But a problem lay underneath. As developers have added connections to the sewer lines to serve basement apartments created in old cellars, a sewer system built in the late 1800s is struggling to handle the unprecedented strain. And longtime residents wonder why city officials never seemed to seriously address the flooding issue until the area gentrified.
Over 10 days in July, dirty water flooded dozens of basement apartments on three days, creating a stench. Now when residents talk about the up-and-coming area, the topic is usually what’s emanating from below.
“This was the only place I could live around here that I could afford, and I invested here,’’ said Moffett, who has paid thousands of dollars to cleaners and contractors for repairs. “But the city didn’t do its part. And now everyone on my block suffers.”
Renters are walking away from their leases, and some owners are considering selling. At least 16 residents have filed claims with DC Water, asking it to pay for repairs that their insurance companies won’t.
They contend that the black gunk is a physical manifestation of the city’s folly, a symptom of unregulated growth.
An analysis of census data indicates that the population of this Zip code swelled by 14 percent in the past decade. The city water and sewer agency connected new lines for washing machines, sinks and toilets to 19th-century pipes without much limitation. Before last month, so many floods had never pummeled the area in such a short time.
“What’s happening is homes are being used in ways they weren’t designed” for, said Alan Heymann, the agency’s chief of external relations. He added that city agencies need to examine “whether the infrastructure can handle the new uses of properties.”
Facing pressure from residents, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced Tuesday that a newly appointed task force will study the issue and recommend short-term solutions for the soggy neighborhood.
Allen Y. Lew, the city administrator, declared that the neighborhood must be treated with “emergency care.”
The old-timers watch this activism with wonder. Overflowing waters have troubled Bloomingdale and parts of LeDroit Park for decades. Residents resigned themselves to stuffing their closets with emergency sandbags and bleach. Until now, the city contended that it could do little until it builds an underground tunnel that can hold excess storm water. The estimated completion date: 2025.
“We’ve complained about this problem for years, but I don’t feel like things were taken as seriously until our demographics started to change,” said Bernard Banks, sitting on his porch near First and T streets NW. As he spoke, a city truck with Doppler radar cruised through the area to record images of underground pipes.