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 and corrupt development in Washington DC that have largely contributed to the affordable housing crisis that District residents face. The tactics used by Mid-City are not unique to this one property or developer, but rather shine a light on the often murky and dirty process of development in the District that benefits those at the top of the food chain at the cost of everyone else.
To properly contextualize this crisis, right now an individual in in the nation’s capital must make $31.21 an hour or work 119 hours per week at a minimum wage job to afford a 2 bedroom apartment at market rent. Fair Market rent for a two bedroom apartment is $1,623 per month. The reality of this housing market is that if you are a senior citizen on a fixed income, a person with a disability, or a minimum or medium wage worker you cannot live in DC without some sort of housing subsidy. However, the subsidized housing waitlist is currently closed and has 40,000 people on it. This crisis is hitting low income working families especially hard. Every week at the Legal Clinic, we speak with working single parents who are sleeping in abandoned cars, in hospital waiting rooms, in abandoned buildings or other unsafe or inappropriate places. Sadly, when these families turn to the District for assistance, the only option afforded them – if any – is access to an underfunded shelter system that is already bearing much of the burden of DC’s affordable housing crisis. This is unacceptable and must change.
With this in mind, it is alarming to say the least that elected District leaders, the Zoning Commission, and the Office of Planning are rubber stamping the approval of massive redevelopment projects like Brookland Manor that propose to eliminate large bedrooms, reduce the amount of overall affordability on site, and demolish existing communities. In light of the current crisis, District leaders should never endorse (and the zoning commission should never approve) any redevelopment project that does not at the very least replace the existing affordable units on site at the same subsidy levels and bedroom sizes that currently exist. In fact, the better solution would be for District officials to demand that if the proposed redevelopment plan of a site includes added density, as in the case of the proposed Brookland Manor redevelopment, additional affordable units be produced at the redeveloped site as well.
The Legal Clinic challenged Mid-City’s plans at the Zoning Commission in March of 2015 and will continue to challenge their plans later this year as they seek ultimate approval through zoning to demolish the property and displace residents.
Brookland Manor represents a line in the sand that is being drawn by tenants throughout the city who are being threatened with displacement. The Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association will continue to stand and fight alongside the tenants of Congress Heights, Barry Farm, and others from around the District that are resisting displacement and reclaiming their right to live and thrive in Washington DC.