Life for the tenants of Clifton Terrace has changed little in the 3 1/2 years since Mary Treadwell and P.I. Properties left the low-income complex.
"The place is still a pigpen," said 71-year-old George Blackwell, former president of a tenants group at the complex and a longtime resident.
Blackwell and a dozen neighbors today point to broken plaster, mailboxes without doors, rat holes, leaks in ceilings and apartments that haven't been repainted in 10 or more years and speak of continuing interruptions of power, heat and water.
"We complain and nothing happens," said Myrtle Williams, 75.
P.I. Properties, which managed Clifton Terrace for four years, is merely one of many unpleasant memories for most of the roughly 200 tenants here. But that does not mean the residents are forgiving of the former management officials who, the grand jury has charged, exploited the people of the project for their own personal gain.
P.I. Properties' handling of Clifton Terrace was the focus of yesterday's 30-count indictment that charged Treadwell and four others with conspiracy, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion.
"I think justice should be done," said Eugene Jacquett, a 14-year resident and former P.I. Properties security guard at Clifton Terrace.
"They misused our funds and they been living off us and they should be brought to trial and get the punishment they deserve," said Freddy Holman, 43.
The sad stories coming out of Clifton Terrace today obscure its 1916 origins.
The three formidable stone structures that make up the complex were constructed in Columbia Heights, on Clifton Street NW between 13th and 14th streets, by Washington builder Harry Wardman as luxurious housing for white gentility. They command one of the grandest views in the city. Occupants can still see most of the capital's major monuments, but the grandeur is long gone.
Today's tenants are primarily black poor women who head large households. The apartments, disintegrating and in constant need of repair, are federally subsidized and quite inexpensive by Washington standards--$190 a month for a three-bedroom apartment, for example.
Many tenants say that despite the living conditions they will not move because they cannot find comparable housing at affordable prices.
Clifton Terrace has long been a problem for management, extending at least back to the mid-1960s when private owners were unable to keep tenants happy. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development acquired the project in 1973 though a mortgage default, and officials there have grown weary of constant complaints from tenants. HUD has now drafted a proposal to sell the building to the tenants as a cooperative.
"HUD is just not the best landlord in the world," said Daniel Raley, deputy director of housing in the department's local office. He said that federal regulations frequently cause decision-making to bog down in red tape and that HUD recognizes private owners could deal with problems much more quickly.
HUD this week sent letters to the 191 tenants of Clifton Terrace, informing them that, if they intend to take over the project as a cooperative--something that a number of them have said they want--they must now formally vote for it and make a down payment to be used as an operating fund.
In anticipation of selling the building either to the tenants or a private buyer, HUD has recently rehabilitated the worst 47 of the 285 units and now is spending $129,000 to attempt to eliminate the buildings' numerous housing code violations.
In the meantime, HUD this month hired a new firm to manage the project, The Management Group Ltd., which is the third management company for the complex since P.I. Properties was removed in August 1978.
"We hope to turn it completely around," said Bryant Glasgow, the new resident manager. He said the firm will "upgrade the property, develop communications between management, staff and residents, so that their needs are taken care of."
Tenants claim they have heard that sentiment from every new management firm and that it has made little difference in their lives.
The 75-year-old Williams, a Clifton resident for 11 years, said one of the few changes she has noticed over the years is that the enormous rats-- "hump-backed with long snouts"--that plagued the place for years have been replaced by swarms of smaller rodents.
"It's mice," she said. "You stand in the hall and they walk right around you, just like they run the place."
"There's no communication between management and tenants," said Virginia Johnson, who has lived and worked at the project for a decade.
When management does respond to requests for repairs, she said, "they don't give a damn what they put in your place as long as they slap something down. Then, they say the tenants are responsible for the way things look."
"Every time I ask for paint, they don't have any," said Zebedee Warren, 49.
Ethel Javins, a resident for 11 years, said of management: "They say and don't do."
Residents say, as they have for years, that locks on the doors to the buildings are constantly jimmied open and that security guards do little, leaving the residents easy prey to criminals. Several women residents complained that there had been recent rapes, break-ins and holdups in the corridors.
"You're scared all the time," Blackwell said. "You don't want to walk these halls at night."