Phyllissa Bilal of Barry Farm Study Circle Testifies Against Displacement

My name is Phyllissa Bilal and I am the cofounder of the Barry Farm Study Circle. Though I am the cofounder of BFSC I feel it necessary to present as a public housing resident in addition to cofounder of the Barry Farm Study Circle. Below I have included my accounts of causes to question the application to demolish the Barry Farm community due to violation of the basic human rights of residents in the community.

Soon after moving into the community in January of 2012 I found out the community was in the process of being redeveloped and my family would soon have to move. I thought how could management forget to share that with me prior to my move-in date? I sent an email to the project manager Reyna Alloro who called me and told me that I would not have to move for at least two years. I would soon receive email invitations to project and planning meetings in the resident council office. These meetings led me to question the process even further. During this time I was volunteering for the resident council to take the minutes for meetings on the property. Ultimately I was questionably excused from the resident council. I started the Barry Farm Study Circle after testifying at the DCHA Counsel to try to get a better understanding of how this resident council was operating and attending meetings where the human rights, wants, needs and questions of residents were being completely ignored. For example, at a meeting facilitated by Janice Burgess in 2012 I questioned her directing residents to move to offsite housing specifically Matthews Memorial Terrace and Sheridan Terrace. I asked her if residents who had already been relocated would write their rental checks to DCHA as they had done while living in the Barry Farm community. Her response was no. I then asked her if Matthews and Sheridan are tax credit properties and if residents had entered into a tax credit property lease. Her answer was yes. My answer to her was that means these residents are no longer housing authority residents therefore how can they be placed back on the housing authority list since it had closed. She agreed they would not be allowed back on the list. I attended two other meetings one of which was an oversight hearing facilitated by Muriel Bowser where Linda Miller the former Resident Council president gave heartbreaking testimony that she had been tricked into moving to offsite housing and now was being told she cannot return. She gave similar testimony in a meeting facilitated by the cofounder of the Barry Farm Study Circle and the Chairperson to the Citywide Advisory Board Karen Settles.

Additionally, in 2012 I sent a letter to Reyna Alloro who is the DMPD project manager for the Barry Farm property asking for better clarification about the redevelopment process which turned into an invitation to attend planning meetings in the resident council office. As stated before, those meetings left me with more questions and concerns. One evening in particular I received a call from Janice Burgess of the DC Housing Authority. She said she had been given my name by Nella Peterson the resident council president at the time and Ms. Burgess was going to give me a list of developers and I would have to go through them and condense the list down to seven. Then she said that the deadline would be the next morning at 8am. I declined her request and sent an email to Ms. Peterson explaining why I declined, stating that I felt it was not a fair process to the residents of the community.  In short the Barry Farm Study Circle believes the continued path of demolishing public housing properties will only increase homelessness in DC. In fact, DCHA has not been transparent or inclusive in their process to redevelop our historical community and have used other harmful tactics against us, which I will not include at this time. As I wake up some mornings and look out my windows I still do not know why the houses of some of my neighbors have been boarded up and, more ominously, where are they now.

Today the rights of public housing residents have been violated all across the city. There has only been a 8-13% return rate of residents to their original and newly developed communities. And in the case of Temple Courts no return rate at all because the community is now a parking lot renting spaces for $8 a day. 

More recently the Barry Farm Study Circle had received several complaints of a 30 day eviction notices and suddenly inflated rental ledgers for amounts such as $6000. Through our partnership with the United Planning Organization Petey Greene Center we found their housing caseworkers shared the same concern for the influx of complaints and requests for support. We put together an outreach team consisting of United Planning Organizations workers, One DC organizers and members, and American University students. We did door-to-door outreach in Barry Farm on March 22nd in the Barry Farm community to collect 30 eviction notices and inflated rental ledgers, as well as to connect residents with legal support and other resources through our partnership with Neighborhood Legal Services.

The fight to have the voices and basic human rights of Barry Farm public housing residents protected and included in the redevelopment process continues. We only asked that the Zoning Commission take a stand against the human rights violations that continue in the Barry Farm community.

Thank You,

Phyllissa Bilal

Cofounder Barry Farm Study Circle

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