Obama, The Tenant: A Chat With The President’s DC Landlord

  • January 15, 2013

by Shilpi Paul

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President Obama’s first DC home. Courtesy Yelp.

When Johnsie Walsh rented a unit in her Stanton Park apartment building to a newly-elected senator named Barack Obama in 2005, she had no idea that she would be turning 227 6th Street NE (map) into a future stop on a presidential bus tour.

“People would say, ‘He’s going to be the next president, you should keep a copy of those checks!’” Walsh told UrbanTurf. “I’d just laugh and say ‘Yeah, sure’.”

Then-Senator Obama lived in the one-bedroom on Capitol Hill for about three years, Walsh remembers, holding on to the place even after he started campaigning for the presidency.

The sitting president, who was a very good tenant according to Walsh, apparently had simple needs during those years. Walsh said the apartment is very “plain jane,” with an old bathroom, a tiny kitchen and a half-sized stove. “It was just a meager space in a convenient location,” she said.

Though he wasn’t president yet, Obama’s lucrative book deals meant that he surely had enough money to rent a pricier place if he desired. But Walsh admires his decision to keep things simple.

“I really respect people who have money or status or both and can live a minimal existence like he did,” she said. Walsh, who voted for her former tenant in both elections, identifies as neither a Democrat or Republican.

Even though she lives in California and never met President Obama in person, Walsh has a few memories of his stay. Once, a fire in the building brought her back to the property. In order to check out the smoke damage to in the apartment, she had to first go through Secret Service: the current president already needed protecting. Walsh remembers a very tastefully decorated place with a nice sleigh bed. The apartment wasn’t quite up to the tastes of the future first lady, though, who said in an interview that she would never have stayed there.

The lease on the one-bedroom ended when the presidential race started heating up in 2008; the Secret Service decided that it would be easier to protect Obama if he stayed in a hotel. The apartment has been passed on to various Obama staffers ever since.

For posterity, Walsh did hold on to a copy of a $1,200 rent check, dated May 2008 and signed by Michelle Obama. Perhaps it will find its way into a presidential library one of these days.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/obama_the_tenant_the_presidents_landlord/6518

12 Comments

  1. D.B. said at 10:12 am on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    Very cool! I’d like a one-bedroom for $1,200 a month on the Hill…

  1. Ibrahim said at 6:45 pm on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    Fun article.

    One note of correction.  Stanton Park is not located on Capital Hill.  Rather, a but farther east.  It is essentially a stable working / middle income African-American community.

    Another note, I well remember an article about one of the complaints Obama’s earlier 2008 campaign volunteers. Some of these volunteers felt a bit unsafe walking to Obama’s home for meetings.  They believed the candidate Obama should have moved into a safer neighborhood.

    Life is strangely funny

  1. Andrew said at 6:54 pm on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    In point of fact, Stanton Park is squarely inside of the boundaries of Capitol Hill (Capitol not Capital). Stanton Park is located between 4th and 6th Streets on the West and East respectively and borders C St on either side North and South.  The characterization of the economic and racial makeup of this large Washington DC neighborhood is also incorrect - but that is of little importance - previous comment is mis-informed.

  1. linda said at 7:00 pm on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    @Ibrahim I agree with Andrew 110%. Stanton Park is most certainly Capitol Hill and the characterization is also incorrect.

  1. Violet McDoggall said at 7:01 pm on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    Michelle O - who grew up in a Southside Chicago dump - wouldn’t set foot in her husband’s “dingy” Capitol Hill apartment. Ann Romney - who grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth - recounted happy memories of her first basement apartment, where she and Mitt used an ironing board for a table. Need I say more about Liberals? They speak for themselves.

  1. ibrahim said at 7:36 pm on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    Hello Linda and Andrew.

    I concede on one point:  “o” in Capitol.

    Most people who have more than a pedestrian knowledge of the lay of the land, as well as Obama’s old unit could probably give you better insights.  And, so could many of his earliest volunteers wink.

  1. Jerry said at 8:10 pm on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    @Violet..Your comments are pathetic, pointless, bigoted and idiotic.

    Give it up, you lost the election and move on. No need for a hateful comments.

    This is a real estate blog not a political blog. Behave yourself!

  1. Ibrahim said at 8:33 pm on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    For those who are interested, here is a little reference to Senator Barack Obama’s first apartment.  It is from a 60 Minutes piece:

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2008/11/17/barack-obamas-capitol-hill-pre-election-apartment/

    References to the old apartment begin @ / around 4:45

  1. Stanton Park resident said at 9:11 pm on Tuesday January 15, 2013:

    I’ve lived within a block of Obama’s old apartment for ten years.

    This is definitely an upper crust primarily white neighborhood. 

    The last house I saw sell here went for $850,000.  Two bedroom.  No parking.

    I believe there are approximately two black people on my entire block.
    The most diversity you see are the nannies caring for white babies in the park.  Unless you count the Indian restaurant on the corner.  Or La Loma, the Mexican joint.

