A glance at the large Shaw Heights low and moderate-income apartment complex being built in the heart of one of the city's poorest areas tells the story: three out of every four large windows have been smashed by vandals.
Inside the story is much the same: air-conditioners and entire sinks with garbage disposal units have been stolen, as have sheets of plywood and stacks of lumber.
The guerrilla warfare between builders and vandals at the Shaw project is being waged to some degree at other subsidized projects around the city.
Developers, armed with barbed-wire topped fences, security guards and costly guard dogs, are battling kids and thieves who are stripping unfinished apartments and shattering windows with impunity.
Neither the builders of the more than 600 units of federally-funded housing, now under construction at locations around the city nor the new tenants will pay for all the losses, however - the American taxpayer does that.
In fact, developers say it is cheaper to repair the damage at the taxpayer's expense than hire security to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Every night at the Shaw apartments, in the 100 block of Q and R streets NW, a lone guard patrols the sprawling project of 146 apartments and 16 town houses that rises in the midst of a decaying abandoned neighborhood.
His presence is no deterrent to the vandalism or thefts because "there's no way to guard against it unless you build a brick wall around it (the project) with heavy steel gates," said project supervisor John Wilkins.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development finances the buildings. The agency allows developers to add from four to seven percent of their multimillion dollar basic construction cost onto their total cost to pay for overhead expenses such as vandalism and security, said Larry Dale, of the local HUD office.
For example, HUD has given the Bush Development Co., of Norfolk, $4.1 million to build the Shaw apartments, Wilkins said. That figure includes $77.658 for overhead expenses.
If the cost of vandalism and thefts, which now totals $25,000, exceeds that amount, then the company may have to dip into the $174,730 profit that HUD has also built into the total cost of the project, Wilkins said.
"We've learned to accept as the normal level of vandalism some broken windows, but that's the worst I've seen recently," said Joseph A. Minor, of the city's housing department, referring to the Bush apartments.
The neighborhood kids break the windows because "they don't have camps or parks for them around here," said Wanda Halloman, 20, of 60 Florida Ave. NW., who grew up in the neighborhood. "A child gets bored if he doesn't have anything to do. I'd probably be out breaking windows too."
Wilkins said he has replaced some of the windows twice, and while a reporter sat in his office recently, he was hiring two men to replace them once again.
Developer John Clark, who is building 112 subsidized apartments on 14th Street, prefers to repair the damage than guard against it because he said, "the cost of (additional) security would be more than the cost of repairs."
Clark has attempted to curb his vandalism costs another way. He will not install windows in the project until 10 days before the first tenants arrive.
Garbage disposal units and sinks, a prime target of theives, will be installed when the windows go in, he said.
In the meantime, a fence and guard dog defend the apartments from theft and vandalism.
Clark said he first encountered the vandalism problem while building 20 moderately-priced town houses for the city in the Trinidad area of Northeast.
"We went to the expense of putting covers over the windows and the kids still went inside. We had an eight-foot fence and two inches of barbed were and they still got in," Clark said.
Clark's son, who is now in charge of the construction of the last six town houses, said he and his father did not hire guards for that site either because "it's cheaper to replace glass. Security is very expensive. It costs $2.50 to $3 an hour just for a dog and they have to be here 15 hours from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. We can replace lots of glass for that," he said.
A block from Watergate, James E. Hammond, construction superintendent for 140 high-rise apartments for the elderly in Foggy Bottom, said that two months ago $1,800 worth of saws and building instruments were stolen from the construction trailer parked on the site behind lock gates.
The 28 town houses at Wylie Court, a block from H Street NE, are barely out of the ground but superintendent James MacGowens already has hired a security guard to protect the increasing amount of expensive materials now arriving at the site.
But there have been no broken windows and no thefts at the almost completed 171 high-rise apartments for the elderly at Fifteenth and U Streets NW, although the site is located in one of the city's high crime areas.
"I don't know why it's been so good," said superintendent Philip Breiding. He speculated that the lack of trouble could be because of the 10-foot chain link fence surrounding the property and the guard who patrols it day and night.