D.C. City Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), said yesterday he is attempting to sell a troubled apartment complex that he owns in Southeast Washington and confirmed that he owes the city about $450,000 in delinquent taxes and assessments on the property.
Crawford, a real estate investor and head of a property management firm, said the aging Southern Hills Apartments have been plagued by structural and financial problems since he purchased the buildings in 1982 for about $150,000.
The most serious problem was a breakdown in the boiler and heating system that left many tenants without heat and prompted some to withhold their rents in protest.
"We did everything we could, including supplying blankets and coffee to the tenants ," Crawford said. "We didn't have the resources to deal with the problem."
Jack Kerry, director of the Washington office of Winn Development Co., said yesterday he has been negotiating with Crawford and leaders of the Southern Hills tenant association to purchase and rehabilitate the 255-unit complex, located at 300 Livingston Ter. SE. About 155 of those units are currently occupied.
Kerry, whose firm recently remodeled the nearby Atlantic Gardens apartments, said he is optimistic about the proposed Southern Hills project, which would cost at least $5.7 million to undertake. However, he said Crawford's tax problems could complicate matters.
"Clearly, the city will not forgive those taxes and liens," Kerry said. "Part of what we have to do is find a way to pay for or refinance them."
The Washington Times reported yesterday that the Southern Hills Apartments complex has outstanding tax liens of about $150,000 and assessments of more than $300,000 for city services that include repairing the heating system, providing fuel oil and water and trash removal. Tax liens totaled about $15,000 when Crawford purchased the property, according to the report.
Robert King, an associate director of the D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue, said the D.C. government has attempted for the past two years to auction the property for taxes, but that nobody has made a bid.
King said the back taxes and assessments would have to be paid before Crawford could sell the property to a developer.
"He [Crawford] hasn't asked us for any special treatment and we haven't given him any," King said.
Crawford acquired the apartments on Aug. 2, 1982, from St. John of Rila Eastern Orthodox Monastery of Setauket, N.Y., in a complicated transaction that involved the purchase of the entire stock of an entity called Ambol Realty Corp., according to D.C. Superior Court records.
In January 1983, the monastery filed suit alleging that Crawford had defaulted on a promissory note and owed $142,000. Crawford filed a counterclaim on Aug. 2, 1983, contending that he had been misled by the monastery as to existing claims against the property and the condition of the heating system.
"The cost to replace the heating system alone made the project economically unfeasible," Crawford said in his countersuit. He said that he had made seven payments on the promissory note, totaling $29,900, and asked the court for $354,900 in restitution and damages.
Horace McClerklin, a lawyer for the tenants association, said Southern Hills "is a troubled project . . . going back way before Crawford got into the picture."
"When you're talking about a project that old, you're talking about cumulative problems," he said.