Post Writer, Editor Win Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting for Series on Housing Conditions in District

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Debbie Cenziper and Sarah Cohen of The Washington Post have won the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting from the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Cenziper, a Metro investigative projects reporter, and Cohen, a database editor, co-authored the seven-part series "Forced Out: The Cost of D.C.'s Condo Boom" last year. The stories analyzed housing conditions in the District.

The reporters reviewed almost 1,000 court cases, 128,000 housing-code violation documents and hundreds of government records, finding serious breakdowns at the D.C. agency entrusted with protecting tenants.

The series found that dozens of landlords were violating city laws by exposing tenants to dangerous conditions, often forcing them out of their homes. Some landlords refused to make repairs, and others turned off essential utilities.

"These journalists championed the interests of utterly powerless people, which shows yet again how essential investigative journalism is in our society," Alex S. Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center, said in a statement.

Photographer Michael Williamson also spent long periods documenting the conditions. Researcher Meg Smith played a critical role helping to piece together complicated land records and find owners whose identities were often hidden behind corporate names.

After the stories appeared, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs fired numerous inspectors, and the District overhauled the way it responded to negligent landlords.

The prize includes a $25,000 award.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company