Anthony E. Hillary lives in a comfortably furnished house in the 1400 block of Harvard Street NW, a neighborhood full of abandoned cars where alleys and vacant, partly boarded homes overflow with trash and rats. Sometimes, Hillary said, he stumbles over drug syringes or - once or twice - a dead person in back of his house.
"It's unbelievable," said Hillary, who is chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in the 14th Street area. "Every day I am confronted with this."
The vacant shells in his area are a particular nuisance, Hillary contended, because they contribute to the community's other problems and because they are among thousands of boarded-up houses in Washington that could be used to help people like his former neighbor, Henry O. Campbell.
Campbell had been a tenant in a house on Harvard Street for 13 years. But the house was sold, and his new landlord appeared unexpectedly about a month ago and evicted him with no written notice, Campbell said.
"I was broke," Campbell said. So he said he did the only thing he could think of. He stored some of his furniture under the porch of his former home, and, despite the cold, moved himself and his common-law wife into an open, concrete-walled garage behind a vacant house on Girard Street NW. It became their home for nearly a month. Campbell set up a makeshift coal-burning stove to keep them warm, and some of his neighbors served him and his wife dinner and let them take baths at their homes, he said.
"Everybody's on my side," said Campbell, a short, stocky man who was dressed in a hooded jacket when he was interviewed, "but there's nothing they can do." Campbell said he was expecting help from a social worker and would look for better shelter as soon as he received a check he was expecting. Neighbors say that he apparently left the garage last Thursday.
The huge vacant, trash-strewn home at 1420 Harvard St. NW, owned by the D.C. Development Corp., is a particular problem, Hillary said.
Hillary said he has complained to police officials and housing inspectors, asking for their help. "But they tell me to close my eyes for now, because the neighborhood is going to change on its own," Hillary said. Noting that the city is seeking developers for more than 11 acres of property in the 14th Street area, he said, "We don't want to bring more people to this area when the city can't provide services for the people who are here already."
Bernard A. Jones, the supervisor of housing inspections for Hillary's area, said he recalled talking with Hillary about problems with the D.C. Development Corp. building at 1420 Harvard St. Jones said alleys in the area have been cleaned "two or three times" recently. "But there is more accumulation as soon as you clean it up," Jones said. "The undesirables gather there, and trash and debris accumulate." Jones said he recommended that residents of the area find out who is depositing the trash illegally and refer the matter to the police.
Jones said the development corporation has been sent a notice telling it that its building needs to be cleaned and barricaded, and that notice has been followed with phone calls every 30 days. "As far as that building is concerned, we have not had the immediate compliance as there should have been," Jones said.
John Grant, assistant housing specialist for the D.C. Development Corp., said the corporation boarded up its 1420 Harvard St. property and cleaned out the trash last summer when it received notice to do so. Grant said the structure has been boarded at least two times.
"People take them [the boards] off," he said. Grant said he does not know what the development corporation's specific plans for the building are, but he said that it may be fixed up into an apartment building "very soon."
The police officer with whom Hillary said he talked could not be reached for comment.
One major campaign promise made by Marion Barry when he was campaigning for mayor was that he was going to take the boards off vacant housing in Washington. Speaking last week at a luncheon attended by more than 200 persons involved in housing, new D.C. housing director Robert L. Moore said that Barry constantly asks him, "'When are you going to get those boards off those houses?' He never lets me rest...."
Moore, saying to laughter that he brought two crowbars with him to Washington, added, "If we can't do it [fix up the houses] as a program, we're going to do it as a staff." Most of the buildings need massive rehabilitation, including repairs to mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and repairs to roofs, windows and doors.
Two crowbars will not be enough, however. According to information compiled by the D.C. Legislative Commission on Housing last year, there are 2,800 units of privately owned vacant housing in Washington, and 1,300 city-owned vacant housing units.
On Friday, Mayor Barry met with Moore and other housing officials to talk about boarded-up housing. Moore said after the closed-door meeting that Barry probably will announce in about two weeks specific plans for reaching that goal.
Moore said the city is working not only to fix up city-owned properties, but also privately owned buildings that have been rundown and vacant for years. That can be accomplished by providing loans and grants to private owners, he said.
Most of the city's program will be geared to providing home ownership rather than rental housing, Moore said. He also said that his goal is to have a mix of housing, for a variety of incomes, rather than concentrations of low-income housing.
Moore declined to comment any further on what was discussed at the meeting.