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D.C. attorney general sues city’s housing authority for discrimination

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine speaks during a December news conference on Capitol Hill. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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The office of D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) filed a lawsuit against the city’s housing authority on Thursday, alleging widespread discrimination against people with disabilities, some of whom have waited as long as a decade for housing that meets their needs.

The civil complaint, filed in the District’s Superior Court, is the latest in a host of problems for the D.C. Housing Authority, which operates independent of the city and serves about 50,000 low-income residents, about a fifth of whom are disabled.

Last fall, Neil Albert, the chair of the DCHA’s governing board, stepped down amid questions over conflicts of interest, including his vote for a resolution that included his partner’s business among architectural firms qualified to receive millions of dollars in contracts. A few days later, the D.C. Council’s housing committee called for an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General into “a troubling pattern” of unethical and “potentially criminal” behavior at the agency. That investigation is ongoing.

DCHA board chair steps down amid questions over conflicts of interest

In 2020, Racine’s office sued the authority over allegations it had failed to address drug- and firearm-related nuisances at 10 properties, an action that forced the agency to make security upgrades to those properties.

In Thursday’s suit, which seeks unspecified damages, Racine’s office alleges that the authority forced more than 250 disabled tenants to wait years for reasonable accommodations after they proved it was necessary.

In one case, a tenant who had requested a wheelchair-accessible unit in 2017 had to rely on others to carry her to and from her fourth-floor apartment so she could make her medical appointments, the suit alleges. The woman died last year, still waiting for her new unit, the complaint says.

In another case, a tenant who was bedridden and immobile requested a two-bedroom unit so her daughter could serve as an overnight caretaker. Though that request was approved a year ago, it has yet to be fulfilled, the suit says, forcing the woman’s daughter to install a camera in the home to monitor her mom while she sleeps.

D.C. development has soared under Bowser. So have housing costs.

“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,” Racine said in a statement.

DCHA spokeswoman Sheila Lewis declined to comment Thursday, saying the authority had not yet reviewed the complaint.

“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,” Racine’s statement said.

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