For Lois Rains and her family Thanksgiving Day today "will be just like any other day in here -- cold."
Rain spoke as she stood yesterday in jeans and a heavy pullover in the apartment unit she shares with her three teen-aged children in the delapidated Atlantic Gardens apartments on Fourth Street SE. The building, owned in part by D.C. school board Vice President Barbara Lett Simmons, has been without heat and hot water for a week.
For Rains' neighbor, Mary Hanna, the situation is worse. Hanna's oven is not working, and the entire stove has been condemned by the Washington Gas Light Co. as unusable. Hanna does not know how she is going to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey for her four daughters and year-old grandson.
"I feel awful about it," she said. "Just because we're out here in the ghetto doesn't mean we aren't human beings."
Some 46 apartments in the 103-unit, red-brick complex at 4204 Fourth St. SE are without heat and hot water, despite repeated efforts to get the management company -- Bernstein Properties, Inc., of Columbus, Ohio -- and the city housing department to do something about the situation, according to tenants.
The tenants of Atlantic Gardens are not alone.
Across the city, there are at least three other privately owned apartment complexes and a scattering of public housing units where tenants are without heat, housing officials said. As winter approaches, officials are expecting even more -- a pattern that repeats itself here annually with the onslaught of cold weather.
According to court documents, Simmons is one of seven partners who own Atlantic Gardens. She holds about a 6 percent interest in the building, according to the records. She could not be reached for comment on the no-heat situation yesterday.
Many tenants there are leaving their ovens turned on and boiling pots of water on their stoves to create heat. In Rains' apartment, the steam that clings to the faded and cracked walls in the kitchen has begun to generate a foul-smelling mold.
"The smell was so bad last night, I couldn't sleep," said Rains, who has been getting up at 5 a.m. each day to boil water for her children's baths.
Atlantic Gardens' resident manager Anne Price said yesterday an Oxon Hill company has been employed to repair the oil furnace for the complex, but has not finished the job. D.C. Housing and Community Development inspector Thomas Butler says the city is empowered to take over the repair work itself. He said the city has hired its own contractor to do the job if the Atlantic Gardens owners fail to do it, and then would file a lien against the property for the cost of the repairs.
The complex badly needs repair. In many apartments, windows have fallen out and tenants, unable to get the management company to replace them, have put up cardboard to keep the cold out. Graffiti covers the walls of the hallways. The mailboxes have all been ripped open. Garbage is piling up in vacant apartments, where the doors have been taken off the hinges. In one of the vacant apartments, a washing machine with its door open was overturned on the floor, making it easy for any child to crawl inside.
Elaine Mitchell, vice president of othe tenants, association, said city workers sent to exterminate rats and roaches in the building had taken the doors off the hinges to get into the vacant apartments -- and never replaced the doors.
Ivonne Hill, with three children aged 16, 15, and 7, said she and her family have been sleeping in their living room -- the only warm room in the house. The smell of gas pervades the building where they live.
"Sometimes the children look at you like they want to beat you up -- as if to say, 'Why don't you get us out of here?'" Hill said.