Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Testimony Given in Person on Nuisance Properties Abatement Reform on May 24

Hi, my name is Ed. I live on 10th Street NW in the Shaw Historic District with my family. Since moving to this address, we noticed several neglected buildings in the 1000 block of M.

The mansion at 1000 M Street has been vacant for decades. You may have seen the house in the 1979 Peter Sellers movie, Being There. It is in the background of one of the most famous scenes looking much like it did when we moved down the street 3 years ago. DCRA first listed the property as vacant on March 23 2002, soon after the class 3 tax was instituted. But 1000 M has never paid the class 3 tax. For years it received the senior citizen homestead deduction despite having no roof. The owners provided Pepco bills to fraudulently claim occupancy; they merely plugged in a lamp. Ownership has changed several times though no sale is recorded. Only after being condemned did the owner slowly start to make improvements. The scaffolding remains today though no work has happened in months.

The building next door, 1002 M St, also has been vacant for years. It too was listed as vacant on March 23 2002. Until recently the owner was paying the class 3 tax but now has an exemption because of a work permit. Not an ounce of work has been done. The Board of Condemnation referred this property to the Housing Code Enforcement Office on March 2 2007 for lack of repairs.

Two doors down, 1006 M Street NW, has been vacant since August 7 2002 when Federal Marshalls evicted the last “occupants”. A developer purchased it in 2005 for $750,000. Then they sat on the property for more than a year before even cleaning it out. Still no exterior improvements have been made.

After many complaints, I received a letter from the former lead inspector for Ward 2, Charles Mason, claiming that these properties were in compliance, despite gross housing code violations observable from the street including bricks falling out, open windows, trees growing from the foundation, etc. Eventually, all 3 properties were condemned but only after I made dozens of calls and sent scads of emails over 2 years. My wife has attended several condemnation board hearings to tell the truth about these buildings even as various “owners’ representatives” have trotted out excuses. … Still all of these vacant properties are today exempt from class 3 tax despite all of our attempts to bring them to the attention of the District.

My wife and I have witnessed people selling drugs in front of these buildings. We have seen vagrants sleeping, drinking, urinating, and even defecating on these properties. This is Broken Windows Theory in action where neglect breeds crime. A neighbor was violently mugged in front of 1000 M St and spent 10 days in the hospital. The MPD crime database lists numerous thefts-from-auto, robberies, and even a car jacking in the 1000 block of M Street. I polled my neighbors and every one who has a car has had it broken into. All this is happening just one block from our Convention Center.

It is my belief that vacant properties reduce the amount of affordable housing. Since there is no incentive for the owners of vacant properties to put them to good use, buildings that could be housing people sit unoccupied instead. Here’s what happens. The government does not enforce the Vacant Building Maintenance Standard and does not levy the class 3 tax. As the buildings deteriorate, assessments decrease, even as taxes skyrocket for occupied properties. The owner/speculator waits—sometimes decades—until a developer comes along that is willing to pay top dollar. That developer then turns a single family home into several luxury condos. Gone is any possibility for a middle class family to buy a fixer-upper downtown.

The same situation is occurring in our business districts. Instead of selling to a small business that would restore and occupy rundown properties, speculators hold out for the big-time developers who are only interested in supplying high-rent space for national chains. The funky, independent stores and restaurants that draw people to the city are left out.

No doubt this new legislation will close several loopholes. But I think it is more important to recognize that there has been little or no enforcement of the present regulations. This legislation is an opportunity to do more than mend buildings; it can help rebuild a neighborhood and, as Broken Windows Theory has taught us, it will reduce crime, too. It is time to finally repair DC’s many broken windows.

testimony given in person on
Bill 17-86, the “Nuisance Properties Abatement Reform
and Real Property Classification Amendment Act of 2007”

Thursday, May 24, 2007
10:00 a.m.
Room 412
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W

1 comment:

si said...

i hope you send this out for the july 3rd hearing too, good job!