    I think I’ve met more French neighbors than I have black neighbors.

    As for not being on “Capital” Hill, its four blocks from the Capitol.  Not quite sure how that isn’t Capitol Hill.

    But then maybe my ten plus years of passing Obama’s apartment nearly every day is still “pedestrian.”

  1. Ibrahim said at 1:37 am on Wednesday January 16, 2013:

    @Stanton.  I am going to overlook your bigoted statements;  they are really inappropriate.  I will simply say that I no more believe any aspect of you claim than I believe your name is Stanton Park.

    While you claim to have lived in and walk pass Barack’s old spot (which is northeast of the Hill and near Union Station) for about ten years, you cannot—with a straight face—claim that you do not see (Blacks, sic) African-Americans, sans two neighbors. This claim is not only laughable, but fundamentally ridiculous. I have walked through Barack’s neighborhood a thousand times.  Perhaps you just overlooked me and the other thousands of other African-Americans—including Barack Obama—who have live and walked through that not at all exclusive neighborhood.  Those African-Americans that you overlooked include Congressional aides, neighbors, and kids from public schools like, School Without Walls and McKinley Tech.  It includes people who buy gas, eat out, or walk to Union Station.  Very few of them fit the pejorative category of (Black) nannies who care for white babies.

    The neighborhood in which Obama lived was one and remains one that is the subject of gentrification.  Eight years ago, as well as today, there was a persistent tension between those who were native to the area and those who sought to ethnically cleanse the hood.  You—if in fact you lived in the hood for ten years—would fit in the latter group.

    Obama purposefully moved in the neighborhood because it maintained an African-American presence. My position is not without dispute.  Barack has politely stated the place was at the opposite end of exclusive; he referenced it as being close in character to his first modest apartment on Chicago’s South Side. His wife complained about the neighborhood.  She stated she only visited him once, and stayed in a hotel because Barack’s place was unsuitable.  The same complaint was made by his first volunteers, and the Secret Service.  (A 60 Minutes interview affirms such.)  These persons are not lying. If you are not lying about where you live relative to Barack’s old spot, you know of this reality.

    As to whether it is on “Capitol Hill”, that too is nuanced.  Ask anyone who grew up in DC to define Capitol Hill.  They will likely say that it is a changed definition and imprecise.  Saying, “Capitol Hill” is like saying that you from Manhattan while living in Morningside Heights. People from New York stated where they live. They state the neighborhood, the street, the closest landmarks.  As in New York, so is DC.  People who know Capitol Hill precisely state locations. Barack lived North East of the Hill, near Union Station.  This is precisely correct.  His place is East of the Hill.  The place is still regarded as “Union Station”.  (See the City Paper Article referenced in my earlier entry).

    Bottom line. Everyone knows that neighborhoods that are close to or surrounding Capitol Hill have with working class and middle income African-Americans.  Although the African-American presence still has declined sharply, it is undeniably that around during the times when Barack first ran for the Presidential spot, poor and middle class African-Americans shaped the character of the hood.  This reality is the oppositie of an exclusive (read affluent and overwhelmingly White Anglo Saxon) enclave.  Just a $1,200 / month spot in the hood.

    Fini.

  1. Stanton Park resident said at 6:28 am on Wednesday January 16, 2013:

    Really?  I’m a racist because I point out the demographics or my block?

    I said there are only a couple of black people on my block.  Since I live here it’s possible that I know who lives here.

    Fact is the areas between Stanton Park and the Capitol is overwhelmingly white.  It is more mixed on the other side of the park.  And by the time you are up past H St its majority black.


    I saw the interview with the First Lady.  She said his apt was a dump.  She didn’t say she wouldn’t visit because the area was racially mixed or unsafe.

    As for people walking through Stanton Park, someone walking through ac neighborhood on their way tovwork doesn’t malefactors neighborhood racially diverse.

    As for my nanny reference, I never said they were black.  Most I see are Hispanic.

    Your original characterization of this neighborhood was wrong.  On pretty mich every count.  Economically, racially, and geographically.

    I mean, come on, you couldnt even spell the name of the neighborhood right.

    I could have been a bit more precise in saying that Stanton Park itself is relatively close to black neighborhoods, but my original point is spot on.  Particularly in the areas between Obama’s apartment and the Capitol, which is where you claim everyone associated with him were terrified to walk.

    How about you save your charges of racism for the many on the world that are actually racist? Your overly casual use of the word cheapens the fight against real racism.

  1. Stanton Park resident said at 6:58 am on Wednesday January 16, 2013:

    Ibrahim:

    Can’t help but notice that you accused me of ethnic cleansing.  Because you assume I’m white and I chose to live in Stanton Park. 

    Do you really find that sort of charge to be helpful?

    And do you have even the tiniest shred of evidence to back that up?  Call me sensitive, but I take that sort of charge pretty seriously.

    Or do you believe, as your posting seems to indicate, that any nonblack person that moves into or close to a formerly majority black neighborhood is automatically guilty of ethnic cleansing?

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