Residents of the Barry Farms public housing complex in Southeast Washington accused the city's housing department yesterday of tolerating shoddy renovation work and ignoring residents' complaints about deteriorating conditions.
About 50 residents attended a news conference arranged by housing advocacy groups and described falling ceilings, rat-infested units and vandalism at Barry Farms, located between Suitland Parkway and Stevens Road SE. Throughout the complex, new windows have been broken, tenants are sandwiched between vacant units and the grass is uncut. Sections of siding are missing on nearly every building.
The news conference was the first public airing of such grievances since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced in March that it would step in to help the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development address longstanding operational problems.
Cheryl Fish, executive director of an advocacy group called Coalition on Financial Accountability, called for the city to make major changes in the operation of public housing.
In a three-page list of recommendations, the coalition said the housing department should estabish a timetable for responding to tenant maintenance requests. "If urgent repairs are not completed within one day and routine repairs within 30 days, tenants should automatically be given rent rollbacks" and be allowed to deduct repair costs from their rents if the work is done by a private company, the coalition's statement said.
In addition, the coalition called for the city to establish new admission procedures. Although more than 11,000 persons are on the city's public housing waiting list, the coalition maintains that the city has failed to give applicants any proof that their applications have been received.
A total of 60,000 persons, about 10 percent of the District's population, live in public housing. In several audit reports, HUD has criticized operational practices in the District's housing department.
The 444-unit Barry Farms complex has more than 120 vacancies because the city has relocated tenants in preparation for a comprehensive renovation that will cost $21 million and should begin in about 90 days, said Oliver W. Cromwell, a housing department spokesman.
Meanwhile, the roofs and windows have been replaced. But residents said yesterday that the work was poorly done.
Resident Othelia Brady said her monthly gas bill increased from $100 a month to $227 because gaping cracks were left around the new windows. After the roof was repaired a section of her bedroom ceiling fell, and an electrician left wires exposed in the hallway ceiling, she said.