The city this week moved the last few residents out of two private group homes in Anacostia that had been run by a Maryland family for years and received numerous citations for hazardous and unsanitary conditions.
The final move came six months after a January ruling by a D.C. Superior Court judge that the Harris House at 2025 Fendall St. SE and Harris House II at 1642 V St. SE be closed for health and safety violations.
City officials said the move took so long because of the shortage of homes in the city for people who need special supervision.
The facilities housed about 118 residents who were emotionally disturbed, homeless or formerly incarcerated.
"There just aren't that many places where you can place them," said Michael R. Schuster, an attorney for the D.C. Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which monitors group homes.
The court order followed numerous complaints that both facilities were filthy and that residents were not receiving proper care.
Neighbors complained that the houses were infested with rodents and insects, and that they were poorly ventilated and plagued with plumbing problems.
"That place should have been closed down a long time ago," Schuster said.
Frieda Murray, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area, said she was sickened when she once tried to tour it. "I couldn't go but so far in," she said. "I can't stand but so much smell."
After a two-week trial in 1988, the court placed Harris House into receivership and ordered the Wisconsin-based Rehabilitation Care Consultants Inc. to run the facilities. After Rehabilitation Care complained that conditions in the homes were too deteriorated for them to turn around, the court ordered the homes closed.
Most residents were transferred to other group homes around the city, although some now live independently. City officials said the facilities have been secured, but neighbors said people still come and go from them.
Meanwhile, Schuster said his office is seeking damages from Joan D. and David C. Sutton, residents of the exclusive Fox Hills section of Potomac, who had been licensed to operate the homes. That suit, filed in 1988, has languished in the court system because of questions regarding ownership of the homes, Schuster said.
The Suttons' attorney, Harold Krauthamer, refused to comment. Several phone calls to the Suttons were not returned.
However, Larry C. Williams, who used to represent the family, said he felt they had been unfairly targeted.
"When the Suttons took over Harris House several years ago . . . the place was in total disarray . . . . They put their money in that place and cleaned it up," he said. "It was impossible to run because there were no funds to run it."
The Suttons had also owned the Caldwell House in the unit block of 18th Street SE before it closed last year. That home, which was licensed for 48 mental patients, was the scene of a fire in July 1988 that killed a 65-year-old woman. At the time of the blaze, 82 people were living in the home. Before it was closed, a petition was before the court to put it into receivership.
Schuster said the Suttons currently operate Hope Village Inc., a halfway house for ex-offenders and others at 2908 Langston Pl. SE.
In past interviews with The Washington Post, Joan Sutton has defended her homes and said many complaints were from disgruntled former employees.
Neighbors said this week they will miss some of the Harris House residents, many of whom had lived there for years.
"I just think it was disruptive of their lives to spread them all over when the city could have made the owners come up to code," said Carolyn Johns-Gray.
"This was their home."