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CARECEN Testimony on “Proactive Inspection Program Act of 2022”

Nov 17, 2022 | Uncategorized

Bilingual Housing Counselor Benjamin O’Hara’s testimony on Bill 24-947, “Proactive Inspection Program Act of 2022.”

Good afternoon members of the Committee of Housing and Community Development. Thank
you for the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Benjamin O’Hara, and I am a
Bilingual Housing Counselor at the Central American Resource Center-CARECEN.

CARECEN was founded in 1981 and fosters the comprehensive development of the Latino
community by providing direct services, while promoting grassroots empowerment, civic
engagement, and human rights advocacy. Our organization works to help integrate our clients to
increase their success in their new community.

CARECEN serves low to moderate income Latinos in DC, home to now 77,055, or
approximately 11% of the overall population. However, sixty one percent of the working
population in D.C. identifies as Limited English Proficient is Spanish speaking. These workers
tend to earn 25 to 40% less than English proficient workers. In addition to having low to
moderate incomes, CARECEN participants are more likely to rent than own their homes.

Before COVID-19, our community was facing many challenges. According to a report
published in March 2018 by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, 67% of the extremely
low-income tenants are considered severely cost-burdened, which is defined as families
spending more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities, a consequence of the shortage of
affordable and available homes and low-income jobs. Another report published in 2017 by
HUD, titled “Worst Case Housing Needs”, communities of color, including Latinos and African
Americans, are most vulnerable to inadequate housing. “Worst Case” is defined as low-income
renters who pay more than 50% of their income for rent, live in inadequate conditions, or both.
This often includes fighting an unjust eviction, securing improvements for housing code
violations, or simply moving to a more affordable unit. Tenants without these resources could
face homelessness.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, our community experienced a dramatic demand
in rental counseling. CARECEN is only one of a few housing programs in the DC area with
bilingual staff and the Latino community in DC has been one of the most adversely affected by
the Coronavirus. The DC legislation approved by the city councils and the mayor helped a lot of
tenants from being evicted from their home. It also affected the budget for small landlord
properties and cooperatives. An example is the Claiborne Cooperative in ward 1. Because of the
COVID-19 pandemic, out of 92 units, 57 residents were not making their monthly payments.
This has had a tremendous effect on the cooperative’s budget. To continue surviving this crisis,
they have had to greatly reduce costs such as some repairs and have had to focus just on
emergency expenses.

We are testifying to support the passage of the Proactive Rental Inspections Bill. Most of our
clients live in buildings with numerous housing code violations in common areas and individual
units. It is imperative that landlords be held accountable for these housing code violations.
We would like to bring up three key points to add to the legislation: firstly, the inspections must
consider the presence of lead-based paint in buildings built before 1978. Many in our
community live in these buildings. To avoid exposure to lead, repairs that could agitate the paint
should be mandated only when the paint has been determined not to contain lead.

Secondly, proactive inspections in housing cooperative buildings should consider the difficult
financial situation of these cooperatives when imposing fines. Many limited equity cooperatives
are unable to make repairs due to continuing financial difficulties cause by nonpayment of
monthly membership quotes during the pandemic. Will the DC government provide financial
assistance to these cooperatives with housing code violations?

Thirdly, this legislation must ensure that language access is provided to tenants when obtaining
their written consent to have their units inspected.

Thank you.