On Thursday night, after nearly a month of waiting for repairs, the air conditioning was finally restored, according to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, though fed-up residents said it still wasn’t functioning properly Friday.
Tenants and D.C. leaders say other chronic problems have also festered at the rent-controlled apartment complex.
In a city struggling to meet the demand for affordable housing, Marbury Plaza’s 672 units are desperately needed. But the air-conditioning outage has reignited questions about the property’s livability.
“If I would’ve known all these problems were going on, I never would’ve moved in,” said Lewis, whose 9-year-old son has a rare skin condition that worsens in the heat. “Nobody deserves this.”
Like many other residents, Lewis was drawn to Marbury Plaza by the spacious and affordable apartments within. One-bedroom units often rent for $1,200 a month, with utilities included. And they come with private balconies, walk-in closets and a swimming pool outside.
But longtime tenants at Marbury Plaza say the pool hasn’t been functional in years, despite being advertised prominently on the apartment building’s website. A side door to Lewis’s building is broken, meaning anyone can reach the handle underneath and gain access to the property. The elevators are frequently in need of repair; some elderly and disabled residents have had to climb up more than 10 flights of stairs to get to their apartments.
“There are times I have walked to the 12th floor,” said Mable Carter, 77, president of the tenant association at Marbury Plaza, who has lived there since 1972.
In a statement, Vantage Management, the company that has managed the building since 2015, said that the maintenance team addresses service requests as they are submitted and that mold is handled immediately. The elevators are old and regularly break down, while some of the laundry machines and the pool are in need of additional fixes, the statement said.
Decades ago, things were different. The complex was a draw for D.C.’s Black middle class when it was first constructed in 1965 and even attracted celebrities like singer Isaac Hayes. Featuring two high-rise buildings and garden-style structures, the complex’s upper levels offer a magnificent view that includes the Virginia and D.C. skylines, the Capitol and monuments.
“Famous musicians and teachers and lawyers: If you were not in the professional realm, you did not live at Marbury Plaza,” Carter recalled. “It was the cat’s meow.”
It was so hot in Carter’s apartment this past week that she slept three nights on her balcony. She and other tenants have contacted the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to enforce the D.C. Housing Code, but Carter said the agency seldom follows up on their complaints.
“If they did the follow-up, we wouldn’t keep having these same problems,” Carter added. “Nothing is being done.”
Over the past three years, the DCRA said in a statement, the agency has taken several enforcement actions — some of which are still pending — and conducted 87 inspections and issued over $180,000 in fines.
In response to the extreme heat this week, the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency stationed two Metro buses outside the complex and set up nearby cooling stations for residents, but some tenants asserted these were inaccessible for those with limited mobility. Videos depicting the lack of air conditioning as well as other issues inside the complex garnered the attention of local officials, including D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8). He toured the building Tuesday and talked to residents there while helping distribute fans.
“I have been to Marbury Plaza on so many occasions, from the elevator going out, to ceilings leaking, to rodent infestation and more,” White said in a text, adding that he had been in touch with the DCRA and Attorney General Karl A. Racine’s office to address ongoing concerns. White called on Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to use some of the funds allocated for housing in her recent budget proposal to help stabilize the building.
He said fixing the air conditioner was a stopgap measure, considering the slew of other problems. “We will be here again,” he added.
Racine’s office said in a statement that it was aware of issues at Marbury Plaza and has been working with the owner to address emergency repairs.
“We also have an active investigation into housing condition issues at the property and issued a subpoena to the owner in connection with that ongoing investigation last year,” the office wrote.
Rodney “Red” Grant, a comedian and native of Southeast Washington who joined White on Tuesday, said he had to see Marbury Plaza for himself after a resident described the heat inside.
What he saw and heard from tenants inside the property — units that eclipsed 100 degrees and leaks that trickled down to the bottom floor — astounded him so much he posted videos of the complex on Instagram.
Vantage Management said in a statement that the company aims to replace the roof sometime this summer.
“I went in one apartment; it made me so mad. I couldn’t stay in there more than two minutes because of how much mold was in there,” Grant, 43, said. “We say affordable housing, but if you’re not afforded the same opportunity for healthy living — is it truly affordable?”
Longtime residents are pessimistic that things will change. Keith Allen, 63, said he had high hopes for the building when he moved in in 2013. He was born and raised in D.C., and part of the reason he had picked Marbury Plaza was the promise of a swimming pool, which he hoped to use to rehab after his hip replacement. But he says it never opened.
Allen’s problems don’t end there: The washing machines on his floor are broken, and his ceiling once leaked so badly that water cascaded down the walls into his kitchen. He has surgery scheduled for his stenosis in July and is desperately trying to leave before then.
“I don’t want to be recovering in here,” he said, while looking at a pocket thermometer that showed it was more than 90 degrees inside his apartment. “If the government is for the people, there should be accountability — people have made complaints here for years.”
Rachel Higdon, a 29-year-old government contractor, has lived at Marbury Plaza for two years and faced myriad issues, including water leaks and a moldy carpet.
It was so hot in her apartment this past week that she had to send her 9-month-old daughter to stay with her father because the infant was struggling to breathe. That was the final straw.
But the struggles of living in Ward 8, including a lack of nutritious food options and other resources found more easily elsewhere in the city, have left her feeling helpless.
“We’re already the most underserved ward. We’re already low income. It’s just so hard over here,” she said. “People just don’t get it — or they just don’t hear us.”