News & Media

The Committee Launches its Parent Empowerment Program Application

Our overall goal is to engage parents by way of empowerment. We believe a part of building equity in education begins when all voices are heard and progress is being made. Empowering parents to have a voice in their child’s education, and bring change to their school community, we believe, is a step towards closing the resource and opportunity gap; which will begin the process of closing the achievement gap.

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The Committee Files Amicus Brief in the Supreme Court Challenging Trump's Discriminatory Travel Ban

The brief was submitted along with a number of civil rights groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Advocates for Youth, Center for Reproductive Rights, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mississippi Center forJustice, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Urban League, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. 

Read the brief here.,.

Women at Fluvanna Prison File Contempt Motion Alleging VDOC Continues to Fail to Provide Adequate Medical Care

Charlottesville, Va. — Women incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) filed a motion for contempt in the Federal District Court in Charlottesville on Wednesday, asking the court to enforce a class action Settlement Agreement decided upon last year.  The agreement, approved by Judge Norman K. Moon on February 5, 2016, requires supervision of the medical care systems at the prison by an independent Compliance Monitor for at least three years.  The women charge that FCCW continues to fail to provide constitutionally adequate medical care in violation of the agreement.

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The Committee Stands with Immigrant Communities and Opposes the Termination of DACA

The decision today by the administration of President Donald Trump to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is an assault on the dreams and hopes of as many as 800,000 young people and is inconsistent with the values of this Nation. DACA participants – Dreamers – came to the United States as children. They work, go to school, raise families and contribute to the richness and health of our community. The United States is their home, often the only home they have known.

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Class Actions Challenge Brutal Practices in Federal Prison

The use of solitary confinement or other forms of isolation has become commonplace across the country. Between 80,000 and 100,000 prisoners in the United States are confined to a cell for 22 or more hours per day, often alone but sometimes with a cellmate. Terms of isolation can last for years, and in many cases, decades. Prisoners are cut off from other human interaction, physical activity, and productive endeavors. This isolation is cruel and harmful to anyone, but especially for prisoners with mental illness.

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The Committee’s Public Education Project, Coalition for DC Public Schools & Communities: June 19 Reversal Approving DC Prep Enrollment Petition Violated the Law

The Committee’s Public Education Project joined several members from every DC Ward of the Coalition for DC Public Schools & Communities in demanding that the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) reconsider and rehear its June 19, 2017 approval of DC Prep’s petition to expand enrollment. A recent decision by the DC Office of Open Government found that the June 19 hearing violated the DC Open Meetings Act, the School Reform Act, and the PCSB’s own practices. At an April 24 hearing, C4DC and other community members opposed the expansion of DC Prep on several grounds, including its record of suspending 23-28% of its middle school students each year, according to a recent GAO Report. The PCSB denied DC Prep’s petition at the April 24 hearing, but without notice to the public that it would reconsider the matter, on June 19 the PCSB reversed its decision and granted the DC Prep petition.

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Demand Letter to the Public Charter School Board

Decision by DC Office of Open Government

Board Spotlight: Ted Howard

Ted Howard is a Washington Lawyers’ Committee Board Member, former WLC Co-Chair, and recipient of our Wiley A. Branton Award for his deep commitment to equal justice and civil rights. He is also Pro Bono Partner at Wiley Rein LLP and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Ted spoke with us about how junior lawyers can make pro bono a part of their everyday practice, how his oral argument led to a landmark settlement for 1200 women prisoners who were receiving unconstitutionally inadequate medical care, and how he cherishes the quiet sunrise over the Capitol every week.

Read the full interview...

Equal Justice Works Fellow Brook Hill Discusses the Barry Farm Class Action on WPFW's "Taking Action"

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Barry Farm Residents Sue the DC Housing Authority and Developers Over Discrimination Against Families and Failing Maintenance

WASHINGTON, DC - As the District seeks to demolish and redevelop the historic Barry Farm public housing property, long-standing resident families of Barry Farm—most of whom are African American—along with the Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Association (BFTAA) and community-based organization Empower DC, have filed a class action lawsuit challenging the discriminatory redevelopment by the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) and its private developer partners.  For years, DCHA has forced families to either live in deplorable conditions or to leave—all in furtherance of the redevelopment.  This despite constant delays in the development timeline and no assurances that families who leave the property due to the worsening conditions will have an enforceable right to return.  In addition, as planned, the redevelopment will significantly reduce the number of two-, three-, four-, and six-bedroom units, and likely leave more than one hundred and fifty current and former resident families without homes in the new property.

