A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday set a deadline for the city government to fix the air conditioning in the Claridge Towers public housing project for senior citizens, which has had chronic air-conditioning problems in recent years.
Judge Steffen W. Graae, responding to a lawsuit filed Thursday by 150 elderly residents of the complex at 1221 M St. NW, issued a temporary restraining order requiring the city to repair the air-conditioning system. But Graae delayed implementation of the order until Aug. 18, by which time the city has promised to have the system working properly.
During yesterday's hearing, attorney Jamal Rashad, representing the city government, said the housing department already has hired an independent contractor to repair the air-conditioning system at the 10-story, 343-unit complex by Aug. 18.
"The government is doing as much as the court would order it to do," Rashad said.
But attorneys for the residents said the city is responsible for providing air conditioning under a lease stating that the city must keep project buildings, heating, ventilation and other facilities and appliances in safe, working order.
Based on the provisions of the lease, Graae issued the temporary restraining order. On Aug. 19, attorneys for both sides will confer on the status of repairs and submit a report to the court.
If both sides agree that the air-conditioning system is in good repair, the restraining order will be dismissed. But if the system is not repaired by the deadline, the order will go into effect, forcing the city to complete repairs on an emergency basis.
"Both sides won and both sides lost," Rashad said. But John R. Attanasio, an attorney for the Claridge residents, called Graae's ruling a victory.
"It will give tenants relief knowing that they have succeeded in court and puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the city to make the repairs," he said. "The residents have relied on years and years of broken promises. They can no longer depend on the city to do a job if it fails to demonstrate."
Kathyrn Lewis, a community organizer for the Washington Inner-City Self Help advocacy group, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Claridge Tower residents, said the legal action was the residents' final resort.
"We have been begging for help for nine years. We have held demonstrations, called on the media and numerous governmental agencies, but no one really answers us. We are tired," she said.
"All the city would do is fix the air conditioning for a couple of days to keep us quiet," she said. "But time and time again it would break down. Claridge Towers is a place for sick and elderly people, and why should they have to spend their golden years in hell?"