Discriminatory Development Practices And The Affordable Housing Crisis in DC

Posted on Aug 26, 2016 in Advocates, Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Justice, Law, Non Profit, People, Poverty, Wealth Gap | 1 comment

Yesterday, Covington & Burling LLP, along with the Washington Lawyers Committee, filed a lawsuit challenging Mid-City Financial’s plans to demolish the 535 units of affordable housing that sit on over 20 acres of land and currently make up the community known as Brookland Manor. This represents a significant step forward in the longstanding battle to preserve affordable housing at this historic site in the Northeast quadrant of Washington DC. The complaint alleges that the current redevelopment proposal put forth by Mid-City seeks to exclude and displace up to 150 African-American families by eliminating family-sized units (three-, four- and five-bedroom units). The complaint further states that this elimination will have a discriminatory and disproportional impact on families with minor children. The lawsuit seeks an order from the court halting the proposed redevelopment, contending that Defendants’ proposal violates the federal Fair Housing Act and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act. For the last two years, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless has represented the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association. The Residents Association is in full support of the above lawsuit being filed and stands in solidarity with the named plaintiffs to the action. All members of the Residents Association currently live at Brookland Manor and have been actively engaged in resisting the proposed demolition of their community. This resistance has come in the form of challenging the redevelopment at the Zoning Commission and working with their fellow residents to organize and take control of this development process at the grassroots level. The local community group ONE DC has also been a crucial ally to the Residents Association in helping to organize members. From the beginning, the Residents Association at Brookland Manor has been clear that they will not allow themselves to be displaced and have their community erased by this redevelopment.  Further, they have demanded to be treated in a dignified and respectful way by Mid-City. To date, the developer has balked at these notions of respect and dignity and has instead engaged in underhanded tactics to clear the property of existing residents in hopes of demolishing the building without the “inconvenience” of having to deal with the families that currently call this community their home. You can read more about these underhanded tactics here and here. Earlier this month, a private security company hired by Mid-City threatened to arrest organizers from ONE DC and some Legal Clinic staff at the property. The “crime” alleged by security was that the attorneys and organizers were attempting to speak to tenants at the property and inform them of their right to organize and of how the proposed redevelopment would affect them. Unfortunately, Brookland Manor is just one example of many instances of dishonest...

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A Step Toward Ending Discrimination Against Housing Applicants with Criminal Records

Posted on Jul 18, 2016 in Advocates, Clients, Criminalization, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Justice, Law, People, Poverty, Uncategorized | 2 comments

On July 11th, the DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary held a public hearing on Bill 21-0706, the “Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016 (the “Bill”).” Introduced by Councilmembers McDuffie and Bonds in April of this year and cosponsored by 10 members, the Bill aims to fight discrimination against housing applicants with criminal records. In particular, it aims to preclude housing providers from requiring applicants to disclose their criminal history before a conditional offer has been made and it limits the types of accusations and convictions that can be used to deny housing to an applicant. The Bill is an extension of the “Fair Criminal Record Screening Act of 2014” (also known as “Ban the Box”) which restricts the ability of employers to inquire about and use criminal records to deny applicants employment opportunities. For so many, having a criminal history poses a substantial barrier in obtaining housing, often regardless of the type of offense, the amount of time that has passed since the conviction, or even whether an individual was ultimately convicted. That criminal history can be used to deny housing to an individual perpetuates the damaging racial and socioeconomic discrimination so deeply rooted in our criminal justice system. At the hearing, a number of witnesses presented heartbreaking accounts of the hardships they experienced in seeking housing upon reentry. One woman shared that after being arrested for defending herself, she was turned away from temporary housing before the case had even gone to court. Another woman discussed relapsing after being repeatedly denied housing due to her criminal record and, despite her determined efforts to recover from her addiction and find housing, revealed that she is still homeless today. We have heard countless stories from our own clients’ frustrating application denials. One of our clients could not find someone to rent to her because of a 20-year-old solicitation conviction. Since the conviction, she had raised a family and developed a disability. Unable to find housing, she died in a homeless shelter. Like several of the other advocates testifying, we presented recommendations to further strengthen the Bill in its efforts to confront this pervasive issue. Specifically, we encourage the DC Council to expand the Bill to also cover considerations of rental and credit history, which present comparable discriminatory issues and are often used as a proxy for criminal screenings. In addition, we call for the Bill’s language to be tightened to better adhere to the federal guidance on fair housing compliance, for example, by limiting the time period and types of offenses that can be considered. Another key amendment to the Bill would require landlords to notify tenants of the reason for their denial and would provide stronger...

