Tired of the Widespread Gentrification, D.C. Lawyer Sues City In $1B Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination

D.C. Gentrification

Washington D.C.’s neighborhoods have been slowly gentrifying for the past two decades. (Photo by Raquel Zaldivar/NPR)

D.C.’s longest standing Black residents are facing displacement, thanks to citywide housing and urban renewal policies aimed at attracting millennial renters, a new discrimination suit alleges.

D.C. resident and civil rights lawyer Aristotle Theresa is suing the city over its successful attempts at appealing to so–called “creative” workers, which he argues has come at the expense of the District’s low and middle–income Black families, the DCist reported. The suit, filed on behalf of three Black Washingtonians and local nonprofit group CARE, seeks $1 billion in damages.

“The city is intentionally trying to lighten Black neighborhoods, and the way they’ve primarily been doing it is through construction of high density, luxury buildings, that primarily only offer studios and one bedrooms,” his complaint states.

The suit argues that policies meant to “economically integrate” local neighborhoods are “classist, racist and ageist” and will ultimately ” … lead to widespread gentrification and displacement.” According to The Washington Post, Theresa also pointed to the District’s newly launched “New Communities” program, which is aimed at renovating aging public housing complexes into mixed-income developments.

Theresa argues that these new, pricey developments cater to what urban theorist Richard Florida famously dubbed the “creative class,” or young citizens who typically work in fields like technology, science, art and journalism. All the while, the needs of poor, working-class residents go ignored, however.

“Every city planning agency … conspired to make D.C. very welcoming for preferred residents and sought to displace residents inimical to the creative economy,” Theresa wrote, pointing to policies first put in place by ex-Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration.

“To Theresa, the Fenty administration’s promotion of a ‘Creative Action Agenda’ in 2007 represented a ‘paradigm shift’ for D.C.’s government,” The Washington Post reported. “Instead of prioritizing what was best for the land, it was focusing ‘on the predilections of a certain class of individual,” he says.

Theresa’s lawsuit names several defendants, including Fenty, Mayor Murial Bowser and the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission.

The city’s Attorney General’s Office has declined to comment on the suit, citing pending litigation. The city has until June 25 to file a response to the complaint.

Back to top