Residents of Brookland property Dahlgreen Courts have filed a $5 million lawsuit against Mission First Housing Development Corporation, the nonprofit affordable housing developer that renovated the apartment complex in 2012, and its property management arm Columbus Property Management and Development LLC.
The suit follows a years-long, protracted dispute between the property manager and tenants, who have long complained about deplorable living conditions and chronic mismanagement of the building.
City Paper first wrote about the property in January of last year, when residents complained that a multi-million-dollar renovation of the complex did nothing to ameliorate a litany of issues, including cracked and peeling paint, lead exposure, and mold. In 2014 alone, the building received 160 housing code violations by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
But since then, “there’s really been no improvement,” says Donta Waters, the Dahlgreen Courts Tenants Association president. “We have been experiencing ongoing substandard, uninhabitable conditions for years now.” The lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court on Saturday indicates that the issues that residents have repeatedly logged have not only persisted, but have also been made worse by management’s alleged lack of regulatory compliance.
A spokesperson for Mission First declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.
The tenants made a litany of claims against the managers in the 37-page complaint. One section of the suit claims that forty tenants living in Dahlgreen Courts have tested positive for “elevated levels of lead in their blood and/or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome,” the result of “exposure to lead, mold, and other biotoxins due to negligence and other breaches of Defendants’ duties to maintain habitable housing conditions.”
Waters says the tenants association organized the testing just last month. Dozens of tenants have long shown symptoms of chronic respiratory infections and other ills, including fatigue, headaches, inflammation, and disorientation, per Waters and the lawsuit.
The suit, which challenges Mission First on 15 different counts—including fraud, emotional distress, willful malfeasance, negligent construction, breach of contract, and violation of D.C. Code—argues that the company “intentionally, willfully and maliciously harmed Plaintiff and DCA tenants through their actions and inaction, with knowledge that injury to Plaintiff and DCA tenants would likely result, and/or recklessly disregarding the possibility that injury to Plaintiff and DCA tenants would result from their actions and inaction.”
City agencies provided Mission First, which rehabilitated the facility about six years ago, with millions in grants and bonds. The D.C. Housing Finance Agency gave it $6.2 million in tax-exempt bonds, City Paper reported last January, while the Department of Housing and Community Development gave it $5.1 million in federal grants.