Charlestown Fails Its Tenants

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 23, 2017

Arlington, Va.—Last year, the city of Charlestown launched a blitzkrieg of rental property inspections and levied crippling fines against landlords in the Pleasant Ridge development. Faced with escalating fines imposed under the city’s illegal code enforcement practices, the city made an offer that many landlords could not afford to refuse. If the landlords agreed to sell their homes to a company owned by a private developer named Neace Ventures for $10,000, the city would waive the fines. So far, landlords have sold 143 homes to Neace.

Throughout all of this, Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall promised to help renters in Pleasant Ridge find suitable homes. The city hired a real estate agent to attempt to enroll renters in a USDA program to help them buy homes. But in a report to the city in February, the real estate agent indicated she had just 29 clients, of which two were approved for the program. Two more were able to secure a rental apartment.

Many renters in Pleasant Ridge have been told that they will be evicted on March 31st.

In light of that news, Anthony Sanders, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents many of the remaining homeowners in Pleasant Ridge, issued the following statement:

At the end of this month, dozens of Pleasant Ridge families will lose their homes as a result of the city’s illegal rental inspection scheme. These people have nowhere to go in Charlestown.

Despite Mayor Hall’s promises of meetings and aid, little has come from the city’s efforts. Mayor Hall’s actions and votes speak louder than his words of concern.

For the renters in Pleasant Ridge, the city’s stated concern for their well-being no doubt rings hollow. With nowhere to go, some residents have said they plan to sleep in their cars. One family has even moved into a tent next to the home they once rented.

The city has legitimate tools to ensure safe housing, and mass evictions is not one of them. The eviction of hundreds of renters, without offering them any realistic alternative, is not about helping them, but is instead about getting rid of them to make way for wealthier people.

Earlier this year the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s rental inspection program. Last month, it asked a judge to issue a preliminary injunction against the program.