Gwendolyn Sheffield, a tenant at the Barry Farms public housing complex in Far Southeast for seven years, stood outside the desolate concrete recreation center near her home yesterday, peering through the downpour waiting for a glimpse of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.
While she waited, she talked about the rats that plague the 36-year-old complex, the holes in the ceilings and walls that don't get repaired, and the exposed electrical wiring in some of the apartments that endanger occupants, particularly children.
Her reaction to the mayor's visit: "It's about time they're doing something around here."
But Linda J. Smith, an educational technician for the complex's child development center, adopted much more of a wait-and-see attitude. Smith, who recalled a similar trek to the project four years ago by former Mayor Walter Washington, has been waiting since then for the new recreation center that was promised, she said.
"I don't see any good in his just coming out here," Smith said of Barry's visit. "Nothing's then done, and I've been here five years."
Barry Farms was one of three public housing complexes visited by the mayor yesterday, accompanied by city housing and community, development director Robert L. Moore and City Councilwoman Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward Eight).
Rolark said she initiated yesterday's tour by asking Moore to go with her to visit a dozen public and private housing projects in her ward, where hundreds of housing units either sit vacant and boarded with plywood, or where repairs have been neglected so long the tenants have given up asking for help. The mayor called her and volunteered to accompany them, she said.
The city's neglect of its properties, Rolark said, has added to the crime and unemployment problems of her constituents. Rolark said she had hoped she would be able to show the mayor the negative impact that was being felt at private owned buildings adjacent to the city-owned complexes. But they ran out of time because the tour started late and the mayor had to leave for another appointment.
The city has begun the rehabilitation of Barry Farms and some of the other public housing projects. But city officials discovered yesterday that some of the work done by private contractors is not adequate. Barry said a full-time official has been assigned to coordinate future activities of contractors.
Some of the contractors, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jean Stryjewski told the mayor yesterday, show tenants "a total lack of respect. When they come in, they treat the tenants so rude. They step on your furniture and break it down."
At the home of Washington Highlands Annex tenant Joseph Walker, the story was different. Walker's home was spotless and in good condition. He said it took him a couple of years to get the city to make repairs he needed, but he said contractors had begun work last fall and he thought they had done a "good job."
Walker pointed out that some of public housing's problems are the fault of the tenants.
"Our biggest problem is getting tenants to keep 'em (their residences) clean," said Walker, a member of the residents' council. "It's hard to get people to take care of their places. . . . My mother always told me that just because you're poor doesn't mean you can't be clean."
Barry said yesterday's tour was unusual only in that reporters and television cameramen came along. Barry said he, Moore, or Moore's assistant Sidney Glee "tour the projects every weekend. . . . I just usually don't announce it like this."
When questioned about what he can do to solve the tenants' problems, Barry replied, "You have to realize that I just took office Jan. 2 The problems have been going on for years. We are trying to catch up as best we can."
Moore was more specific. "Part of the solutation," he said, is "chasing money." He said he met with officials of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal officials to get financial support from sources that he said apparently were tapped before.