Owning your home can be the culmination of years of planning and dreaming. Home ownership in the District is especially charged: according to the US Census Bureau, only 42.1 percent of District residents owned a home in the period between 2009 and 2013, compared to 64.9 percent nationwide. Many former residents of the District feel they’ve been displaced by rising property taxes and rising costs, or that they have been priced out altogether, and it’s hard to blame them: the median value of a house in the District during that same time (2009-2013) is almost four times as high as the national median. In her State of the District address in March of 2015, Mayor Bowser addressed the housing problem and asserted that, “Today, the median home value tops $500,000 and that’s six times the average family income.”
That’s why the job that DCRA, the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, does is so important: The agency in essence protects homes and neighbors. But what happens when DCRA doesn’t quite do its job? When the small addition that appeared to have all the permits signed off by inspectors turns into a much larger project that does not seem to agree with what’s on paper and turns into a terrible headache for the next door neighbors, whose house ends up suffering damage due to this construction? Who approved, or perhaps turned a blind eye and allowed the ugly pop-ups that disrupt the historic character of a neighborhood to happen –those architectural middle fingers that wave in the face of aesthetics and Edwardian architecture? Finally, who approved a tree house that has turned neighbors against one another? Even though the addition is in the Capitol Hill Historic District, DCRA said no permit was necessary. Since DDOT oversees public space, a stop work order was issued by the agency– an order that was subsequently ignored, following a familiar pattern.
Mark Eckenwiler, ANC commissioner in SMD 6C04 is one of the people who has had enough of DCRA dragging its feet. Eckenwiler has asked DCRA repeatedly to rectify mistakes like the one at 518 6th Street NE, where plans were approved for an addition that clearly does not fit in the existing lot; these requests have not been honored. In a recent Washington Post article on the matter, the developer’s cavalier attitude, summed up in the article’s final quote, “If he’s so worried about the property, he should make me an offer,” underscores the fact that some know that it is possible to bend the law despite the protests of neighbors and ANC commissioners. That frustration has turned, aside from official letters and complaints, into the Twitter account @UnsuckDCRA, a chronicle of DCRA oversights and failures to enforce permits. As ANC commissioner, Eckenwiler is a bridge between District agencies and citizens and helps the latter navigate any problems that arise. But it is unconscionable that the agencies that are supposed to protect consumers’ interests do not respond to consumers’ concerns and leave the work of defending said interests to folks in volunteer positions. Alas, most people do not have the time or energy (or law degree) to pursue righting so many wrongs.
In a letter to the Office of the Inspector General, Mark Eckenwiler and Denise Krepp, ANC 6B10, are urging that a management audit of DCRA be undertaken. In their words, “DC residents… deserve to have their tax-payer funded officials follow the law and to communicate with them in a timely manner.” (You can read the letter here.)
Thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty on your unpaid positions. We are so lucky to have you as our neighbors and our voices.