The Struggle at Dahlgreen Courts

In 2011, Dahlgreen Courts residents exercised their rights under D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (also known as TOPA) to purchase the two-building, 96 unit historic complex in partnership with a Philadelphia-based non-profit developer, Mission First Housing Group. Built in the 1920s, the complex was in dire need of rehabilitation. After almost six years since the completion of this 20 million-dollar renovation, residents are organizing again to hold the city and Mission First, the non-profit developer who “renovated” the complex, accountable for more than 150 housing code violations the residents are forced to live under.

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Tenant Association Vice-President Vaughn Bennett, ONE DC housing organizer
Yasmina Mrabet & Tenant Association President Leon Lightfoot

Officials have tried to use the common practice of bureaucracy to avoid the demands of residents and the Dahlgreen Courts Tenants Association. DCRA relinquished responsibility of the housing violations of paint peeling and cracked wall it cited to the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE). The DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), DC Housing Finance Agency (HFA), and Ward 5 council member, Kenyan McDuffie have opted to protect Mission First from claiming responsibility for the mess it has created, rather than answer to the complaints of the residents they have been placed in office to answer to.

These circumstances are why Bennett says the DCTA, ONE DC, and other committed individuals and organizations are seeking justice by demanding an investigation, potentially filing of criminal charges, and a civil suit against Mission First. Furthermore, Bennett says that residents are actively seeking a law firm to represent them in filing a lawsuit against Mission First Housing Group for fraud and breach of contract.

DCTA and residents like Vaughn Bennett show how vital it is for residents to organize in order to preserve livable conditions and affordable housing in the city. Bennett hopes his work “can inspire others and teach our children how to fight oppression.”

Even though, after significant pressure through a joint tenants action, council member Kenyan McDuffie recently sent a letter to the Dahlgreen Courts Tenants Association in response to their demands, it is yet to be determined whether or not Mission First will truly be held accountable. Additionally, the Dahlgreen Courts Tenants Association is concerned over the redevelopment plans at Brookland Manor, and other gentrification projects in the Rhode Island Avenue area. ONE DC members and supporters across the city won't back down until the tenants at Dahlgreen Courts receive the proper renovations they deserve, and until the various city agencies and the developers they serve are held accountable for their actions against the public.