The new managers showed up at the troubled Clifton Terrace Apartments this week to assure the tenants that they could look forward to better days. Winters without heat, nights without light and rats without fear have become a fact of life at Clifton Terrace.
Eugene Jacquet, who's lived there for 10 years, went to the get-aquainted session in a basement meeting room. Jacquet had heard it all before, and he wasn't afraid to say so.
"Some of these people have been here five and 10 years," he said. "They've been through four, five management companies. They've said the same thing, and ripped us off."
A 55-year-old spotter and dry cleaner, Jacquet is not a natural cynic. He has merely lived through many unfulfilled promises at Clifton Terrace and encountered first-hand the frustrations of being powerless almost to the point of losing all hope.
It wasn't news to Jacquet when The Washington Post reported Sunday that three officials of P.I. Properties, Inc., which managed Clifton Terrace from 1974 to 1978, had diverted, misappropriated and stolen at least $600,000 from the U.S. government and low income tenants at the complex.
Gene Jacquet suspected that something like that was going on years ago, he said in an interview the other day. But no one was willing to listen, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD sold Clifton Terrace to P.I. Properties, a real estate spinoff of the black self-help organization Youth Pride, Inc., and held the mortgage.
"The tenants association did everything we could do. We started four years ago. They ignored us," Jacquet said. "I figured eventually somebody would listen.
"There should be a shortcut to all that, somebody to listen to it. You've got a woodpile here. If you see a little wisp of smoke, you know there's a fire."
Jacquet does not blame "Pride" alone for the problems at Clifton Terrace.
Many of the problems were there before they came. And some of what they did was human nature.
"Larceny becomes a part of people when there's money involved, especially when it's federal money," he said. But the people at Clifton Terrace could least afford to be victims.
"These are poor people.They don't have any money, and then people put them in deplorable conditions. They're trying to live as best they can," he said.
Clifton Terrace is not a new story. In the last 12 years it has become a monument to administrative failure and testimony to human indifference. Earlier chapters of the front pages of newspapers 12 years ago.
In 1967, Sidney J. Brown owned and operated Clifton Terrace, and distinguished himself by being cited for 1,200 housing code violations -- from insufficient plumbing and heating to a lack of toilet seats -- in the 285-units complex.
On Jan. 2, 1968, temperatures in Washington dipped to eight degrees, and Clifton Terrace was without heat -- just as it had been on Thanksgiving Day six weeks earlier.
Brown was punished: He was sentenced to 60 days in jail -- which he never served -- and fined $5,000, which he paid 3 1/2 years later.
In 1968, Brown unloaded Clifton Terrace on the Housing Developing Corporation, a non-profit group headed by the Rev. Channing Phillips, which began a well-publicized effort to renovate the troubled complex. Hampered by construction delays and cost overruns, and accused of mismanagement by Capitol Hill, HDC completed the project two years behind schedule.
City officials praised the refurbished complex as a model for the nation, but things quickly fell apart. The cost overruns drove Clifton Terrace into bankruptcy, and the renovation work did not stand even a short test of time.
By 1973, Clifton was back on the auction block. After a short stint under management by a caretaker firm, Clifton Terrace was sold to P.I. Properties in 1974.
Over the next four years, P.I. officials systematically stole much of the money intended for maintenance. By the time HUD was ready to reclaim the complex from P.I. Properties in 1978, tenants were complaining about maggots in the trash chutes and about people "falling all over each other" stumbling on unlighted stairways trying to escape a nighttime fire.
Doorways were broken and windows were without glass. Mailboxes hung by their hinges and the pungent odor of urine lingered in elevators and hallways.
"It's pitiful," one resident told a reporter at the time. "There's no security, no maintenance. The trash chutes are so full you couldn't put trash in it. I'm living in something I wouldn't want a dog to live in."
Now another management firm, Hunneman and Company, Inc., has taken over Clifton Terrace, and Eugene Jacquet has assumed a wait-and-see attitude.
Many of his neighbors are not even that optimistic. "They feel that nobody cares about them," Hacquet said.
Then there was silence.
"I know somebody will help me. Eventually."