D.C. housing director Robert L. Moore said yesterday the city is on the verge of concluding a sweeping rehabilitation plan for the dilapidated, 525-unit Ambassador Square apartment complex in Southeast, where a badly leaking roof flooded at least four apartments this weekend and forced relocation of several families.
Moore said the agreement would be the first of its kind in the District involving a major landlord. The apartment complex between Douglas and Stanton roads SE was cited for more than 2,000 housing code violations last October.
The District government has withheld about $54,000 in rent subsidies since January from Ambassador's owners, Richmond lawyers Robert and Eddie Cantor, because of the deficiencies uncovered there.
Moore said the new 19-point plan, which he said is scheduled to be signed Tuesday, involves the landlords' setting up a $300,000 repair fund, increasing the maintenance staff and hiring tenants for those jobs, building two new playgrounds and setting up several basement recreation centers, setting up a tenant selection panel, and providing an office for the Ambassador Square Tenants Council.
Tenants would participate in rent collection and classes aimed at lessening vandalism and damage to property, and would also end a months-long rent strike in which some 60 families have withheld about $60,000, he said. Spokesmen for the tenants could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Yesterday, tenant Gloria Walker, whose third-floor apartment was flooded, stood amid puddles of water and complained that management responded poorly, if at all, to her requests for several months to fix the leaking flat roof above her.
"It took them three months to get out here and put some tape on my ceiling . . . and that didn't help," she said. The roof started leaking again last month, she said, and by yesterday Walker had steady streams of water pouring through holes in her living room ceiling and elsewhere.
Walker, who works part-time as a night maintenance supervisor at the State Department, said she has spent about $500 painting, scraping floors and walls, and installing paneling because management did not respond to her requests.
"This really tears me up, because I have tried really hard to keep this place nice. I don't want to live in a slum," she said.
Across the hall, Theron Morton, 33, waited with her four children to be moved to another Ambassador apartment, because, she said, ceilings in several rooms had collapsed from the water leaks. Her friend, Denise Tolver, 30, wore a neck bandage which she said she needed because of an injury suffered when a piece of the ceiling gave way three weeks ago.
Several long-time tenants said the roof has leaked intermittently for several winters.
Robert Cantor, in a telephone interview from Richmond, said he only learned of the roof problems recently and said his maintenance staff was in the process of replacing the roof when rain interrupted the work.
The agreement followed several months of negotiations, Moore said, between Ambassador's owners and the tenants' council. The agreement was aimed at avoiding court action against the landlords and preventing further deterioration of the property, he said.
"This is sort of an experiment for us," Moore said. "We have never worked on a building this tough or this large." Moore said he was hopeful that the Ambassador Square plan might lead to similar agreements with other landlords and with the Cantors, who built Ambassador Square about 15 years ago and who own nearly 1,200 units in Southeast, including Atlantic Terrace, Southern Hills and Jeffrey Gardens complexes.
The plan would also include a demonstration project in which landlord and tenants, with city assistance, would completely rehabilitate and weatherize one building to show the potential benefits to both tenants and landlords.
Moore said the Cantors had planned to sell the complex but could not find a buyer. He said it is hoped the new rehabilitation plan could once again make the complex profitable. He said the owners are routinely unable to collect 15 to 17 percent of their rent, aside from the rent strike.
Robert Cantor said he would not discuss his negotiations with the city, but said he has been told by his maintenance staff that all the building code violations were remedied several months ago. Moore said, however, that many violations remain uncorrected.