The Fight For Affordable Housing In D.C.’s Chinatown

Source: Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU, September 29, 2015

In 1997, the arena now known as Verizon Center opened its doors in D.C.’s Chinatown. Less than two decades later, the area is visited more for its entertainment and dining options than for Chinese culture. While the development is welcomed by many, the neighborhood’s shift is being played out in a fight for affordable housing at Museum Square, an apartment complex that houses many of the neighborhood’s elderly, Chinese and low-wage residents. With the building’s affordable housing contract set to expire on Oct. 1, we examine the city’s struggle to balance development with neighborhood preservation.

Jenny Tang resident, Museum Square
Rachel Johnson organizer, National Alliance of HUD Tenants
Sam Jewler affordable housing organizer

Museum Square Residents Will Again Rally Ahead of Section 8 Contract Expiration
Source: Andrew Giambrone, Washington City Paper, September 29, 2015

….The rally—announced earlier in September on Facebook—comes just a couple of months after another event was held at the Busboys and Poets in Mount Vernon Triangle, hosted by owner (and potential D.C. Council candidate) Andy Shallal. This time around, participants will march through the neighborhood demanding that Bush Companies, Museum Square’s owner, cease its attempts to raze the site and replace the building with 825 luxury condo units and 17,000 square feet of retail space by 2018. Organizer Sam Jewler calls the expiration of the building’s Section 8 contract a “major threat” for Museum Square’s 300-plus residents, many of whom are Chinese immigrants. If any of the tenants move out after the contract goes up, the owner could replace them with tenants who would pay market-rate rents, though it’s more likely the owner would try to empty the building in order to move ahead with its development plans. Still, Bush Companies cannot legally evict the remaining residents unless authorized by District courts…..

D.C.’s Chinatown has only 300 Chinese Americans left, and they’re fighting to stay.
Source: Yanan Wang, Washington Post, July 18, 2015

….It was about a year ago that residents of Tang’s apartment complex, Museum Square, received demolition notices. The building houses roughly half of Chinatown’s remaining Chinese community, and although many could not read what was written in the English-language letters from the building’s owner, their African American neighbors helped them to understand: The building’s Section 8 contract was due to expire, and the owner planned to demolish their tawny home to make way for a new development. The tenants and the D.C. Council are embroiled in a legal battle with the landlord, Virginia-based Bush Companies. While they await a court decision about how much it would cost them to buy Museum Square for themselves, Tang and her neighbors are restless. They find it difficult to grasp that they might have to move away in October….. By law, residents have the right to buy a rental building before it is razed. Bush Companies is asking for more than $800,000 per apartment, an impossible sum for housing-subsidy recipients whose incomes rarely exceed $30,000…..

Developer Plans to Replace Museum Square With 825 Apartments and Condos
Source: Aaron Wiener, Washington City Paper, April 14, 2015

The Museum Square Apartments have been the subject of two lawsuits and three D.C. Council bills. Two lawsuits, several legislative interventions, and a whole lot of drama later, the low-income residents of the Museum Square Apartments in Mount Vernon Triangle still don’t know if they’ll be able to stay in their homes. But if they don’t, now we have a better sense of what would replace those homes. The Section 8 property’s owner, the Williamsburg, Va.-based Bush Companies, informed the building’s tenants last summer that the property would be demolished unless they ponied up $250 million to buy it under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. That led to a prolonged (and still unresolved) legal dispute over whether the $250 million price tag constituted a “bona fide offer of sale,” as required by law, with residents and some members of the D.C. Council calling it exorbitant and arbitrary. Bush justified the price by describing what would take Museum Square’s place if it were demolished. ….