More than 100 brand new stoves still in their packing cartons, bags of plaster, new windows, doors and kitchen cabinets -- all valued at tens of thousands of dollars -- were discovered last week unused and unaccounted for in five District of Columbia housing department warehouses.
These are supplies that public housing tenants say they have in some instances been trying to get for years for their rundown apartments.
Officials in the new administration of Mayor Marion S. Barry have so far been unable to determine exactly how long the supplies have been stored in the warehouses or their intended use.
They were discovered last week by Sidney Glee, who in his first week as special assistant to new D.C. housing director Robert L. Moore was asked to investigate what the city stocked in its warehouses. What he discovered, Glee said, "just blew my mind."
"There was no one taking inventory," added Glee, who recounted how it took him a day and a half just to track down the keys to locked rooms in one of the warehouses. "Cases were just thrown in there."
Glee said he was unable to count some of the items because the warehouses are so disorganized. Glee and Moore said workers reported that they had been told the supplies were for a "special project," but no one seemed to know what the special project was.
"The people who are responsible for this will be leaving the department," Moore told a reporter this week. He added that at this point, he has not yet been able to find out whom to blame.
Charles Douglass, a former public housing manager, was put in charge of correcting the problem and keeping inventory this week. Douglass told a reporter that as manager of Arthur Capper Dwellings in Southeast in the past, he could have used some of the supplies and equipment that apparently were available.
"There were times when I went out and bought the same things in here," Douglass said. "And here they were right here in the warehouse."
Douglass apparently wasn't alone. Moore met with a number of public housing property managers this week. He said they told him they also were unaware that the city housing department had warehouses stocked with such supplies.
Glee said, "There's been a lot of duplication... Managers have been making over-the-counter purchases, most of the time buying things we already own." He said the equipment and supplies could have been used at public housing, or at properties the city is rehabilitating.
Former D.C. housing director Lorenzo W. Jacobs Jr said this week he had no comment on the equipment and supplies in the warehouses. Former property management administrator Monteria Ivey could not be reached for comment.
Glee, who had been detailed to the housing department from the Department of Human Resources, said he investigated warehouses at 21 M St. NE, 70 Pierce St. NE, 1711 14th St. NW, 75 North Capitol St., and G Place NW.
Some of the stoves apparently have been at the warehouse since the end of December. Bill Schmookler, president of REP Sales and a representative of the firm that sells stoves to the city housing department, said yeaterday that 200 stoves apparently were shipped to a city warehouse in late December. Schmookler said the ranges cost $110.46 each.
Betty Owens, procurement officer for the city's public housing administration, said the 200 stoves were apparently purchased in October.
City officials said there were 102 stoves in the warehouses this week. It was not clear what happened to the other 98 stoves.
Tenants at two public housing projects said the supplies in the warehouses won't solve all their problems, but they certainly would have corrected some of their housing troubles.
For example, the oven in Selma Sharpe's stove isn't working. "Anything I want to cook, I have two choices: either fry it or boil," said Sharpe, who lives at Green Leaf Gardens on N Street SW. Plaster is falling off the walls in most of her rooms.
A 79-year-old tenant at the James Creek housing project across the street needs a new back door for her town house. And her windows, she pointed out, "ain't nothing but rags."
One tenant said she has been trying to get a new front door since 1969 with no success. Another has paper stuffed around the cracks under and on the sides of her door because it doesn't fit properly. "The only thing that door does," she said, "is keep people from looking in." She also needs a new light switch.
Moore said he talked to a tenant at Langston Dwellings in Northeast last weekend who said that for six years, she has asked the housing department for paint so she could paint her apartment, and she has been turned down. Her stove doesn't work properly, either, he said. "She's been running out to get fast food," Moore said.
Moore added that at least one of the warehouses may be slated for a new use. He said the department is considering moving its offices from 1325 and 1341 G Street NW to the warehouse at 21 M St. NE. "We pay $750,000 year to lease space for these two buildings," Moore said. "Why should we pay that money when we own buildings?... We can put that $750,000 into (housing rehabilitation) loans." He said he already has received tentative approval from the mayor to make the move at the end of the year.