Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Barry Farm tenants received a letter last week notifying them of “lead-based paint hazards” identified during a recent inspection of the property. EmpowerDC, a housing justice advocacy organization that works closely with residents of the Ward 8 public housing complex, posted a copy of the notice online.  

The inspection, conducted at Barry Farm between June 11 and July 17, was part of a city-wide review of the 56 DC Housing Authority properties that about 20,000 D.C. residents call home. Tyrone Garrett, DCHA’s executive director, and a DCHA spokesperson told City Paper this month that the review of DCHA’s portfolio is intended to assess the conditions of D.C.’s public housing stock.

In the letter to Barry Farm residents, dated August 22, Deputy Director Chelsea Johnson writes that “during a recent inspection of the property, the presence of either lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards were found. The professionals who inspected the property provided a formal risk assessment report and have included specific recommendations to DCHA on how to address these issues.” 

It notes that “nearly all residential buildings” built before 1978 contain lead-based paint. Barry Farm was built in 1943. The letter also says that the Housing Authority will soon hold a meeting with the remaining Barry Farm residents to “discuss the findings of the report and what the findings mean for residents.” 

A full copy of the 1,674-page review shows that Barry Farm tested positive for the presence of lead-based paint, deteriorated lead-based paint, and dust-lead hazards. It also described some of the property’s infrastructure as “poor.” The inspection surveyed 55 of the building’s 433 units, though the report notes that the lead-based paint and associated hazards are “presumed to be present in all similar untested dwelling units.” 

The Environmental Protection Agency defines dust-lead hazard as surface dust “in a residential dwelling or child-occupied facility that contains a mass-per-area concentration of lead equal to or exceeding 40 micrograms per square foot on floors or 250 micrograms per square foot on interior window sills.”

DCHA is required to abate the lead-based paint hazards identified within 90 days in units where a child younger than six years old lives, as well as in common areas serving that group. 

“DCHA is completing lead paint testing and Risk Assessments for the entire public housing portfolio. Thus far, several properties have been tested and the final Barry Farm Risk Assessment was delivered to DCHA on August 13, 2018,” a spokesperson for the housing authority said in an email statement. “At Barry Farm, multiple soil samples were collected and tested, and no lead was found in the soil samples. However, dust-containing lead was found in some vacant units, and an elevated lead level with deteriorated paint was found on the bannister post (“newel”) in the living room of one (1) of the tested units. DCHA will have a resident-only meeting to further explain the report that the families received.”

Only a few dozen families currently live at Barry Farm. Demolition activities began earlier this month on the public housing complex, which has been the subject of a redevelopment plan more than 13 years in the making.

Though the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled this spring to vacate a zoning board’s approval of the Barry Farm redevelopment plan—prompting the city, one month later, to withdraw its Planned Unit Development applications for the site—DCHA has pushed ahead with plans to abate and demolish the property anyway.

At a July roundtable on the status of Barry Farm’s redevelopment, Garrett cited deplorable living conditions as a reason to proceed with demolition and move families out of the complex. 

“DCHA remains committed to the development of Barry Farm and is evaluating its next steps. Our concern continues to be the hundreds of people who planned to return to the redeveloped site in 2020,” the DCHA spokesperson also said. “Over the last several months, numerous Ward 8 families made the decision to relocate from the Barry Farm community while demolition and redevelopment are underway. These families will not be overlooked or forgotten. DCHA remains committed to the families who desire to return to the new development, which is guaranteed by DCHA policy.”