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

  • January 20, 2021

by Shilpi Paul

Obama, The Tenant: A Chat With The President's DC Landlord: Figure 1
President Obama’s first DC home.

This article originally ran on UrbanTurf in 2013.

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 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. 

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

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