WASHINGTON (CN) – Residents of a Washington, D.C., housing complex currently undergoing redevelopment claim in court that the D.C. Housing Authority is forcing them from their homes without providing them access to suitable alternative housing or assurances they’ll ever be able to return to their old neighborhood.
In a federal complaint filed on Tuesday, the residents and two local, tenants-rights groups, say they’ve been forced to live in deplorable conditions “in furtherance of the planned redevelopment” and that they fear they will boxed out of the redeveloped Barry Farm apartments due to stricter residency requirements that will imposed when the complex reopens.
Barry Farm was established in 1875 and was the first community in the District of Community to welcome black landowners. In was redeveloped as a public housing community during World War II, but in the decades since has been considered an eyesore in the district’s most impoverished section.
In 2005, the DC City Council created the “New Communities Initiative” to revitalize distressed housing developments that are subsidized with federal and local funding.
A year later, the council approved a plan to redevelop Barry Farm and convert it into a “mixed-income, mixed-use community,” the complaint states.
That’s when the tenants formed the non-profits to look after their interests as the redevelopment proceeds.
The tenant plaintiffs say organizing the nonprofits became necessary after they and their neighbors began to feel excluded from the planning process and as fear grew that they would lose their homes.
According to the complaint, the housing authority allowed the Barry Farm apartments to “fall into a gross state of disrepair,” then announced that the redevelopment would include reducing the number of two-, three-, four-, and six-room apartments available to tenants.
“As a result,” the complaint says, ” … residents have repeatedly reported feelings of anxiety, stress, and immediate concern for the wellbeing of their families knowing that they were exposing their family members to harmful consequences, whether physical, mental or emotional.”
The plaintiffs contend that the decision to reduce the number of apartments that can accommodate families is clearly discriminatory.
They cite a 2015 study by the Urban Institute that found families who need larger size rental units are forced to live only in certain areas of the district.
“Families who are forced to leave the community they have called home and find replacement housing, will face an uphill battle whether competing for the few vacancies at other public housing properties that offer comparably sized units or searching for such units in the District’s private housing market through a Housing Choice Voucher,” the complaint says.
The plaintiffs contend the housing authority’s redevelopment plan violates the federal Housing Act, the district’s Human Rights Act, and other federal and district laws “that protect tenants from discrimination based on their ‘familial status’ and ‘place of residence.’”
They seek declaratory and injunctive relief.
Joseph Edmondson Jr. of Foley & Lardner in Washington, DC is representing the plaintiffs.
Representatives of the defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.