Aristotle Theresa, a Washington D.C. civil rights lawyer, is suing the city for discriminating against long-standing residents in favor of millennial tenants, the Washington Post reports. Filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of several Black residents, the lawsuit claims the city’s newest residential buildings cater to what urban theorist Richard Florida coined the “creative class.” The city is also being accused of ignoring the needs of poor and working-class families.
“The city is intentionally trying to lighten Black neighborhoods, and the way they have primarily been doing it is through construction of high density, luxury buildings, that primarily only offer studios and one bedrooms,” the 82-page lawsuit reads. It particularly targets the District’s “New Communities” program, which aims to transform older public housing complexes into mixed-income developments.
“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 added in the suit. According to the Washington Post, plaintiffs Paulette Matthews and Greta Fuller are seeking more than $1 billion in damages.
Whether or not they can win this lawsuit is unknown. However, Derek Hyra, an American University professor who has studied and written about gentrification in Washington, told the Washington Post that to prove their case, Theresa would need to provide evidence of a particular race being targeted.
“Developers are looking at areas in the city where they can buy low and sell high,” Hyra said. “Developers want to maximize their return. This is not a conspiracy. This is capitalism.”
The city has yet to respond. Additionally, the Attorney General’s Office, the Zoning Commission, and the mayor’s office all said they have no plans to comment.
The Root notes that D.C.’s Black population has dwindled over the past few decades. Today, less than half of D.C. residents are Black—a drop from the number of Black folks that made up 71 percent of the city’s population in 1970.