Problems in workmanship and materials are beginning to appear in the recent multimillion-dollar renovations of the James Creek and East Capitol public housing projects.
At James Creek on M Street SW, where an $11.9 million renovation was completed on the 239 apartments less than two years ago, floors have cracks, locks do not work and there are wide gaps between the bottoms of some doors and the door sills.
Every fourth apartment appears to have a broken screen door. Residents say the screen doors of fiberglass mesh in lightweight aluminium frames give way easily when children push against them.
"The metal part of the screen is also easy to break," said Ethel Howard, a resident. "If the screens broke, it wouldn't be a problem, but when the metal part breaks, you have to buy a whole new screen. It cost me $12."
The renovation, which cost an average of $50,000 per apartment, included new kitchens and bathrooms, new floors, new wiring and plumbing systems.
The exterior renovations, which included the installation of bay windows and fronts, transformed the rows of two-story brick barrack-like buildings into modern restored town houses.
James Creek Manager Sylvia Steele would not comment on the problems at that project.
Because of the screen door problems at James Creek, the housing department installed stronger doors at East Capitol Dwellings on East Capitol Street near Eastern Avenue, and residents have reported no door problems.
However, some residents at East Capitol, where a $22.5 million renovation is nearing completion, have complained that the mail slots are so large that children and teen-agers can reach through and open the door from the inside.
Tenants also have reported walls that are difficult to wash and hairline cracks in some of the linoleum floors.
"Every time they management tell you to wash the walls, you wash them until the cardboard comes up," said Barbara Mungo, an East Capitol resident, whose walls were covered with scuff marks.
The construction manager on the project, Thomas Harkins Builders of Silver Spring, is planning to correct the problem, said Ed McLaughlin, senior construction manager.
The renovation of the 577 apartments at East Capitol Dwellings, a small village of two-story buildings on both sides of East Capitol Street, cost an average of $39,000 per apartment.
The renovation includes new interiors, plumbing and wiring -- but not the extensive outside changes that were made at James Creek.
Jasper Burnette, the senior manager for East Capitol and other nearby housing projects, attributed some of the problems to poor housekeeping rather than shoddy workmanship.
"Look at some of the walls we looked at today," Burnette said during a recent inspection tour. "That's not a cheap product. It's poor care. That's abuse."
To help the tenants -- mostly single women with children -- keep the renovated apartments in good condition, the city housing department required residents to take housekeeping classes before they returned to their apartments.
But East Capitol resident Carolyn Green, who said she attended all the classes, said they were uninformative.
"They told us things like how you have to keep the shower curtain inside the tub when you have a shower," Green said. "They didn't tell us about the upkeep of the floors, or about how to put up hooks in the walls. The only way people found out is by asking me on the street," she said.
The department inspects each renovated apartment twice a year, Burnette said. The inspections had turned up cracked floor tiles and broken screens, said Ben Carter, chief of the maintenance engineering division for public housing.
Carter attributed some of the early flaws to what he said were federal requirements. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provided most of the renovation money, sets the amount that the city can spend on doors, stoves, sinks and other equipment, he said.
"It means oftentimes we can't put in a superior door even though it would hold up better," he added.
But the city can spend its own funds to upgrade materials and appliances as it did to improve the screens at East Capitol, Carter said.
Carter said that without the HUD requirements, "I would use the same materials . . . . One of the things we have to consider is that public housing residents are human beings and they should be treated like anyone else."
HUD officials disagreed with Carter on funding, saying the government gives the city a total amount for a project but sets no limits on how much can be spent for individual items.
They added, however, that budgets are often tight because the city has to ask for renovation funds before getting estimates of the work.
That means that the final price tag may be higher than anticipated, especially if the project is delayed and because of inflation.