors in oral histories.
National Register of Historic Places nomination ( )
She describes a remarkably intact, fascinating, even charming, engineering marvel, the worshipers of profits are asking to demolish and over build and super urbanize it into a crass suburban medical office and condo park like Tyson's Corner.
We want to preserve our “great outdoor” space for decent air, exercise, nutrition, and help keep our people out of the doctor’s office, not build massive medical offices.
Public land for public needs, like a DC Wolf Trap outdoor concert stage for festivals, plays, music with sunset vistas will enhance our city. We need a Glen Echo type arts/education campus for young and families. Glen Echo Consortium (MD Parks, National Park Service, and Montgomery County) offers 90 pages of classes and activities 365 days a year.
We need your help to fight, this “monstrosity” of massive hideous construction, in historic Bloomingdale, in the courts. The DC government, like so many, destructive to the environment and public health, needs a bloody nose. A lawsuit for this violation of our rights, is needed, we must remind them who they were elected to represent, and Save McMillan Park!

                   Pope Francis
"We have created new idols.
The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose"

McMillan Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture
Daniel Goldon Wolkoff,

People have asked me about our water system and how it works, so here is a very well detailed article about this important item in our lives.
Contact  your Council members, speak up at your ANC meetings.  Don't let the government give away what should be a big park for you.   Demand that a portion of this park be opened for public use in time for this summer.  Seventy five years with a big fence and no public use is an outrage.