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D.C. Attorney General Sues Housing Authority For Endangering Tenants

Maryland AG Brian Frosh and D.C. AG Karl Racine at a 2017 press conference

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is taking the city's public housing agency to court over negligence he says has endangered more than 5,000 of its residents.

Racine filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the D.C. Housing Authority for failing to confront drug- and firearm-related nuisances at 10 public housing properties it manages across the District.

Police have responded to thousands of incidents at the properties in recent years, including multiple homicides, the lawsuit said. It said the District has repeatedly notified DCHA, an independent agency, of these issues and tried to engage with the agency on an abatement plan to reduce the frequency of the incidents. The lawsuit said DCHA has failed to respond or engage meaningfully with the District on the issues. 

The lawsuit aims to compel DCHA to institute security improvements, including increasing the number of police officers at the properties and increasing the number of security cameras and lights. The attorney general is also seeking damages of at least $150 for each day since DCHA received notification of the issues, and the money would be paid into a fund for the abatement of drug-, firearm- and prostitution-related nuisances. 

"District law requires building owners such as DCHA to maintain their properties and take reasonable precautions to protect their tenants and properties from crime," Racine said in a release. "In response to complaints from residents, our office repeatedly warned DCHA about dangerous and illegal activity at their properties, putting tenants — especially children, seniors and residents with disabilities — at risk."

DCHA Executive Director Tyrone Garrett responded to the attorney general's lawsuit in a release Tuesday afternoon. He said it is launching an internal investigation into the agency's response to the attorney general's recommendations. He said if the lawsuit's claims about the agency staff's failure to cooperate on the issues are true, it is "completely unacceptable behavior." Still, he said he does not think the lawsuit was the proper means to address the issue. 

"While we understand why the Office of the Attorney General has pursued this approach, we believe that the time and financial resources that will be expended to respond to this litigation would be best used to support the measures that this suit seeks to remedy," Garrett said in the release. 

The D.C. Housing Authority headquarters on North Capitol Street

The lawsuit is focused on 10 properties that comprise 2,567 units and house more than 5,000 people: Kenilworth Courts, Langston Terrace and Additions, Lincoln Heights Apartments, Richardson Dwellings Apartments, LeDroit Apartments, Kelly Miller Apartments, James Creek Apartments, Syphax Gardens Apartments, Benning Terrace Apartments, Stoddert Terrace Apartments and the public housing properties formerly known as the Arther Capper/Carrollsburg Apartments.

The Metropolitan Police Department responded to more than 5,270 incidents at the 10 properties between January 2019 and May 2020, according to the lawsuit. It said more than 1,000 of the incidents occurred at the James Creek Apartments, which sits two blocks from Nationals Park at 1265 Half St. SW. 

DCHA's portfolio consists of 56 properties totaling more than 8,000 public housing units. The agency in February 2019 unveiled a plan to renovate at least 2,400 of its units over a 24-month period. DCHA has also planned to redevelop the site of its NoMa headquarters into more than 1,000 residential units, but that project has been delayed for several years.