8/20/2018 Newsletter: Contempt Motion Filed Against Slumlord Over Congress Heights

In today's newsletter, we discuss the latest development in the legal battle for which we continue to organize with the Alabama Ave/13th Street Tenant Coalition at Congress Heights. We continue our reporting on Montana Terrace, and the Housing Authority's silence regarding mold infestation and other shocking conditions in public housing, and highlight a LinkUp Black August event featuring political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Contempt Motion Filed Against Slumlord in Congress Heights Receivership Case

Since the beginning of Justice First's work with tenants at Congress Heights almost six years ago, politically connected slumlord Geoff Griffis has been involved in attempts to facilitate the displacement of residents in order to make way for his vision of an unaffordable, luxury redevelopment. The organizing campaign, in conjunction with ongoing legal battles has exposed the blatant corruption and organization of housing policies favoring the profit-driven interests of developers, over the human needs of working class D.C. residents.

First page of Motion for Contempt in Congress Heights receivership case pictured above.

Our most recent reports on Congress Heights chronicle some of the disturbing connections between local officials that hold the highest positions in government, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, and developers that rely on political favors and taxpayer resources to do their business. Last month, we reported on a major victory in the receivership case for Congress Heights, in which D.C. Superior Court Judge John M. Mott ordered Geoff Griffis's company CityPartners to pay almost $900,000 to rehabilitate the Congress Heights property.

This month, Geoff Griffis, known throughout the District for his political connections and slumlord activities, failed to make the payment due on August 13, 2018, thereby violating a court order. Attorney General Karl A. Racine subsequently filed a motion for contempt.

Not only did Griffis violate a court order, but additionally, in yet another unabashed, final ditch attempt to displace tenants, he contacted the receiver stating that he could pay $52,000 of the almost $900,000 to "relocate" the tenants. Throughout the process, tenants have been fighting displacement from the property, and the idea of relocating without contractual assurances that they will return to a community that accommodates affordable housing needs has been previously rejected. Geoff Griffis's excuses for his ongoing behavior are well summarized in a DC Line article, Unethical developers in DC

Meanwhile, Congress Heights attorney Will Merrifield of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (WLCH), along with Arnold & Porter will represent tenants at an initial hearing scheduled for August 31, as tenants continue to move forward with an additional lawsuit against Sanford Capital and City Partners for violating TOPA (Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) rights through what amounted to an illegal sale of the Congress Heights properties late last year.

Tenants and their legal and organizing teams have every intention of continuing to hold slumlords and their political functionaries accountable for collaborating on development deals that seek to displace working class Black residents from the District, and gentrify the Congress Heights community.

Further updates on Congress Heights will be released in the coming days.

Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants at Congress Heights fighting slum conditions, displacement, and gentrification.

Montana Terrace Update - 8/20/2018

Justice First will continue to feature regular updates on the living conditions of two families at Montana Terrace, a public housing property in Northeast Washington, D.C., managed by the D.C. Housing Authority. This report constitutes our eighth update on Montana Terrace, which began with interviews that exposed deliberate neglect by the Housing AuthorityThe purpose of our reports on the status of the families of Yahvon Early and Gretchen Helm, is to demonstrate to the public the absurdity of a system that requires constant follow up to demand, and in many cases beg the city to protect its own residents from safety hazards caused by its own agencies. Click here to read last week's update.

In a Washington City Paper article released last week, What Life is Like - Still - in D.C.'s Public Housing, Yahvon Early and Gretchen Helm's cases are highlighted, as well as other deeply disturbing examples of Housing Authority neglect of public housing properties across Washington, D.C.

Just weeks after a total rehab of Yahvon Early's public housing unit at Montana Terrace in Northeast Washington, D.C., another water leak appears. Photo credit: Yahvon Early.

8/20/2018 Update - Yahvon Early

Today, August 20, Justice First reached out once again to representatives of the D.C. Housing Authority by email, with Ward 5 council member Kenyan McDuffie cc'ed, to inquire about the results of a mold inspection ordered by the Housing Authority approximately six weeks ago.

Meanwhile, in Ms. Early's daughter's bedroom, where a collapsed ceiling was ignored by the housing authority for weeks before public exposure led to action on their part, a new water leak has appeared. We previously reported a leak in the same area of the ceiling where it had collapsed, which the Housing Authority dismissed as a "missed paint mark."

In the case of this new and visible leak on another area of the same ceiling, photo evidence taken both directly after a total rehab of the unit a few weeks ago, where no water leak was visible, directly contrasts with photo evidence taken this week, where a water mark is clearly visible.

The Housing Authority's response, which coincidentally took place shortly after the release of last week's City Paper article, led to maintenance spraying "Kilz spray" and painting over the water spot.

8/20/2018 Update - Gretchen Helm

After multiple inspections on Gretchen Helm's unit, the Housing Authority has made some repairs, including those reported last week (broken faucets, broken lights, etc.), as well as a recent doorbell repair. Unfortunately, Ms. Helm and her family continue to suffer from mold and rodent infestations that are evident throughout her public housing unit at Montana Terrace.

In the same email referenced in Ms. Early's update above, Justice First inquired to the same Housing Authority representatives, with Ward 5 council member Kenyan McDuffie cc'ed, about the results of mold inspections that took place approximately six weeks ago.

To reiteratethere is no known plan on the part of the D.C. Housing Authority to address rampant mold and rodent infestations.

Ms. Helm and her young children continue to wait for answers on these serious issues.

Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants at Montana Terrace fighting slum conditions, displacement, and gentrification.

Black August Event: LinkUp, People Power Action and HUResist with political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal

We encourage our supporters to RSVP to attend this special Black August event featuring the second live conversation with political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Click here to read the transcript and watch video footage of their previous event with Mumia. The upcoming August 22 event will take place just one week ahead of Mumia's next court date, at which he and his legal team will discuss the violation of due process that took place in his case when former District Attorney Ronald Castile, who prosecuted Mumia, later became a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice and subsequently took part in deciding against Mumia's appeals. In organizing to expose and address mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex, LinkUp has additionally formed a Prison Organizing Committee.


Click to RSVP

Donate to Justice First to support our work with tenants and partner organizations fighting slum conditions, displacement, and gentrification.

—Yasmina Mrabet

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