Displacement Comes in all Forms

A couple weeks ago marked the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. August 29th, 2005 was a historically disastrous day as the peak of the storm was tearing through the streets of the southeastern United States.  Strong winds knocked trees onto cars and houses. Torrential rainfall led to the flooding of streets and homes. Everything was destroyed. At least 1,800 people were killed by the storm and subsequent flooding, and more than 400,000 people were displaced from their home, community, and city.

Everyone knows what happened that fateful summer month in 2005. Countless families lost loved ones as well as the place they called home.  But did you know that in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina’s 11th anniversary, 11 families in DC were displaced after severe weather damaged their DC public housing apartments?

Natural disasters come in all shapes and forms. On one hand, it can be the largest hurricane the United States has ever seen. But on the other hand, it can be something as small as a thunderstorm. Both on seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both providing the same outcome: the damaging of homes and the displacement of families. Although a huge natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is a tragedy, it should not take something so catastrophic to bring the issue of displacement to light.

Families are not only displaced by natural disasters, but by accidents as well. Did you know that in the middle of August, an apartment complex in Silver Spring, MD caught on fire and exploded? At least 7 were killed and more than 100 people were displaced.

These are just some of the few ways families become displaced every day. Take the story of Jose Hernandez for example, a Salvadoran immigrant who has lived in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest DC for over 25 years. For the past decade, he and his landlord have been in fisticuffs over increased rents amid terrible living conditions. This article highlights the injustices that minority renters face at the hands of their landlord. Mr. Hernandez is still battling with his landlord, but for many, displacement due to increasing rent is just something that comes with being a lower-income renter.

In an article put out by Greater Greater Washington, the relationship between rising rents and the District’s lower-income renters is very apparent. From this article we learn several important issues:

1. “The rent is too damn high”: over 60 percent of extremely low income, and over 30 percent of very low income renters, spend more than half their income on housing.

2. Rent in the District is rising faster than income, particularly for low-to-moderate income households: for those in the middle to lower end of the income distribution, wages have remained fairly stationary while rent has continued to increase.

3. DC’s supply of affordable housing has drastically decreased: “between 2002 and 2013, affordable units (those priced under $800) went from making up 40% of the rental stock to barely 20%. “

Displacement happens every day and there isn’t one sole cause. That is why preventing it, or minimizing it as much as possible, is truly important. Changing, creating, and sustaining political policy is key when it comes to mitigating displacement. The tenants can only do so much. It is up to the government to put in place the right laws and assistance programs to reduce the number of families displaced each year.

The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is one of the very few laws in place to help tenants. This act allows tenants the opportunity to purchase their place of residence before the landlord sells the property to a developer (or anyone else). But there needs to be more.

Programs that help lower-income families transition from renting to homeowning are also extremely vital, as homeowners don’t have to deal with rising rent brought on by greedy landlords.

Other necessities include imposing rent controls to keep people like Jose Hernandez and his family in their homes; raising the minimum wage to allow lower-income minorities the chance to keep up with their ever-increasing rent; and creating and establishing relocation assistance programs for those who are displaced due to natural disasters, severe weather, and house fires.

Families are displaced every day, and it is up to the government to help protect these families and reduce displacement.

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