A group of Washington public housing tenants, charging that the city "only responds" to legal "pressure," yesterday asked a D.C. Superior Court judge to order the city government to continue to provide heat and hot water to its public housing projects.
The tenants told the judge the city officials have provided them with some heat and hot water as a result of a recent temporary court order.
"It is not significant that they the tenants had heat this morning but whether the city will continue to provide the heat," the tenants' lawyer, Christopher Whittingham of Neighborhood Legal Services, told Judge Tim Murphy. "They city officials only respond to lawsuits to make them fulfil their obligations under the law. Only a continued restraining order will force the city to comply in this case."
Assistant Corporation Counsel Jamal A. Rashad, the city's lawyer, vigorously denied Whittingham's claims and argued against the need for a new order. He introduced recent readings taken in each apartment that showed temperatures ranging from 75 to 80 degrees.
Whittingham is representing seven tenants who two weeks ago won a temporary restraining order that required District Mayor Marion Barry and city housing officials to provide them with adequate heat and hot water immediately.
Four of the tenants testified Thursday that the city has complied with the order. Three others said although they are now receiving heat, they still feel the need to use kitchen stoves and space heaters for warmth. These tenants said the temperature readings Rashad submitted resulted from the use of those extra heat sources.
Yesterday's debate centered on whether the city would continue to heat the apartments without a court order and whether the court could order the city to do what it was already doing--providing heat.
Whittingham said that the city's action after the court order was "an admission that the city only responds to pressure" of the lawsuit.
Murphy interjected, "But they have responded and every place is in compliance. . . . You want me to order the chief executive of this city to do something he has already done. Like a political promise it might be fleeting" but for now the heat is on.
Whittingham responded that it would be unfair to require the tenants to return to court each time they lacked heat.
Rashad argued the the city had fully complied and had even offered to move two of the families to other apartments. He said bad weather or vandalism might cause further breakdowns. He added that the judge could only base his decision on current conditions and not "on what can happen in the future."
Murphy said he is aware that the city has had major problems heating many of its 12,000 public housing units.