There was a huge five-alarm fire last night in an apartment building not too far from me. No one was injured, but about 200 people were displaced. Low-income residents were the most affected.

Neighbors Consejo is taking donations of food and clothing for displaced residents. They will be open from 9 am until midnight through March 19 to accept donations. If you’d like to drop something off, just go to 3118 16th Street, NW. Or if you are one of my friendly readers in the Commonwealth, you can just give stuff to me when I see you next, and I will happily drop it off for you.

The timing of the fire is interesting. Just this week, the Washington Post has been running an investigative series about landlords who let their buildings deteriorate in the hopes that residents would leave. Once the buildings are vacant, they can turn them into high-priced condos without the hassle of complying with D.C.’s tenant protection laws. Councilmember Jim Graham said the building was typical of those described in the Post articles.

But not totally typical. The difference with this building is that the tenants were actually successful in working with city officials to force their Pennsylvania-dwelling landlord to improve conditions. He fixed some things, but many tenants left in frustration. Where tenants left, the landlord renovated apartments in one wing of the building and rented those out at higher rates. Lower-income residents stayed in the larger northern wing, which is where the fire was concentrated. The high-end part of the building was not as damaged. They are investigating the cause of the fire; it is not clear yet if any other code violations might have caused it.

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