Poor D.C. Families Fail to Enjoin Redevelopment

WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge found it premature to enjoin redevelopment of a Washington, D.C., apartment complex that families worry will force out poorer residents.

Two women brought the lawsuit this past August, seeking a federal injunction against plans a plan to overhaul Brookland Manor Apartments, a 20-acre apartment complex in northeast Washington at the intersection of Rhode Island and Montana Avenues that has housed low-income families for decades.

Brookland Manor has offered subsidized housing under the federal Section 8 program since 1977, and less than 10 percent of the complex’s 535 apartments are rented at full, market-rate without public assistance, plaintiffs Adriann Borum and Lorretta Holloman told the court.

The women filed suit to stop a redevelopment proposed in 2014 by Mid-City Financial Corp., which wants to  convert 134 four- and five-bedroom apartments at the complex into smaller, more profitable, one- and two-bedroom units.

The residents say such construction will force out as many as 149 households, jacking up the prices of the few three-bedroom apartments that would remain in the complex.

D.C. ordinances prevent large families from living in small apartments, and both women behind the putative class action rent four-bedroom apartments.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras refused last week to issue a preliminary injunction, seeing no evidence of imminent, irreparable harm from the redevelopment.

Because the proposed demolition of buildings in the complex is not slated to happen for years, the residents’ fears are still largely speculative, according to the Nov. 21 ruling.

“Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that any families – let alone a disproportionate number of them – are facing the imminent threat of being forced to relocate until well after the case can be fully adjudicated,” Contreras wrote, a 40-page opinion filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Holloman had told the court about the home she shares with her “aging mother, brother with special needs and three minor children,” including one son autism.

Contreras noted that renovations would not force out Holloman until 2023, however, and Borum, the other named plaintiff in the suit, would not be forced out until 2020.

“Even if the proposed class were certified here, vague stories and misgivings from tenants are insufficient for plaintiffs to shoulder their burden of showing that an irreparable injury will likely occur if the court waits to adjudicate the dispute on the merits,” Contreras wrote.

The ruling notes that the court can always revisit the possibility of injunctive relief if there is evidence that a family faces real danger of being forced out of their home.

Mid-City and property manager Brentwood Village had hoped to dismiss the case, but failed to undermine the residents’ statistical analysis.

Though the developers had said the analysis relied on “cherry-picked” data to show that redevelopment would disproportionately hurt families, Contreras said the evidence is sufficient at this juncture.

“Plaintiffs do analyze the effect that the entire project will have on all existing tenants of Brookland Manor,” Contreras wrote. “Given that plaintiffs adequately allege that the proposed redevelopment project will affect Brookland Manor families over three times as much as it will nonfamilies, they state a claim.”