City Desk

Today in D.C. History: Williams Jeered in Columbia Heights Over Housing Plan

On April 19, 2000, then-Mayor Anthony Williams was jeered by a crowd of tenant activists due to the eviction of low-income families from Columbia Heights.

Williams had ordered a crackdown on "substandard housing" in the Columbia Heights area, saying it was targeted against "irresponsible landlords." However, the policy resulted in a large number of shuttered apartment buildings and low-income tenants getting forced out.

The crowd greeting Williams saw this as just the latest step in a gentrification plan begun with the opening of the Columbia Heights Metro station a year earlier. As Washington City Paper reported in the April 28, 2000, edition of Loose Lips, their rhetoric was quite heated:

"We want the mayor! We want the mayor!" chanted a a crowd of tenant activists bent on persuading Williams to nix the imminent evictions of hundreds of low-income families from crumbling properties in Columbia Heights.

When the mayor finally paraded into the hall, he met the jeers of a constituency convinced that he is the newest foot soldier in a government-sponsored offensive to whitewash the city's neighborhoods and transplant the underprivileged to Southeast or other peripheral locales. [...]

"I never believed in the Plan before, but now I'm starting too," screamed Karen Williamson of the D.C. Coalition for Rent Control, prompting the loudest uproar of the evening. Williamson apparently doesn't figure among the 77 percent of D.C. residents who approve of the mayor's performance.

The protesters failed to pry a commitment from Williams to "stop the evictions," but they did define the stakes in the dispute: Without a big assist from city hall, the evicted families won't find affordable accommodations in the buildings they're vacating, in other Columbia Heights developments, or, for that matter, in any District neighborhood. "No to gentrification!" shouted Adams Morgan resident Kathleen Wills.

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