A former resident manager at The Point, a high-rise apartment community in Silver Spring, has said in sworn testimony that proprietors actively attempted to evict black residents from one building and prevent new minority tenants from moving into it.
Helen Guerra testified that executives of the Boston-based management firm, Krupp Associates, ordered staff members to find out the race of each tenant and that, by enforcing rules against overcrowding and keeping pets more stringently against blacks than whites, tried to drive blacks from one building.
"They wanted Building 3 excluded of blacks," she said. Leasing agents were then told to place new black tenants in other buildings, Guerra said.
One executive became convinced that prospective tenants were put off at seeing large numbers of black children in the swimming pool, Guerra said in her deposition. The man told people at a meeting she attended to "get 'em out of the pool. I don't care how you do it, get 'em out," according to her deposition.
Guerra was discharged from her job last summer. Contacted yesterday at her new place of employment, she declined to elaborate on her testimony.
Guerra's statements were made public this week in connection with a federal lawsuit filed six months ago by 41 tenants at The Point. The suit alleges racist leasing practices at the 1,100-unit development that towers over the intersection of Columbia Pike and New Hampshire Avenue.
The tenants are seeking an injunction to stop Krupp from converting Building 3 to all-adult. They claim a rule against children is really aimed at excluding blacks and other minorities from the building. Seventy-five percent of minority tenants in the building would be affected, they say, as opposed to 20 percent of the white residents.
Attorneys for the defendants -- Krupp; its two principal partners, George and Douglas Krupp; Krupp executive Gerald Bartfield, and an affiliated company, Turtle Creek Associates -- have denied the charges.
Guerra said in her deposition that leasing agents were "asked to discriminate. They were told not to rent to blacks unless they had to; now, they knew very well they had to accept the application, but anything they could find wrong with that application, do it; do it."
Blacks who were accepted were to be placed in Building 2, according to the testimony.
Rules concerning numbers of children and pets were stringently enforced with black tenants but, with whites, the rules "were not pushed as heavily," Guerra said.
She said she repeatedly protested such policies. Last summer, two Krupp executives offered her a blank check and a letter of recommendation if she would leave her job and apartment at The Point quietly, she said. She refused, she testified, and was subsequently fired and ordered to move out of her apartment.
"The Point has been and continues to be integrated far in excess of the countywide average," said Krupp attorney John J. Delaney. He and another defense lawyer declined to discuss in detail Guerra's deposition or the case while it is before the court.
Conversion of the building is intended to satisfy high demand for living environment free of children, reduce the cost of vandalism caused by resident children and help reverse financial problems Krupp found when it took control of The Point late in 1979, the Krupp lawyers said in court papers.
Built in the mid-1960s, the three high-rise towers house a middle-class and integrated community. About 30 percent of the tenants are nonwhite, according to the tenants. The grounds include facilities for swimming, tennis and basketball.
The buildings underwent repeated changes of name and ownership until being acquired by Krupp for a reported $19 million. The new owners quickly announced plans to spend $3 million to refurbish the aging buildings and improve security.
To finance this work, the new owners raised rents and required tenants to pay a full month's security deposit rather than a half-month deposit. They also issued new regulations, which among other things allowed only one child per extra bedroom.
Guerra, who worked in Building 2, said in her deposition that after the new managers took over "everything was hustle-bustle and getting information on each and every resident as to number, the color, what we could find wrong with any resident there. The emptier it is, the better it is. That's exactly what we were told." The idea was to vacate apartments to allow renovation, she said.
Documents filed by the Krupp attorneys said that shortly afterward efforts began to identify those who violated the regulations. On Feb. 1, the documents show 42 apartments on month-to-month leases received termination notices. "These notices were issued primarily to alleviate a density problem," documents said, and were sent mostly to tenants breaking overcrowding provisions.
However, some tenants, like Dianne Betsey, a black mother of three who lives in a three-bedroom apartment on the 15th floor of Building 3, began to believe that the evictions were directed primarily at nonwhites. With her husband, Charles, she helped to organize resistance to the evictions.
Montgomery County tenant mediators eventually got 28 of the notices withdrawn. Tenants thought they had won, but last summer word went out that Krupp planned to convert Building 3 to all-adult, barring residents under the age of 21. Such a move is legal in Montgomery County.
Beginning in June a new round of eviction notices went out, offering comparable housing in other buildings at The Point. Drawing on free legal services from the Washington Lawyers Committee, the Betseys, 39 other tenants and a housing group filed a suit charging violations of the Fair Housing Act.
The defendants' acts were taken "at least in part on the basis of race and constitute a deliberate and systematic effort to alter the racial character of The Point," the suit alleges. It also alleged instances of harassment of individual black tenants.
One black woman said in a written complaint that her eviction notice was served close to 10 p.m. by four management executives and two guards. They used abusive language and one said they would return in a few days to make sure the family was leaving, according to the complaint.
The Krupp lawyers denied most of the details of her claim. They said the woman was evicted because of evidence her teen-aged son had committed vandalism and assaulted security guards. Later her apartment was searched by Montgomery County police and her son was arrested for alleged theft.
Guerra's deposition alleges that management's plan was to renovate Building 3 and exclude blacks from it. Guerra charges that even before the new owners took control, the staff was asked to provide information on race. Later, management executives planned to issue swimming pool passes with photographs so the race of each tenants would be known.
Dianne Betsey says a few families have moved out quietly due to the emotional strain of the dispute. "Kids look up and see Mommy and Daddy can't control things. . . . They're already disillusioned. You can see it in their faces."
But she and other members of Counterpoint, a tenants' association she heads, say they are determined to stay. "What is our crime? The crime is getting pregnant, having a baby. Interesting country when you can be put in the street for having kids."