Last year, the D.C. Council overwhelmingly passed D.C. Councilman Brandon Todd’s TOPA Single-Family Home Exemption Act, legislation that denied a pathway to home ownership for a group of District tenants much like the family of the woman challenging his Ward 4 Council seat.
For several years, Janeese Lewis George’s family rented a home on the 5500 block of 2nd Street in Northwest until their landlord sold the property under financial duress. Tenants of single-family homes, much like the one George’s family used to occupy, used TOPA, or the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, to place their bid for the property during a sale.
This bid, called a right-of-first-refusal, gave tenants of single-family home and apartments the chance to acquire a mortgage loan for the home within at least 90 days. Much to the chagrin of George, Todd’s bill eliminated that protection for renters living in single-family homes. In the months leading up to its passage, realtors and homeowners heavily lobbied the D.C. Council with concerns about exploitation.
But George said the D.C. Council didn’t seek the whole story about TOPA, including that of she and her husband who purchased a single-family home on 8th and Rittenhouse Streets in Northwest three years ago with the help of the law.
“It was an attack on longtime families and a complete support of displacement. It happened quickly and swiftly,” said George, a former district attorney and a member of the DC Democratic State Committee.
“[Worry about exploitation] was completely exaggerated by people who had interests. There wasn’t a chance for single-family advocates to organize, and for the D.C Council to make some evidence and research-based decisions. I would not have supported it.”
On Aug. 8, George kicked off her campaign for Ward 4 Council seat with an event at Busboys and Poets in Northwest’s Takoma Park that attracted more than 200 people, many of whom had to stand outside the premises for much of the evening. She counts among a handful of challengers across the city using the new public financing program that would give candidates $250 for every $50 contributed by a D.C. resident.
If elected, George said her priorities as they relate to housing in Ward 4 include increasing housing affordability, strengthening rent control, tackling homelessness. She also mentioned introducing legislation that would make the average median income more reflective of D.C.’s low-income resident population.
Ward 4, arguably one of the District’s most ethnically diverse sections, lost thousands of Black residents between 2000 and 2010, 6,000 of whom lived in George’s stomping grounds of Brightwood-Petworth. Within that same time span, droves of white people and Latinos moved into portions of Brightwood, Petworth and Takoma, according to data collected by the Urban Institute.
An ongoing dilemma for some Ward 4 homeowners involves their rising property taxes and mortgages, as outlined in their annual tax assessments. In January, Todd introduced legislation that, if passed, would ensure homeowners don’t get taxed on the first $125,000 of their home’s assessed value. The D.C. Council moved the bill back to the Committee on Finance and Revenue two months later.
Some people, like Lamar Revis, said he would like Todd to make more known his efforts to ease Ward 4 residents’ financial burdens. Weeks after meeting Todd’s opponent, he described her as a smart and serious young woman.
Whoever assumes the Ward 4 seat in 2020 should make housing affordability a marquee issue, Revis said.
“It’s becoming pretty expensive throughout the ward, and I don’t know what could be done about it,” said Revis, a Ward 4 resident of 26 years.
Revis explained how the taxable amount on his home had been predicted to increase by $75,000 by 2020, and his property value by more than $150.000.
“This is what our elected legislators are tasked to do, find resolutions to issues which are negatively affecting their constituents,” Revis said. “Housing affordability is not a new issue, so it is important to know what our councilman’s plans and initiatives are.
“When I moved here, I made a lot less money but could afford to live in Ward 4,” he said. “Over the course of five to 10 years, the mortgage could become unaffordable due to significant annual increases in property tax assessments.”