Anna Burris's telephone began ringing at 8:30 a.m. yesterday. It was the first of about a dozen calls she received from friends and neighbors at the Clifton Terrace apartments, urging her to pick up the newspaper "and read 'about all the dirt that goes down here."
For the better part of the day Burris, 72, squinting through cataracts, labored through the article detailing allegations of systematic theft from tenants by management. When she finished she shook her head and said she remembered an old biblical saying.
"The road is a long one," she said, "with turns of temptation. Everyone knew there were evil things happening here, but no one knew how, when or why."
Burris has lived at the building for 10 years. She suffered heatless and lightless winters, along with all of her neighbors. And like her neighbors, she expressed gratitude that corruption at the building finally has been made public.
"I'm glad they were caught," she said. "And I pray for them, if they ever decide to set foot back here again."
It was just another Sunday at Clifton Terrace. Children shagged footballs or played hopscotch on Clifton Street N.W, while parents relaxed on patio chairs under a sunny sky. But the article dominated conversations on the dirt yards, in the littered hallways and stairwells.
Youngsters listened intently as several old men discussed the history of the once-stately 14th Street NW housing complex perched atop Cardozo Hill.
"When you see shadows, you know something's around," remarked tenant Warren Zebedee. "And we saw shadows for five years."
"We aren't animals and don't like to think of ourselves as worthless niggers," said Al Cunningham, referring to statements reportedly made by two of Clifton's former managers. "I'd personally like to break their necks. I can't believe money would make people feel or do things like this."
"600,000," added another man, leaning against a steel railing. "Knowing the government, they'll spend two million to get it back. Meanwhile, we'll still have to live here."
The tenants will meet tonight at 7 p.m. to discuss conditions at the apartments, elect a new president of their tenant association, and prepare a list of grievances to present to Clifton Terrace's owners, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
They plan also to talk about the former management, P.I. Properties.
"We got lots to discuss," said Zebedee. "We were systematically ripped off and we're gonna fight to get it back."