Ruby Corado, executive director of Casa Ruby, the D.C. LGBTQ community services center, posted a GoFundMe appeal on March 31 asking for financial support to relocate to a new headquarters building following a dispute with its landlord.
“This winter, an electrical fire forced us out of our building on 7530 Georgia Avenue, N.W.,” the GoFundMe appeal says. “After six months of trying to work with the landlord, HE REFUSED TO FIX EVERYTHING, and now we have to move for good,” the appeal says.
Casa Ruby moved into the building nearly four years ago as part of an expansion of its services that include providing support for homeless LGBTQ youth, with a special outreach to transgender woman of color. The nonprofit organization provides a wide range of other services, including support for LGBTQ immigrants from Latin America. It has rented other buildings, in addition to the Georgia Avenue headquarters building, that provide, among other things, temporary homes for LGBTQ homeless youth.
“15,000 people walked into this building for housing, support and LOVE and now IT IS GONE,” the GoFundMe appeal says. “We are not returning. In my wildest dreams I never thought that we would be homeless again, but we are. Our story is no different than the one lived by LGBTQ people everyday and that is why we are asking for your help,” the appeal says.
The building’s owner, the Menkiti Group, released a statement to the Washington Blade disputing Corado’s claim that Casa Ruby is being forced to leave the building.
“For nearly four years we’ve had a productive and valuable relationship with Casa Ruby, and we continue to be open to working with them,” the statement says. “It’s important to clarify that Casa Ruby is currently inhabiting the property, and we have taken no action to evict them.”
“We have no immediate plans to do so, despite the fact that they have not been current on their rent since 2018 and are behind in payments totaling more than $450,000,” the statement adds.
The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Corado for comment on the building owner’s statement or for additional details about the electrical fire that Corado said occurred this winter.
Vito Magiolo, a spokesperson for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Services Department, told the Blade that in an “exhaustive search of our computer assisted dispatch records” he could only find one call to the Fire and EMS Department for assistance at the Casa Ruby building. He said that was for a call about smoke in the building on Feb. 28, 2019.
He said the dispatch records show only that the department’s “unit” left the scene 20 minutes after first receiving the call for assistance, suggesting that the 2019 incident “appears rather minor.”
In her GoFundMe statement, Corado says the landlord has been uncooperative in Casa Ruby’s attempt to purchase the building.
“Even after working with experienced realtors, lawyers and our elected officials, [and] a bank that loaned us the money to buy the building, the landlord refused to work with us,” Corado wrote in the GoFundMe appeal. “He IS GREEDY! (Raised the price 1 million so we would not qualify.) The sad part, it is all legal in the District of Columbia. Yes — The law protects him, even during COVID, he is kicking us out.”
Christina Lisi, a spokesperson for the Menkiti Group, told the Blade the company would have no further comment on Corado’s GoFundMe statement. But she pointed to the second part of the statement the company released to the media on March 31.
“As a local minority-owned small business, we have battled the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining our commitments to our lenders,” the statement says. “We have worked closely to support many of our tenants who have struggled as they navigated the pandemic and have assisted them in accessing PPP and grant funds.”
“We’re extremely disappointed that Casa Ruby has taken this approach and look forward to working with them to resolve this matter,” the statement concludes.
The dispute with the Menkiti Group comes two and a half years after the landlord of a four story, seven-bedroom house that Casa Ruby rented for use as a residence for homeless LGBTQ people at 1122 Columbia Road, N.W., filed a lawsuit against Casa Ruby in September 2018.
The lawsuit, which is still pending, demands $309,925 in damages for an alleged breach of contract on the lease and alleged damage to the house by its Casa Ruby occupants. Among other things, it says Casa Ruby was back due on rent and vacated the house with 40 months remaining on the lease, for which the lawsuit calls for Casa Ruby to pay.
Court records show that after Corado represented herself and Casa Ruby without an attorney for several months, missed court filing deadlines, and failed to show up at a required court hearing, the judge approved a motion by landlord Angelique Best for a default judgement against Casa Ruby and Corado. The records show that a short time later, the prominent D.C. law firm Steptoe & Johnson agreed to represent Casa Ruby on a pro bono basis in the case.
Court records show that Steptoe & Johnson attorney Edward Baldwin filed a motion in June 2019 requesting that the court rescind the default judgement on grounds that Corado missed the court appearance for medical reasons, and an earlier judge made statements that confused Corado over court appearances without an attorney.
The records show that D.C. Superior Court Judge Kelly Higashi on June 20, 2019, approved the motion and “set aside” the default judgement to allow Casa Ruby to continue its defense against the lawsuit.
Baldwin also filed an official answer to the lawsuit on behalf of Casa Ruby, which disputes all of Best’s allegations and calls on the court to dismiss the lawsuit. But as of October 2020, the court records show the two sides were still arguing over obtaining documents and information through the discovery process and no date was set, as of April 2, 2021, for the next court hearing.
As of April 2, Corado’s GoFundMe site showed the appeal for support had raised $90,159 of its goal of raising $1 million.
“The Casa Ruby Story is not OVER, we are just beginning and now more than ever, Casa Ruby being the lifeline for so many vulnerable people, cannot close its doors for good!” Corado states in the GoFundMe site. “We are now in a temporary space, we are still open, but we need a permanent home.”
In its annual IRS 990 finance report for 2019, the most recent report released by the IRS, Casa Ruby reported it received a total of $3,456,018 in revenue for that year. The report, which all nonprofit organizations with an IRS tax exemption are required to file each year, shows that Casa Ruby reported it incurred a total of $3,228,357 in expenses for 2019, with a surplus of $227,661 in revenue after expenses.
The 2019 IRS report shows that Casa Ruby’s total revenue or income for that year came from two sources: $2,402,627 in “government grants” and $1,053,391 in “all other contributions, gifts, grants, and similar amounts not included” in the government grants category.
Corado told the Blade last year that similar to many nonprofit organizations, Casa Ruby’s income from private donors and local business supporters declined significantly in 2020 due to the pandemic. She said she was also concerned that the city would reduce its grant awards to Casa Ruby due to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plans for cutting city expenses related to COVID.