WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced today that the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) will be required to implement a comprehensive security plan at 10 public housing properties as part of a settlement with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). This settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in June over DCHA’s failure to confront ongoing drug- and firearm-related nuisances at properties in Wards 1, 5, 6, and 7, which are home to more than 5,000 District residents. The settlement requires DCHA to install and maintain lights and security cameras, hire additional security personnel, secure vacant units, perform daily inspections, and perform frequent property maintenance. In addition to making security upgrades, DCHA must also engage with residents and other community stakeholders about safety issues on a regular and ongoing basis, provide $500,000 in funding over five years for violence interruption services, and report monthly to OAG regarding compliance.
“Today’s settlement requires DCHA to make security upgrades to a number of buildings and units that will provide additional safety to thousands of public housing residents,” said AG Racine. “We appreciate the seriousness with which DCHA and its leadership team addressed OAG’s concern to reach a quick and just resolution of the lawsuit. The agreed upon changes should result in reduced dangerous illegal activity at the properties, eliminate blight, and provide residents at these properties more of a voice in how safety issues are handled. The Office of the Attorney General is committed to making sure that all District residents have access to safe and affordable housing and that landlords uphold their legal obligations to their tenants.”
DCHA is an independent District government agency established by the D.C. Council in 1995 to provide safe and sanitary housing for low- and moderate-income District residents. DCHA’s real-estate portfolio includes more than 8,000 public housing units across 56 properties, serving close to 20,000 District of Columbia residents.
Under District law, properties where firearms are unlawfully stored, or drugs are manufactured or sold, are deemed “drug- or firearm-related nuisances.” The District’s Drug-, Firearm-, or Prostitution-Related Nuisance Abatement Act (Nuisance Act) authorizes OAG to take action against owners and operators to remedy drug and firearm-related nuisance activity at a property. OAG investigates properties based on referrals from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and community groups and works collaboratively with property owners whenever possible to solve the problem. However, when property owners fail to respond to OAG or to implement basic security measures, OAG files lawsuits to help ensure that residents are safe in their neighborhoods.
OAG Lawsuit & Settlement
OAG filed suit against DCHA in June 2020, alleging that the agency violated the Nuisance Act by neglecting to make necessary security improvements to protect residents from persistent drug- and firearm-related activity at ten public housing properties: Kenilworth Courts Apartments, Langston Terrace and Additions, Lincoln Heights Apartments, and Richardson Dwellings Apartments in Northeast; LeDroit Apartments and Kelly Miller Apartments in Northwest; James Creek Apartments and Syphax Gardens Apartments in Southwest; and Benning Terrace Apartments, Stoddert Terrace Apartments, and at scattered-site public housing properties formerly known as the Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg Apartments in Southeast. These properties contain 2,567 units where more than 5,000 tenants live.
Under the terms of the settlement, DCHA will be required to:
- Implement a comprehensive security plan: DCHA must implement a comprehensive plan to improve physical security, eliminate blight, and keep residents of the ten properties safe in their homes. As part of the plan, DCHA must install and maintain exterior lighting and high-definition security cameras, secure entrances to residential buildings and immediately repair or replace any malfunctioning doors, secure all vacant units, and ensure the vacant units remain secured. To remedy the lack of dedicated security officers at the properties, the plan also requires DCHA to hire security officers dedicated to monitoring these locations that have experienced significant criminal activity.
- Perform frequent inspections and maintenance: DCHA staff must perform frequent inspections and regular maintenance at the ten properties. As part of the settlement, staff must walk through each property nine times a week (and at least once every day) to ensure security requirements are being met. DCHA must also perform regular maintenance at each property to prune overgrown vegetation, mow lawns, and collect trash. Each week, DCHA must also inspect the properties for abandoned vehicles and remove any such vehicles.
- Engage with residents about crime and safety issues: Each quarter, DCHA’s Area Managers, Housing Managers and Office of Resident Services staff must invite their Resident Councils to meetings in the relevant MPD District to discuss illegal activity at the properties, implementation of DCHA’s security plan, availability of services to address crime reduction holistically, and the use of alternatives to traditional policing to address crime. DCHA will also be required to invite representatives from other agencies, including OAG, MPD, and the Department of Behavioral Health, as well as legal service providers, to attend these meetings.
- Provide $500,000 in funding for violence interruption: DCHA will pay $500,000 over five years toward violence interruption programming in and around its properties.
- Make monthly compliance reports: DCHA will need to report to OAG monthly to ensure implementation of the security plan and compliance with the settlement agreement.
A copy of the consent order is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/DCHA-Consent-Order.pdf
A copy of the exhibits filed are available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/DCHA-Exhibits.pdf
The settlement also includes new requirements for DCHA to help tenants avoid eviction. When DCHA notifies tenants that criminal activity has been identified that could lead to eviction, it must now also provide information about available nonprofit legal services and give the tenant an opportunity to meet with DCHA staff to discuss potential alternative resolutions.
Resources for Tenants
In response to the District’s affordable housing crisis, AG Racine is using the law to protect tenants, hold abusive landlords accountable, and preserve existing affordable housing. OAG has won court orders forcing building owners to fix issues including mold, vermin infestations, and fire code violations at properties across the District and secured millions of dollars in restitution for residents who were forced to live in unsafe conditions. OAG also has sued landlords who refused to take basic security measures to keep tenants safe, and filed numerous lawsuits against real estate companies and professionals who illegally discriminated against District residents. Recently, OAG secured $1.9 million in restitution for tenants at a Ward 8 apartment who were forced to live in unsafe conditions for years. OAG also secured a settlement requiring a real estate company to pay a $250,000 penalty for discriminating against residents who used housing vouchers.