Housing Complex

Housing Advocates Make An Example of Anti-Voucher Landlord

No poor folks allowed at 717-719 Irving Street NE.

Last spring, the Equal Rights Center issued a report finding that discrimination against people receiving public assistance for housing had declined over the past five years, but remained at an unacceptable level: 45 percent of those trying to rent an apartment with a housing choice voucher reported some kind of discrimination, with 15 percent being outright rejected on account of it.

Now, they're naming names. The ERC filed suit yesterday in D.C. Superior Court against Rita and Inder Raj Pahwa for refusing to rent apartments in two small Brookland apartment complexes to testers who said they would pay with vouchers. According to the complaint, when ERC staff called in response to listings, Pahwa said he didn't believe in vouchers and would only accept income—and made sure the applicants weren't disabled and didn't have children, to boot.

Out of all the landlords they found in their investigation who'd discriminated against voucher holders, ERC might have had another reason for singling out Pahwa: He's also a D.C. Taxicab Commissioner. Has been since 2000, even though he hasn't driven a cab since 1986, according to documents from his renomination in 2006 (he's now an engineer with D.C. Water [UPDATE, 3:42 p.m.: The complaint is wrong; D.C. Water says they have no employees by that name). And he's also pissed off two taxicab associations, which asked for his removal in a lawsuit over several other issues earlier this year.

If the court nails Pahwa, it'll be a strong message to landlords around the District: Keep your views about welfare to yourself.

(I'm trying to reach Pahwa, and will update if he responds).