WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today filed a civil rights lawsuit against the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) for forcing hundreds of residents with disabilities to wait years—and sometimes more than a decade—for accessible housing.
The Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) suit against DCHA alleges that the agency demonstrates an egregious pattern of discrimination against individuals with disabilities and systematically fails to provide needed disability accommodations, like transfers to wheelchair accessible units, for vulnerable public housing tenants. DCHA has failed to respond to resident complaints and requests from advocates and OAG related to these issues. Because of this inaction, OAG filed suit seeking a court order compelling DCHA to follow the law and provide appropriate, accessible housing for its tenants with disabilities.
“This Complaint makes clear that DCHA has repeatedly failed to fulfill its legal responsibility to accommodate District residents who have physical disabilities with housing units that are safe and accessible," said AG Racine. “After seeking to persuade DCHA to address these safety and quality of life issues, we had no choice but to file this case to ensure that the disabled tenants receive the accommodations that the law requires.”
DCHA is an independent District government agency and one of the District’s largest landlords. DCHA owns and manages more than 8,300 public housing units across 56 properties and provides homes for close to 50,000 District of Columbia residents, including very low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. Of DCHA’s tenants, at least 45% are seniors, have a disability, or both.
The District’s Human Rights Act (HRA) outlaws discrimination based on traits including race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability. Under the HRA, housing providers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities so they are accorded equal opportunity to access and use their housing as tenants who do not have disabilities.
DCHA has testified before the DC Council that it processes and approves requests for reasonable accommodations from tenants with disabilities quickly, in as little as one day. These approved accommodations are often related to significant disabilities, including paralysis, amputated limbs, cerebral palsy, or severe permanent injuries that require residents to use wheelchairs for mobility. However, while requests for reasonable accommodations may be approved quickly, DCHA fails to actually provide the accommodations that many residents are entitled to for years after approval, and some have faced more than a decade of delays.
OAG previously outlined its concerns to DCHA in an attempt to remedy the agency’s persistent mishandling of disability accommodations without litigation and sought cooperation to address this issue. However, DCHA has not provided basic information requested by OAG and failed to articulate a concrete plan to resolve these ongoing issues. In a lawsuit filed in DC Superior Court, OAG alleges that DCHA has violated the District’s anti-discrimination protections and consumer protection laws by:
- Failing to provide accessible housing to DC residents with disabilities: DCHA has forced tenants with disabilities to live for years in housing that the agency itself has determined does not meet their needs. For example, DCHA approved a tenant to move to a wheelchair-accessible unit in January 2017. At the time, the tenant lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building without an elevator and was forced to rely on others to carry her up and down the stairs so she could attend medical appointments or leave her apartment. This tenant died in late 2021, still waiting for a wheelchair-accessible apartment. Today, more than 250 DCHA tenants who have been approved for accommodations are still waiting for those accommodations to be implemented, including many who have been waiting for more than four years. At times, DCHA has offered tenants units that are uninhabitable—because they are infested with cockroaches and rats—or units that do not actually accommodate their disability. When tenants turn down these inappropriate units, they may be improperly dropped to the bottom of the waitlist.
- Trapping disabled residents in opaque, disorganized bureaucracy: Housing providers are required by law to work with tenants to find alternative, interim solutions if necessary disability accommodations can’t be immediately provided. DCHA not only fails to work with tenants to find alternative accommodations, it traps them in confusing bureaucracy. DCHA is unresponsive to tenants, and tenants are rarely informed of expected timelines, kept up to date on the status of the implementation of their accommodations, or informed of reasons for delays. Additionally, DCHA’s disorganization and lack of appropriate processes has resulted in tenants being improperly removed from waitlists and critical records related to approved accommodations being lost.
A copy of OAG’s legal complaint against DCHA is available here.
With this lawsuit, OAG is seeking to hold DCHA accountable for failing to provide reasonable accommodations needed to house the District’s most vulnerable residents. It is seeking a court order to stop DCHA from continuing to violate the law, restitution for DCHA tenants who were harmed by its unlawful conduct, and other forms of relief.
OAG previously sued DCHA in 2020 for endangering thousands of residents by failing to address dangerous illegal activity at its properties. As a result of that lawsuit, DCHA agreed to make major security upgrades and perform additional maintenance at ten of its properties.
Protecting Civil Rights
OAG’s Civil Rights Section, established in 2019, investigates and brings lawsuits to challenge discriminatory policies and practices that harm District residents. OAG has filed suit against Daro Management for unlawfully discriminating against low-income renters, and reached settlements with Evolve, LLC and Curtis Investment Group for similar claims, requiring the companies to pay up to $250,000 and $900,000 to the District, respectively. In July 2020, OAG announced a tranche of lawsuits against 16 real estate companies and professionals engaged in illegal source of income discrimination. OAG settled several of those lawsuits in 2021. The office has also worked with Apartments.com and Zillow to prevent housing discrimination on their platforms. Additionally, OAG has reached a settlement with a home repair company that illegally refused to do business in certain District neighborhoods. Learn more about the District’s civil rights protections and how OAG is working to enforce them.
OAG has proposed legislation to clarify and make permanent its DCHRA enforcement authority, including the ability to investigate discriminatory practices, issue pre-suit subpoenas, recover significant penalties from wrongdoers, and seek restitution for victims of discrimination. OAG has the authority to bring civil suits against those who commit acts of bias-motivated violence, thanks to legislation recently enacted by the Council.
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you may report it to OAG’s Civil Rights Section by:
- Submitting a civil rights tip online
- Calling (202) 727-3400
- E-mailing OAGCivilRights@dc.gov
- Mailing OAG, ATTN: Civil Rights Section at 400 6th Street NW, Suite 10100, Washington, D.C. 20001
OAG’s civil rights work complements the work of the OHR, which is the primary District agency that investigates individual discrimination complaints. You can file a complaint with OHR at ohr.dc.gov or call (202) 727-4559.