WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS & URBAN AFFAIRS FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Julie Rosenthal 202-248-8449 Adrienne Ammerman 202-386-7609 IN THE DISTRICT’S BATTLE FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING, A WIN FOR LONG-TIME RESIDENTS Federal Judge Rules Landlord Violated Federal Law by Refusing Affordable Housing Rental Subsidies WASHINGTON, D.C., January 31, 2007 – In the ongoing struggle over affordable housing in rapidly gentrifying areas in DC, a federal judge ruled against a landlord who refused to accept housing subsidies from low-income tenants. The Legal Aid Society, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Bread for the City, Crowell and Moring LLP and Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs have aided residents renting homes on Bates Street in Northwest D.C. from being evicted from their homes this winter. On January 12, 2007, Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that BSA Limited Partnership (BSA), which at one time owned more than 30 affordable townhouses on Bates St. near North Capitol and New York Avenues, violated federal law by refusing rental vouchers, which the government provides to low income tenants to help keep their rents affordable. Bates Street residents Bridgette Feemster, Sabrina Lymore, and eight others first brought the case against BSA in the summer of 2004, when BSA refused to accept the tenants’ vouchers as payment for rent and instead attempted to force the tenants into relocating. Many of the tenants, some of whom had lived in their homes for over 20 years, refused to move and instead filed suit, claiming that the landlord’s actions violated both federal and District of Columbia law. The Housing Choice Voucher Program is the nation’s largest, federal, low-income housing assistance program. The Voucher Program entitles low-income families to receive financial assistance to cover a portion of their rent. “I grew up in the Bates Street Townhomes, and my children were raised here,” said Dorothy Paul, whose mother also lives in the neighborhood. “The people in this community helped shape who I am. It’s important to me to stay here and give back to the young people in this area, just like I received help growing up.” “This case is not only about the preservation of affordable housing, but about the right for a family to remain in their home of over 20 years and about the preservation of communities” said Antonia Fasanelli, staff attorney of the Affordable Housing Initiative at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, who served as one of the Plaintiffs’ counsel. BSA argued that it was not legally required to accept the vouchers because it planned to sell the townhomes. The court, however, rejected BSA’s claim as speculative and ruled that the landlord, because it continued to operate the townhouses as rental properties, could not refuse the tenants’ vouchers. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the number of affordable rental units in the District of Columbia has decreased by 7,500 between 2000 and 2004. “This case was especially important to our client population,” said Rebecca Lindhurst, staff attorney at Bread for the City. “Given that these tenants live so close to our Northwest Center, and that we have seen such rapid gentrification in this area, we knew that we had to help the residents of Bates Street Townhomes.” Serving as co-counsel, attorneys Julie Becker from The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Antonia Fasanelli from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Rebecca Lindhurst from Bread for the City, Isabelle Thabault from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Clifford Zatz from Crowell & Moring LLP, represented the 10 Plaintiffs that fought the landlord’s actions. About The Legal Aid Society of District of Columbia For 75 years, Legal Aid Society of Washington, DC has been ensuring that the American system of justice works for everyone, especially those living in poverty. Legal Aid is a nonprofit law firm that with the support of the private legal community represents clients who have no other means of obtaining legal assistance in civil cases. Its clients include the elderly, people with mental and physical disabilities and low–income families and individuals living throughout the District of Columbia. Since its founding in 1932, Legal Aid Society has worked to help people keep their homes, stabilize their families, have access to health and government benefits, and feel safe in their communities. With a staff of 25, including 18 lawyers and one social worker, Legal Aid provides advice, brief assistance, representation, social work case management to thousands of clients each year and serves as an advocate for systemic change on matters emerging directly from its individual case docket. For more information, visit www.legalaiddc.org. About Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless For 20 years, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless has sought to use law and advocacy to meet the needs of individuals who struggle with homelessness and poverty. It provides legal services to clients who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The Affordable Housing Initiative, a project of the Washington Legal Clinic, represents tenants and tenant associations facing displacement through the loss of federally subsidized and other forms of affordable housing. For more information, visit www.legalclinic.org. About Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs Committee was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since its founding, the Committee has handled more than 5,000 cases on behalf of individuals and advocacy organizations in the areas of fair housing, equal employment, public accommodations, public education, asylum and refugee rights, and disability rights. For more information about the Committee, see www.washlaw.org. The Committee can be reached at (202) 319-1000. About Bread For the City Bread for the City, is a private, non-profit organization that provides free services including food, clothing, medical care, legal assistance and social services to over 10,000 vulnerable DC residents each month. Bread for the City operates a legal clinic at both its Northwest and Southeast Washington centers. Volunteer and staff attorneys provide free legal advice and representation in areas of landlord/tenant, family, and disability law. For more information, visit www.breadforthecity.org. Crowell and Moring LLP Crowell & Moring LLP is a full-service law firm with nearly 350 lawyers practicing in litigation, antitrust, government contracts, corporate, intellectual property and more than 40 other practice areas. More than two-thirds of the firm's lawyers regularly litigate disputes on behalf of domestic and international corporations, start-up businesses, and individuals. Crowell & Moring's extensive client work ranges from advising on one of the world's largest telecommunications mergers to representing governments and corporations on international arbitration matters. Based in Washington, D.C., the firm also has offices in California, New York, London, and Brussels. Visit Crowell & Moring online at http://www.crowell.com. # # # For more information about the case, or to set up an interview with a tenant or lawyer, please contact Adrienne Ammerman at Aammerman@breadforthecity.org or 202-386-7609.