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Significant Progress on the Plan to Close DC General

Posted on May 24, 2016 in Advocates, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Human Rights, Hypothermia, Justice, Law, People, Poverty, Shelter, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

Last Tuesday, the DC Council made changes to the Mayor’s proposed legislation to close the DC General family shelter and voted unanimously in favor of the bill. (It requires two votes to become law). We strongly support the changes to the bill and urge the Mayor and Council to work out any remaining kinks and expeditiously finalize and pass this important legislation. The new version of the bill maintains the overall approach proposed by Mayor Bowser—that DC General be replaced with smaller shelters dispersed throughout the District. It also keeps more than half of the sites that the Mayor recommended (Wards 1, 4, 7 and 8). The major changes are to authorize DC to purchase or use eminent domain to acquire the Wards 1 and 4 properties, and to switch the Wards 3, 5, and 6 sites for specific DC-owned properties. The Council also included capital dollars in the FY17 budget to fund such acquisition and/or development of the properties into shelters. If none of the sites are leased, the District will save about $165 million. In our view, the changes to the bill fairly reflect three months of community input into the specifics of the Mayor’s plan. The Mayor has held at least two community meetings in each ward to solicit input on the plan and the Council held a hearing at which we testified on March 17th. Overwhelmingly, community members supported the Mayor’s overall approach to closing DC General yet raised serious concerns about high leasing costs, the short term of shelter leases when family homelessness looks to be a long term problem, the lack of private bathrooms and cooking space in the designs, and problems with the sites in Wards 3, 5 and 6. There were sign-on letters from advocacy organizations, letters from health professionals, and multiple stories in the press that echoed these concerns (such as the Ward 5 site’s asthma risks, the Ward 6 site’s proximity to the Blind Whino, and overall costs). For the sites in Wards 3, 5 and 6, there were also significant concerns about upcoming zoning battles and resulting delays. Of the three sites replacing the Mayor’s suggestions, at least two (Wards 3 and 5) were proposed as alternatives by Ward constituents and Councilmembers to the Mayor’s office and vetted openly. It’s easy to become distracted by the political drama surrounding this issue, but step back for a moment, and we achieve a brighter perspective. First, this is how democracy should work. The Mayor can and should take leadership to propose a major initiative that the Administration will have to execute. And when that initiative is laid out in legislation, it is up to the Council to hold a hearing and mark up the...

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For Kids with Asthma, Taking a Deep Breath Hurts

Posted on May 3, 2016 in Action Alert, Advocates, Budget Cuts, Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Justice, Law, People, Poverty, Shelter, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

“Take a deep breath.”  

How many times have we heard, or made, that suggestion? Doctors say it when they are checking our wellness. Nature lovers say it when they want us to appreciate the fresh air of the great outdoors. We say it to ourselves when facing a particularly challenging situation, or couple it with “and count to ten” when we need to keep our tempers in check.

For asthma sufferers, taking a deep breath is no simple task. While so many of us take breathing deeply for granted, those who endure asthma cannot. Each deep breath is a precious commodity, nurtured by maintaining an environment that keeps asthma triggers in check. Unfortunately, homeless asthma sufferers don’t have much control over their environments. They have to go where the shelters are, or they get no shelter at all.

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