The problems with his renovated, $30,000 three-bedroom home began more than a year ago. Shortly after he and his family moved in, recalls James Spicer of 1812 8th St. NW.
Buying the house had seemed to be such a good opportunity, Spicer said. Real estate-related industries in Washington had joined together in late 1975 to reactivate urban renewal in the city. Their first project was to buy from the city and renovate 35 vacant rowhouses in the heart of the poverty-stricken Shaw area and sell them to low- and moderate-income families.
Spicer, whose family was dislocated from the house it had rented only a block away, was selected to purchase one of the homes in the project, located between 8th, 9th, S and T Streets NW, and named the Blanche K. Bruce Plaza.
During the past year, however, Spicer and his neighbors have had severe problems with their new residences, they say.
"The carpet buckles up, the garbage disposal is broken and leaks, the commode doesn't work right, the cabinet doors fall off, and you can smell sewage fumes in the house sometimes," said Spicer, a former housing inspector who is retired because of a disability. "It's cold in certain rooms because the heat vents are upstairs. The roof leaks. When you walk upstairs, you sink into the floor. There are holes where rats come in.
"These houses have garbage disposals and dishwashers but you can't use none of that crap because they don't work."
Added his wife, Hazel, an employe at a downtown restaurant, "This is the first house we've owned, but if I had to do it all over again, I'd take my chances renting."
The Spicers are not alone. Most of the Blanche K. Bruce Plaza residents have complaints, according to James Garrett, a resident who is helping organize his neighbors. Garrett said each family has an average of 10 problems with its home. He attributes the problems to "shoddy work done by builders and contractors."
Garrett, a Howard University political science teacher, said the community has formed an organization called Square 394 Residents, and is petitioning members of government to help.
"We want our homes redone in the next 90 days, and we don't want the contractors who worked on our homes to do other people's homes and deflate their dreams the way ours have been," Garrett said.
Garrett added, "Apparently the builders thought we would be so happy to be in a home that we wouldn't make a fuss. That may have been the case at first, but that no longer is true."
Spicer said that he had complained often to officials about the problems at his home and those of his neighbors. What he's received in return, he said, are "promises, promises, promises."
In the early 1970s, the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency acquired the properties between 8th, 9th, S and T Streets NW, forcing tenants in the area to relocate because the agency planned to rehabilitate the homes. The houses remained vacant for several years, however, until they were bought by the D.C. Housing Industries Corp., a nonprofit organization of bankers, builders, real estate brokers and landlords who joined together to help generate moderately priced housing.
Five contractors were involved in the project. They are: Geeraert Construction Co., W.T. Syphax Construction Co., Inter-City Rehab Corp., Frank Calcara Enterprises, and House and Home Decorating Inc. The homes were rehabilitated, and sold for $30,000 for a three-bedroom house, $35,000 for four bedrooms.
Peter Fuchs, treasurer of the housing industries corporation, said the corporation, already has hired a contractor to inspect the properties where there have been complaints, and some repairs already have been made.
"The corporation cannot bein the position of letting things go that are its responsibility," Fuchs said. "The basic construction of the homes was sound, and the properties were inspected all during the course of development. We're not sure where the problems came from, but now we're only interested in straightening it out."
D.C. Housing Industries Corp. President Joseph Horning and Vice President James Banks could not be reached for comment. Representatives of the builders, contractors, and city housing officials met with complaining residents last Monday.
One of the contractors, Frank Calcara, said part of the problem is that some residents are unfamiliar with some of the appliances.
"We put modern equipment in the houses, and some of the people haven't had proper knowledge of their use," Calcara said. "There are things like chicken bones in the garbage disposal. I don't think there have been any drastic problems. Most of them are normal maintenance problems. And anytime I know of a problem, I'll automatically fix it."
Lucinda Matthews, a contract aide for a day care office who lives at 1840 8th Street NW, noted that despite the problems she isn't sorry she bought her house.
"The unit is downright no good," Matthews conceded, citing problems with heating, air conditioning, gutters, and windows. "I have six rooms in my house, and there's only one room that's comfortable. But it won't bea lasting thing. One way or the other, these problems are going to be taken care of."