But the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development delivered $4.6 million to the organization so it could buy three apartment complexes and launch renovations. Then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) hailed the project as a way to help at-risk men transitioning out of foster care.
(Read the Q&A with the authors of this story )
Instead, the project became something of a spending free-for-all for developers and contractors who knew redevelopment money was out on the street and in the hands of a novice nonprofit with unchecked authority to spend it, records and interviews show.
The project was overseen at the housing agency by a top manager with real estate interests of his own who, along with other housing officials, often failed to impose fundamental spending rules and regular oversight. Instead of competitive bidding, Peaceoholics did business with friends and associates. Work often wasn’t tracked or documented.
Officials at Peaceoholics said they tried to keep the project on course. “It was our dream,” said co-founder Ron Moten. “We saw a need for housing.”
The ill-fated project, which is now under council scrutiny, underscores the city’s years-long struggle to build and renovate housing for the poor. Time and again, the housing agency has poured millions in local and federal money into affordable housing projects that were delayed, over budget or riddled with undocumented costs.
“We got a call from someone we’ve known for years,” said Edward P. Wilson III of Anne Arundel County, whose company sold one of the three buildings to Peaceoholics. “He said, ‘We’ve got some guys with a bunch of money for this program. . . . I said, ‘Are you kidding? Let’s go.’ ”
When the project faltered in late 2010 without a single unit delivered, top managers at the housing agency quietly changed the course of the deal, records show. Without review or approval from the D.C. Council, they replaced Peaceoholics with a new developer — then invested another $900,000 in local and federal funds.
The project went downhill from there.
The new developer, Richard Hagler of Calvert County, has faced more than a dozen lawsuits in the District and Prince George’s, Calvert and Montgomery counties alleging such problems as shoddy construction and breach of contract. Hagler, 54, who does not have a home improvement license in the District or Maryland, has filed for bankruptcy three times since 2000 and recently lost his house to foreclosure.
Hagler did not return repeated calls seeking comment or answer a letter sent to his home.
Records show Hagler promised to complete the renovations and fill the units with low-income tenants. A year later, one of the buildings is still vacant, and tenants in another list several complaints, including dangerous conditions, a lack of basic maintenance and pricey fees for parking and washing machines. One tenant said she is paying Hagler market-rate rent of nearly $1,000 a month.