Residents of the historic Barry Farm Public Housing development filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) Aug. 29 in U.S. District Court. The suit alleges the private developers under contract with the Housing Authority have significantly reduced space allotments in redevelopment plans that would effectively displace the complex’s mostly Black tenants.
According to a copy of the filing, many residents would “stand to lose their housing because the number of two-, three-, four-, and six-bedroom units that accommodate them will be significantly reduced as part of the planned redevelopment of Barry Farm. Additionally, the tenants say they were led to believe that 1,400 units would be built – with 444 units of varying sizes set aside as public housing – but now are told only 344 public housing units will be built, a loss of 163 (2-, 3-, 4-, and 6)-bedroom units, according to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.
The lawsuit also alleges that “once conditions in a particular unit deteriorated to the point that the unit was uninhabitable, DCHA often pressured tenants to move, without assurances that they would have an enforceable right to return, rather than repair the unit. In the event where residents moved out of their units, DCHA additionally adopted a practice of keeping such units vacant, which allowed a significant number of units at Barry Farm to remain vacant months before HUD approved the demolition.
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Foley & Lardner are representing the tenants. “Now, with redevelopment at hand, families with children stand to be left behind in a manner that is discriminatory and illegal,” Joseph Edmondson, a partner at Foley & Lardner, said in a release. “It appears Barry Farm residents are being written off by the very public housing administrators with responsibility for providing them with safe and habitable housing in an attempt to clear the property and squelch dissent.”
The historic Barry Farm neighborhood is located East of the Anacostia river in Southeast D.C., along Suitland Parkway. The community dates back to the postbellum period when emancipated Blacks settled there.
“The lawsuit seeks the tenants’ rights to return after redevelopment and to ensure unit sizes measure in terms of bedrooms,” said Edmondson. “We allege that this is discriminatory against families with children.”
DCHA has not released a response to the lawsuit.
On Sept. 6, residents in Ward 8 are holding a press conference and rally to outline steps D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s government could take to protect lower-income residents against slumlords and displacement.