Vanessa Hayes, 26, is being evicted from the two-bedroom duplex at 2328 Irving St. SE where she has lived all her life, joining the growing number of victims of the city's rental housing shortage.
Hayes, her 8-year-old son and her mother are virtually the last occupants of a 114-unit complex in the Garfield Hills area of Anacostia. About 500 persons lived in the complex when it was full.
Residents of the complex received eviction notices last January and March telling them they had to move because use of the buildings was to be discontinued. Whether the Garfield Hills buildings will be converted to condominiums or put to another use was not clear because the new owners of the complex declined to comment on theirs plans.
The complex is bordered by Hartford, Irving, 23rd and 24th streets SE. Residents of the two-story duplexes and three-story apartment buildings were especially hard hit by the evictions because "just about everyone here is on welfare or other fixed income," said Hayes. They found it difficult to locate housing in the area at rents comparable to those they have been paying, she added.
The only other apartment still occupied is that of Emma Lee, who has lived there for 25 years. After months of searching, Lee, who receives $162.60 a month in welfare payments and makes $25 a week babysitting, has found an apartment and expects to move within a few days.
After a tenant complaint about the evictions, the Rental Accommodations Commission declared the notices invalid because they did not contain the landlord's registration number, as required by District law. No new notices have been issued, and legally, the residents did not have to leave until they received new ones. Few tenants wanted to "push the issue," however, said Hayes.
Most residents of the complex "have to get friends and relatives to rent apartments for them because their incomes aren't high enough. The majority of the people do this. It's the only way to get an apartment," said Hayes, whose apartment is rented in her uncle's name.
Hayes has been looking for an apartment in the same Alabama Avenue Hartford Street area where she now lives, but has been unable to find one. She "would like to find a place that is close to shopping and buses and within walking distance to schools. It's hard to find an apartment if you have children. A lot of places won't rent to you."
M&J Corp. and Diamond Housing which issued the eviction notices after they bought the complex last year from Garfield Development corp., has asked the city's landlord-tenant court to order Hayes to move, according to Hayes. She said the case has been continued twice and she has been ordered to appear in court again this week.
If a new eviction notice were issued, Hayes would have another 180 days to move, under terms of the city rental law.
Barry Mankowitz, a spokesman for Diamond Housing, has refused to comment on any aspect of the company's purchase of the complex or its plans for the buildings. "We don't talk to the press. We haven't for five years. I don't like The (Washington) Post."
Another Hartford Street tenant, Elizabeth Williams, who has five children between the ages of 3 and 17, said of her search for a place to live:
"Every place I looked they were full up and wouldn't let kids in. I wanted to stay in Anacostia. I didn't want to move to Maryland. It's inconvenient."
After looking for five months, Williams found a two-bedroom apartment on Stanton Road SE and moved in September. Her new unit rents for $224 a month, plus the cost of electricity. "I like the apartment. I don't know about the area yet, though," she said.
Elizabeth Hagans, a lifelong Southeast resident, has lived on Hartford Street since 1961. When she received her eviction notice, "I called every public official in the city. I called (Ward 8 City Council member Wilhelmina) Rolark, I called (Del. Walter) Fauntroy and I called the mayor. I just got the runaround. They gave me a list of a hundred numbers to call from the Department of Human Resources to the Salvation Army."
Hagans said she looked at subsidized housing in Southeast, at apartments in her area "and I even went to a rental service where you pay a $35 fee. I couldn't afford some of the apartments." Hagans, whose only income is $203.90 a month from Social Security, moved in early July to a two-bedroom, air-conditioned apartment on Gainesville Street SE, which she shares with a cousin. The new rent is $179 a month, $13 a month more than Hagans' one-bedroom unit on Hartford Street.
At the time she moved, Hagans was the only person left in her six-unit building. She said she had been looking for an apartment for two months before a friend told her about the vacancy on Gainesville Street.
"I didn't pay the June rent. I just used the money to move," she said.
Until they found another apartment in Southeast, Carolyn Harris and her two children were also alone in their building at 2317 Hartford St.
"Some places wouldn't take welfare (recipients) and others wouldn't take children," she said, explaining why it took her so long to find a place. Although the vacant units were left unlocked, Harris said she wasn't afraid of being alone in the building. "There are no problems with crimes. We're one big, happy family."
But a resident near the complex, Ruth Young, expressed concern about the unlocked units. "There could be a rapist or someone hiding in there," she said.
Delores Carroll lived in the Hartford Street complex for 18 years and in the neighborhood for 27 years before she moved in late September to Good Hope Road SE. Carroll, who is unemployed, said she, too, wanted to stay in the area.
She said she had been looking for a place since March, adding that her search was lengthy because "we're poor people. We can't afford $300 a month plus utilities for an apartment.
"I needed a two-bedroom apartment because I have three children, but some places didn't want them (children) and rents were much higher than what I paid on Hartford Street - $200 a month, including utilities" for a two-bedroom duplex, she said.
"My rent went up 40 percent last year - from $158 to $200 - and they didn't do any repairs. I had to call someone to paint and plaster. It got worse after we got the eviction notices. We were still paying rent and were due repairs. I resented it," said Carroll.
Hayes complained that maintenance at the buildings, which were built in 1949 and 1950, has been "neglected" for several years.
"These apartment aren't bad if they fixed them up," she said. "No one bothers to fix things. We've had drunks for residents managers and janitors. They don't hire people to do the work. They let the grass grow up to our necks."
As tenants moved out of the buildings children vandalized the apartments "because they don't have any place to play," Hayes added.
Emma Lee said she was "scared because kids are setting fires in the buildings.
Tenants complained that trash is seldom emptied, that stray dogs reamed in the unlocked apartments and mice and rats ran free. They also said the washer and dryer facilities in the basement have been boarded up for several years.
"We have no heat or hot water in the winter and the current isn't strong enough for air conditioning in the summer." Hayes said.
Some tenants sought help when they received eviction notices and were aided by the Far Southeast Community Organization (FSECO).
"FSECO told us how to go about stopping the eviction. They deal with housing all the time. They did research on the ownership of the buildings and they told us how to organize a tenants union and get housing code violations inspected," Hayes said.
Tenants did not try to organize or fight the evictions because they felt they would lose the fights and eventually have to move anyway, or because they did not want to spend time on the case, Hayes said.
"Some left without even getting their security deposits back," she said.
"Nobody wants to move. They're trying to push us out. No white people ever lived here. There was a better class of black or white. It's an economic matter.It's money. Prices are getting higher."
Certificates of eligibility to convert two of the buildings in the complex to condominiums were issued by the Neighborhood Improvement Administration of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. The certificates were issued to Hessick Investment Corp. of McLean, which had planned to buy part of the Anacostia complex. A company official, William Hessick Sr., said the firm didn't go through with the purchase because the buildings needed too much work and because conversion to condominiums was not economically feasible.