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Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Ass’n et al., v. District of Columbia Housing Authority, et al. (“Barry Farm”) Fact Sheet

Barry Farm is a 432-unit public housing complex located in Ward 8 in Southeast Washington,[1] D.C. in close proximity to the Anacostia metro station.  The property is undergoing a redevelopment which will convert Barry Farm into a mixed-income, mixed-use development and increase density up to 1,400 rental units. Currently, the property is comprised of a range of one- to six-bedroom units in which many residents have resided for most or a significant portion of their lives.  Residents include multi- and single generation families who reside there with their minor children.  Almost all residents are African American and until the redevelopment, tenants considered Barry Farm inclusive and family-friendly. In recent years, in anticipation of the redevelopment, the District of Columbia Housing Authority (“DCHA”) has allowed Barry Farm units to fall into a gross state of disrepair, forcing families to leave or reside in deplorable conditions.   

Why Barry Farm Matters:

  • This redevelopment plans to exclude over 150 low- and moderate-income families from the new development by decreasing the number of family-sized units. These families will face displacement from their homes and community because of their family status and size.
  • Efforts to front-run the process of redevelopment, which has yet to be finally approved or even funded, have already displaced a significant number of families from their homes at Barry Farm. These efforts include the systemic failure to maintain units at Barry Farms in a safe and habitable condition, inducing families to accept transfer to other, often distant, public housing, rather than endure the hardship of living under conditions of gross disrepair.
  • Without an enforceable right to return to the newly developed property, redevelopment of Barry Farm will unfairly push longtime, low-income families of color who reside at Barry Farm out of a neighborhood that they have invested in for generations just as it is poised to change for the better. This will deprive residents of the opportunity to benefit from an inclusive community and the amenities that will come with this development as was the case for residents of public housing properties like Arthur Capers and Ellen Wilson which were also redeveloped.  
  • Unchecked redevelopment is tearing at the fabric of families’ lives by doing away with their housing. If the families who live at Barry Farm are forced to relocate, access to their support structures, including residents’ jobs, educational opportunities for their children, transportation, and/or nearby assistive or social-service related programs, will be disrupted or cut off.
  • The developers and/or the District must take measures to preserve family-sized public housing as part of the redevelopment to avoid displacing even more households.

Lack of Affordable Family-Sized Housing in D.C

The need for affordable or subsidized housing is particularly stark for families living in large apartment units. Further, the need for affordable family sized housing is particularly great in Ward 8,[2] including the neighborhood surrounding Barry Farm. Currently only 21% of housing units in Washington are three-bedrooms, 8% are four-bedrooms, and 4% are five- or more bedrooms.[3]  At Barry Farm, more than half of the existing units are three-bedrooms or larger. As evidenced by Barry Farm, families displaced from subsidized units are usually forced to move further from metro stations into areas that are even more segregated and impoverished than the neighborhoods from which they were displaced. As more family-sized units disappear, homelessness among families will necessarily grow given the shortage of comparable housing.

According to the Urban Institute’s 2015 Report, families with children are at the highest risk of becoming homeless and are increasing drastically as a percentage of the District’s homeless population. Between 2007 and 2014 the number of homeless individuals in the District remained constant, but the number of homeless families doubled.[4]  49% of the homeless population is now comprised of families with children.[5]  In addition, households with five or more people are at the highest risk for homelessness.[6]  Six percent of the largest households are at a high risk of homelessness, as compared to one to two percent of one-to four-person households.[7]

If residents of Ward 8 are to benefit from redevelopment in their ward, family housing must be a priority because there are more families with children in Ward 8 than any other ward. Citywide, only 20% of households contain at least one child while in Ward 8, 38% of the households have one or more child.[8]

The Redevelopment’s Disproportionate and Discriminatory Impact on Families

Under the Fair Housing Act and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“Human Rights Act”), housing providers may not intentionally or effectively discriminate on the basis of protected categories, including familial status.[9]   According to the developer’s disclosures, the original Barry Farm complex included 213 two-bedroom units, 179 three-bedroom units, 49 four-bedroom units, and 10 six-bedroom units.[10]  In its proposed redevelopment plans to the Zoning Commission, DCHA proposed a unit mix that would reduce the number of two-, three-, four-, and six-bedroom units by 163, utilizing an under-inclusive means of assessing “the bedroom needs of the returning DCHA households,”[11] which DCHA claims is the correct measure when determining the unit mix of replacement housing.

DCHA and its partnering developers have already obtained approval for their first-stage Planned Unit Development (“PUD”) application from the District of Columbia Zoning Commission (the “Commission”).  What’s more, the Commission’s first-stage PUD order found “that the proposed units will be of an appropriate size to accommodate the needs of all returning residents,” despite the one-for-one replacement of homes at the same bedroom sizes.[12]  If the redevelopment moves ahead without any changes to its redevelopment plan, dozens of families will likely be permanently displaced from their homes because there will not be enough large sized replacement housing units in the redeveloped Barry Farm.

