DC opens holiday market Friday; city reminds residents of pandemic renter’s assistance

Since the outbreak in March, the COVID-19 pandemic has been causing disruption on countless levels — and for many people, life-altering hardship.

In addition to deaths and illness related to coronavirus, economic offshoots are being felt by lower-income people struggling to pay their rents, and small business owners that are trying to survive with fewer customers.

In an effort to help small businesses, artisans and entrepreneurs reconnect with their customers, the slightly reconfigured 16th annual Downtown Holiday Market opens Friday. The location and flow of customers is different due to social distancing guidelines.

Michael Berman, who produces the annual market in cooperation with the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, said the event will bring in some much-needed income at the end of a difficult 2020.

In the past, the market was set up on sidewalk near the National Portrait Gallery, but this year, F Street NW will be closed between 7th and 9th Streets.

“We now have vendors back-to-back, with a circulation pattern that allows customers to walk and see every vendor, with plenty of space,” Berman said. “We’re using one entrance and one exit — the market is barricaded off — and that creates a way to control the traffic flow.”

Live music was a part of the Downtown Winter Market in past years, and while the performances will not be live, they won’t be missed completely. Entertainment, Berman said, will be shown on a Jumbotron.

“We’ll show some movies, and we’ve booked almost all of our favorite bands from previous years,” Berman said. “They’ve all given U.S. a video recording of their performance.”

The market runs through Dec. 23.

Earlier this week, the District made an effort to remind residents of another December deadline: the scheduled end of an eviction moratorium.

“We have resources for rent assistance, and I encourage residents of the District who are having trouble paying the rent, or if you have back rent, please apply,” said Polly Donaldson, director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.

Donaldson encouraged residents to access the department’s Rent Resources and Assistance webpage, which provides information about two federally-funded programs: COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program — or CHAP — and DHCD Rental Assistance.

In addition to meeting income qualifications, applicants must show they’ve been adversely affected by the pandemic: “Meaning you’ve lost your job, you’ve lost your income, you can’t pay your rent, you want to pay your rent,” Donaldson said.

The District’s moratorium means residents cannot be evicted for the duration of the public health emergency, plus 60 days; nor can they be charged late fees for the duration of the public health emergency.

“Don’t wait until the moratorium is ended, which right now is scheduled to be the end of December,” Donaldson advised. “Do not wait to apply for the rent assistance, because the resources are limited, and we want to make sure we can help as many as needed.”


Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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