DC Launches Loan Program to Help Property Owners Boost Tenant Safety

When property owners do not have money to make repairs to their rental properties, tenants can be forced to live in dangerous conditions, D.C. officials said Friday as they announced the creation of a loan program.

The $3 million program will offer property owners low-interest loans of as much as $250,000 per building to bring properties up to code.

The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) has found that the owners of many small apartment buildings in the District do not make repairs because they cannot afford to, Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a news conference.

"A lot of improvements aren’t being made to properties because the property owners are operating on the margins, and so our residents suffer," she said.

The goal of the program is to prevent tenants from dealing with safety violations that force them out of their homes, such as when inspectors found more than 287 violations in a building on Knox Place SE in October. More than a dozen families were moved into a hotel because the building was deemed unsafe.

"This program is intended to stop a Knox Place from happening," DCRA Director Melinda Bolling said.

Eligibility for the loans is not limited to owners of licensed apartment buildings, Bolling said.

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"If a person had a single-family house they had illegally converted into rental units ... that could be used in this pilot ... so we can make sure they come back into compliance with our rules and regulations," she said.

Two promising young people were killed last summer after a fire broke out in a house divided into apartments DCRA later found were illegal, as NBC Washington reported.

The loans will have interest rates of 3 percent or lower, said Polly Donaldson, the director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. Property owners who receive the loans will have to agree to keep rents affordable, based on the incomes of the tenants.

Improving buildings in disrepair preserves affordable housing and has lasting benefits, Bowser said.

"What we’re doing affects the long-term health of our residents," she said.

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