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Residents of a majority low-income apartment complex whose owner has aggressively tried to evict tenants for questionable lease violations and tiny debts are suing.
Represented by global law firm Covington & Burling as well as the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, tenants of Brookland Manor—located just a 15-minute walk from the Rhode Island Metro station—allege in a class-action complaint that MidCity Financial Corp.’s proposed transformation of their homes into 1,760 residential units and 181,000 square feet of retail space discriminates against their “familial status,” a protected class under federal and D.C. law. Attorneys for the two residents named in the lawsuit and for those similarly situated argue that the planned redevelopment would eliminate family-sized housing by scrapping all four- and five-bedroom units and substantially reducing the number of three-bedroom apartments. The plaintiffs are asking for an injunction that would halt the project before MidCity submits a second application to zoning officials.
“The bigger plight of these tenants is that longtime residents of properties like Brookland Manor—especially families—are being pushed out because of certain redevelopments,” says Catherine Cone, a WLC staff attorney. “In this specific case, the redevelopment is tearing out the fabric of families” who need appropriately sized accommodations to live there. Cone adds that at last count earlier this year, MidCity said more than 480 households resided at the property.
The owner has the dubious distinction of being at the center of a recent Washington Post investigation that found that MidCity sued to evict residents more than 370 times from January 2014 to March 2016. Notably, fewer than 5 percent of the suits led to eviction being carried out. But in dozens of cases, the paper reported, MidCity sued residents over less than $100 in unpaid rent and over lease violations of disputable validity (like walking a dog without a leash). One tenant was sued five times.
Michael Meers, a MidCity executive, told the paper that the company must purse legal action against tenants “consistently and equitably.” In a subsequent letter to the Post‘s editorial board, Mid-City Chairman Gene Ford Jr. said the firm would “collectively build an inclusive community with economic diversity and opportunity for all [with] support from agencies, officials, neighbors and residents.” Ford went on to write that the redevelopment would uphold the property’s Section 8 housing contract, create more affordable units than required by law, and “aim to perform all resident relocation” costs.
Cone says the documents and statements MidCity has submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission “contradict the very notion that the redevelopment will be an inclusive community” by removing family-sized housing. Although the plans contain affordable units and 200 set aside for seniors, “that doesn’t speak to the inclusion of families,” Cone contends.
Besides, Washington Clinic for the Homeless Staff Attorney Will Merrifield notes, the large share of seniors who reside with other relatives at Brookland Manor could have to choose between kicking their families off future leases for smaller units (if they opt to stay) and leaving the property. “The tenants association is in full support of the lawsuit being filed,” Merrifield says. “We stand in solidarity with the families who are threatened with displacement by this redevelopment.”