Many of you know that I’ve been working with the tenants at 2724 11th Street NW in the District to improve the terrible conditions in their apartment building. On Monday, 29 Feb, I went down to the DC city council to testify to my experience with housing inspectors and code enforcement. The total length of the meeting was 16 hours and 30 minutes. I testified about 7 hours in then finally hopped the bus to go home. Below is my written testimony, but the video captures my actual remarks.–Rose
Monday, 29 Feb at 10a
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 500
Rose Marie Berger
The mission of the D.C. Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs is “to protect the health, safety, economic interests and quality of life of residents, businesses and visitors.”
My name is Rose Berger. I have lived in Columbia Heights for 30 years. For the past 3 years i have been working with my neighbors in an apartment building at 2724 11th Street NW,to get their abominable living conditions improved.
When I say “abominable conditions,” what do I mean? Let me explain. My neighbors live in a building infested with bedbugs, rats, and roaches. Last year part of the ceiling collapsed. The plaster is falling away from the walls. The ceiling leaks. The common areas are unsanitary except when the tenants themselves organize to clean them. On the north side of the building outside an unfinished construction project left a giant hole in the side of the building, which the owners covered over with plywood, and has been left incomplete for several years allowing it to become an open garbage dump.
As I understand it, DCRA is responsible for “protecting the health, safety, economic interests and quality of life of residents.” In the case of 2724 11th street, DCRA has utterly failed. First, because DCRA’s housing condition inspectors have been out multiple times, found multiple violations, and in every case eventually determined that the issue had been abated, while the conditions remained essentially the same. No fines were ever recovered from the owner Mr. Ellis J. Parker III or the management company, Stan Ford Management. DCRA inspector George Campbell has come multiple times over several years to inspect the building and regularly marked conditions as abated. By the admission of the owner’s representative nothing significant has been done to improve the living conditions of the building for more than 30 years. It has been owned by the same family for all that time.
Let me be clear: If I took you to the building today to visit my neighbors, you would find it difficult to believe that such living conditions are considered acceptable in our nation’s capitol. When members of this council visited the building, some of their staff had to step away from the tour in order to collect themselves emotionally because they were so distraught by what they saw and smelled as well as by the stories they heard from tenants.
Something is wrong. Either our standards as a community are too low or DCRA is not equipped or is unable to enforce the standards that we have set. My neighbors at 2724 are hardworking members of our community. They range in age from infants to 80 years old. There are about 5 school age children living in these conditions. The 3-year-old has to be protected from peeling paint and from the garbage in the abandoned units. One woman sleeps with her “rat stick” by her bed. One man is exhibiting signs of severe anxiety over the deteriorating conditions. Another man is mostly bed-ridden and requires dialysis twice a week. Another woman showed me all her bedbug bites along her arms. Most have lived there for more than 10 years and some for closer to 20 years.
Together over the past three years, we have attended ANC meetings and zoning board meetings. We had the fire marshal, the health department, local clergy, the media, and members of city council visit the building. But when we appeared before the Board of Zoning in Oct. 2014, Stan Ford of the management company arrived with a brand new letter from DCRA signed by Jatinder Khokhar, Chief Building Official, DCRA, stating “Dear Property Owner, Congratulations! Your property at 2724 11th Street NW was recently inspected by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Proactive Inspections Unit and found to be in compliance with all applicable building codes.”
Because DCRA was ineffective in protecting or enforcing health, safety, and quality of life standards, we went to other agencies, such as the Office of Tenant Advocate and Department of Housing and Community Development, who attempted to help, but they all said this was really DCRA’s responsibility and we needed to go back to them.
In addition to DCRA’s responsibility for housing code, it is also responsible for regulating the building owner, Mr. Ellis J. Parker III and his multiple LLCs, including the Jefferson-11th Street LLC, which holds 2724. There is something wrong when a developer like Mr. Parker can apply for financial hardship through DCRA’s offices and be automatically granted it, which then, in one case at 2724, resulted in a 31.5% rent increase on tenants who were living in substandard conditions. The tenants then had to mount their own defense to have the hardship petition actually reviewed and investigated. It was finally denied. Though the owner continues to lodge these petitions.
I request that this committee take under careful consideration what residents in the District are actually getting for their money in DCRA. It simply shouldn’t be this difficult for the law to be upheld or for residents to have safe, healthy, liveable housing.
I honestly didn’t think that it would be such a agonizing task to get the living conditions of my neighbors and friends improved. What I’ve learned, to my dismay, in this process is not only that the District’s agency responsible for enforcing housing code is ineffective, but that this building is not the only one. In fact, there are buildings all over the city where tenants and neighbors cannot rely on DCRA to enforce the law. To put it simply, I’d like to know if this oversight board can do anything about it. Thank you.– ROSE MARIE BERGER