Because large sized apartments are primarily occupied by families, DCHA’s plan to eliminate a substantial number of two-, three-, four-, and six-bedroom units results in an unlawful disparate impact on families, in violation of federal and District of Columbia fair housing laws.

Systemic Maintenance Failures and Constructive Demolition of Barry Farm

Once a shining example of a public housing community that was made up of handsome row houses, with grassy yards, and space for children to play away from the traffic – even in an urban setting – DCHA, anticipating the opportunity to redevelop the site, has chosen to intentionally neglect Barry Farm.  Evidence suggests that since the filing of the First-Stage PUD, the average response time for routine maintenance requests by Barry Farm residents, including such concerns as pest-control and non-working appliances, have increased as compared to the period before the First-Stage PUD was filed and as compared to other public housing complexes owned and managed by DCHA. Anecdotal evidence suggests that of the repairs that are completed, even emergency repairs, many do not last and are shoddy at best.

In anticipation of the planned redevelopment, DCHA effectively began demolition of Barry Farm after filing its First-Stage PUD by neglecting maintenance on the property to the point where numerous units became unlivable. Since the First-Stage PUD was filed, residents have been moving away from Barry Farm because of deteriorating conditions in their units and on the property, and DCHA has not been re-leasing the units vacated by the departures.  A few months after filing, the applicants reported that 380 households continued to reside at Barry Farm. By the time DCHA received HUD approval to dispose of the property, the DCHA website reported that only 195 units remained occupied at Barry Farm. Many of the families moving away from Barry Farm have repeatedly made maintenance requests without achieving acceptable improvement in the living conditions in their units. In some instances, residents have been told or led to believe that their units would not be repaired because Barry Farm was undergoing redevelopment.  In other cases, the residents have been offered the opportunity to transfer to other DCHA-managed properties, which are further away from the rest of the city and metro stations, as a solution to their maintenance concerns. Whether such residents have chosen to leave on their own, or have been counseled to move by DCHA’s agents, the failure to maintain the property up to basic standards of habitability violates both the D.C. and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) standards for rental housing and is also illegal discrimination under District of Columbia law.

Under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”) housing providers may not intentionally or effectively discriminate on the basis of “place of residence.”  The DCHA’s practice of offering disparate maintenance to Barry Farm tenants (by offering maintenance to Barry Farm residents at a level lower than that provided to tenants at other public housing properties) because of the place where they reside—a property slated for redevelopment—violates the DCHRA. 

Similarly, the United States Housing Act forbids public housing providers like DCHA to commence redevelopment efforts or otherwise disposing of public housing units (with the exception of some basic planning tasks not at issue here) before receiving permission from HUD.  Here, DCHA’s systemic failure to maintain the Barry Farm units to the point where the units became unlivable before receiving HUD approval to dispose of those units is known as “constructive demolition.”  By creating a situation in which Barry Farm residents have no practical choice but to leave, or worse, by counseling them to move in response to repeated conditions complaints, and then not re-leasing the vacated units, DCHA has constructively demolished Barry Farm, even before having approval from HUD to do so and long before the first bulldozer has rolled over the property.


[1] Ward 8 has a population of 75,024. Of that population, 94% of its residents are Black non-Hispanic, 4% are White non-Hispanic, 1% are Hispanic, and 1% identify as other. See Peter Tatian, Josh Leopold, et al., Affordable Housing Needs Assessment for the District of Columbia, Phase II, An Urban Institute Research Report (May 2015) at tbl. A.1 [hereinafter “Affordable Housing Needs Assessment”]. 

[2] Affordable Housing Needs Assessment at 12. 

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id. at 3.

[5] Id. at 39.

[6] Id at 43.

[7] Id. at 110.

[8] Id.  In the Barry Farm neighborhood the need is even greater. In neighborhood cluster 37, the Sheridan/Barry Farm /Douglass/Shipley Terrace area, 47% of households contain children.  Id. at 17.

[9] The FHA and DCHRA define “familial status” as “one or more individuals under the age of 18 being domiciled with (1) a parent, legal custodian, or (2) the designee of such parent or legal custodian.”  See 42 U.S.C. § 3604(K); D.C. Code § 2-1401.02(11)(A).

[10] See Cover Letter from Applicant Enclosing Post-hearing Materials (July 14, 2014), Case No. 14-02, Doc. 69 at 4, available at: https://app.dcoz.dc.gov/Content/Search/Search.aspx

[11]  Id. at 4-5.

[12]  Zoning Commission Order No. 14-02, Case No. 14-02 (May 29, 2015), Doc. 107, at ¶¶ 145-147, available at: https://app.dcoz.dc.gov/Content/Search/Search.aspx

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