By Ryan Paul
Tenants of Holmead Apartments in the Washington DC neighborhood of Columbia Heights have begun withholding their rent from their landlord: Urban Investment Partners Property Management (UIP). The residents have been complaining of poor housing conditions that have gone unfixed such as roach infestations, lead and mold. On Friday December 6th over 40 tenants gathered to make their pledge public that they are refusing to pay rent until conditions in the apartments are improved.
UIP owns several rental properties in the DC area and has been harshly criticized in the past, especially for its “use of voluntary agreements to essentially convert rent-controlled units to market-rate housing by either buying out tenants or allowing current tenants to raise the rent once they depart” (1). Residents claim that over the years various companies have purchased the property (UIP acquired it about 8 years ago), always promising renovations and improvements, as justification for rent increases. But what little they do is never enough, and the problems persist. One resident spoke to a reporter from ABC7 saying that “there are cockroaches, rats, bedbugs, lead, and mold, and the company doesn’t respond to anything. We have paid a lot of money for something that is no longer inhabitable” (2).
Those involved in the strike (about 40 of the 100 or so individual apartments) have begun working with various organizations such as the Kalmanovitz Initiative for the Working Poor who helped organize Friday’s event. It is also reported that other groups have come out to support the rent strikes such as local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America and Stomp Out Slumlords (a DC tenant’s union).
Hope lies in the solidarity being shown towards these tenants and in the stubbornness of their resolve. Ongoing, persistent rent strikes have worked to win gains for tenants in the past. In addition, aside from the obvious moral imperative to provide adequate housing for all, rent strikes like this also help unite people along class lines. We can only hope they can remain steadfast and grow large enough to make a difference.