Museum Square residents defy landlord’s deadline, take over Chinatown streets

Museum Square owner Bush Properties has defied DC law and told residents of Museum Square at 401 K street that they would no longer participate in Section 8, instead issuing vouchers they demanded be used elsewhere and asking them to be out by Oct 1. On the last day of September, at least half the building backed by supporters from as far away as Boston instead participated in a rally defying these demands and emphasising they intended to exercise their legal right to stay put. Furious with Bush Properties for illegally refusing to accept their vouchers, residents took to the streets, but not in the way Bush Properties had hoped.

First the Museum Square residents and their supporters marched to a parking lot next to a tall building with a banner advertising new luxury apartments. The parking lot next to it was formerly the Temple Courts apartments, another low income housing project until Bush properties emptied them out. Next, they marched to the Wah Luck House, where the other half of Chinatown’s remaining Chinese population sucessfully resisted a similar eviction attempt two years ago.Finally they marched under the Chinatown arch, through the iconic 7th and H st intersection so often closed down by Black Lives Matter protesters, and to the Chinese Community Church for continuing events inside. Some of the housing activsts from Boston stayed behind at Museum Square to wait for their bus, also effectively guarding the building against any attempt by Bush Properties to try anything wierd while half the building was out.

The legal rights of Bush Properties after declaring they will no longer participate in Section 8 are limited to replacing any residents who moves out with residents charged much higher rents, they cannot actually evict anyone just yet due to the lack of any orders from the DC courts. Under DC law gentrification is not a legal reason for eviction orders.

Bush Properties told all tenants to either come up with $250 million dollars (1/4 BILLION) or face eviction. The deadline was Oct 1, 2015 but a judge has already ruled thus ultimatum to be in violation of DC housing laws. The $250M was based on an estimate of what the property would be worth after redevelopment and gentrification, not the current market value.

DC Superior Court Judge Stuart Nashhe has already ruled that this post-development price demanded by Bush Properties if tenants want to buy the building does not constitute a “bona fide offer of sale.” Bush’s excuse for an offer was based on a 1999 precedent where the Phillips Collection pulled the same stunt to build an addition onto an adjacent museum, but the judge ruled that case was an exception to the rule and that current property value should be used in all normal cases. Bush Properties has appealed this ruling, but at the moment cannot evict.

The DC Council has passed emergency legislation demanding that tenants first have the right to buy any building the landlord wants to empty for its current market value, not the potential post-gentrification value Bush is demanding. Thus, an eviction order might be difficult or impossible to get. Thus Bush Properties may have the choice between playing ball to continue renting the building to half the Chinese population of Chinatown, selling the building to them at current market value, or being stuck with the largest squat in DC since the taking of 2nd and D St by CCNV during the 1980’s and just as much trouble ever getting rid of it.Residents havd flatly said “Hell no, we won’t go!”

Bush properties has stated their intention is to demolish Museum Square outright, disperse 300 Chinese and African-American familes in the process, and build luxury apartments in it’s place, Similar buildings are half-vacant all over the city, yet Bush Properties thinks anyone, much less the current tenants, would or could offer the ten times current value they are demanding as the price of buying out the building from them. Indeed this is not a bona fide offer of sale, it’s a scam and an attempt to defeat DC’s tenants right laws.

These demands were issued by the National Alliance of HUD tenants:

1. Bush Companies to extend the Section 8 contract, stop the proposed demolition of these 302 homes, and offer a fair price to the tenants to buy their homes for the permanent preservation of Museum Square.

2. The DC Council to pass permanent TOPA (Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) legislation that requires all property owners to offer a bonafide price to tenants to buy their buildings to preserve their homes that includes Museum Square, and the DC government to exercise DOPA (District Opportunity to Purchase Act) and work with nonprofit developers to acquire Museum Square.

3. HUD to require voucher landlords to issue form letters to tenants informing them of their rights in their primary language, and to implement fines on owners who violate rights, to prevent misleading and illegal tactics by landlords to illegally push out low-income, immigrant and elderly residents.

Video highlights of the march plus analysis

THIS is now the way Bush Properties intended to put their tenants in the streets!

Chinatown rises up against mass eviction


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