For homeowners on DC Talbert Street, the future remains uncertain

After more than a year of countless calls, meetings, and letters to city officials, not much has changed for the dozens of first-time homebuyers forced to flee a dilapidated Anacostia building.

Mortgage payments are still due each month. Homeowners remain uncertain when or how they will be able to return to apartments they purchased as part of DC’s effort to empower first-time homebuyers and increase the number of black homeowners in the area. The condominium association, which has been tasked with pricing solutions, is barely staying afloat.

For this reason, a few homeowners in June took out Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (Democrat) at Ward 5 polling station, where the mayor came to cast his vote for re-election.

“Our houses are falling apart!” said Teresa Brooks-Hill, an East River resident at Grandview Condominiums on Talbert Street. “We can’t go back there at all.”

Nearly all residents have moved into temporary housing across the city, with financial help from the metropolitan government — a one-time $7,000 cash payment and monthly rent assistance, an arrangement that was extended one to two years after the standoff.

Several engineering reports considered the building dangerous and uninhabitable. The problems begin with the very foundation on which the structure is built and extend throughout the complex, reports say, affecting everything from plumbing to the retaining wall, which has been slowly sliding down a steep slope and the busy residential street below.

Residents say the building should be demolished.

“I don’t plan to go back unless my unit is fully repaired,” said Yvonne Lawson, a young mother who was pregnant when she moved and now lives near Union Station.

The demolition and rebuilding of a 46-unit condominium is off-budget for the condo community, which has been saddled with legal fees and insurance costs that have risen from $19,000 per year to $15,000 per month in less than a year. Although a lawsuit was filed against developer Stanton View and its subcontractors last year, it remains unresolved.

Neither Stanton View Development nor its attorney responded to requests for comment. In 2020, Stanton View sued six subcontractors who worked on the Talbert Street project for $2 million each, alleging that they performed work that was “wrong, negligent, not in accordance with plans… and not in accordance with industry” standards. Last year, with the case still unresolved, the developer also filed for bankruptcy.

“We still don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Ty’on Jones, a homeowner and one of five members of the condominium association. “What everyone wants is to go back to the home they own. We have all gone through this process of becoming homeowners, but no one has made any commitments to help with the cost of rebuilding.”

They find dream homes through the first-time homeowners program in the capital. Now they have to evacuate.

Before construction began in 2016, the DC government secured a $6 million loan to Stanton View Development to build the property, which included support from the city’s Housing Production Trust, the primary cash reserve for affordable housing projects in the capital.

Nearly all homeowners are black women and first-time homebuyers who have taken out loans through the City’s Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP), one of the Bowser administration’s primary programs to promote home ownership among blacks in Washington. Starting in October, the program – which was criticized By some registrars for being overly burdensome in the fast-paced housing market, but overall well-respected among D.C. officials – it will offer More than double the help For qualified first-time homebuyers.

After months of protest from homeowners and before they were forced to leave last year, the county quickly put together a task force made up of several city agency leaders to distribute benefits and help them find new housing.

In an interview last month, DC’s Interim Director of Housing and Community Development Drew Hubbard, who is sitting on the task force, said the mayor actually met with some homeowners in July and promised them another year of rent assistance, although it’s still not It is clear how long it will last until the Talbert Street Building is safe to inhabit.

“This was the first seating she agreed to despite us coming into her office on several occasions,” said homeowner Davina Callahan, who sought treatment after moving to manage her anxiety amid months of uncertainty. “I’m running the best I can.”

Hubbard said the city spent months waiting for a follow-up report from the engineering firm the condo association had hired, Falcon Group, to bring in geotechnical experts for a second, more thorough examination of the property. Contrary to the overview provided by the Falcon Group’s first report, this report sought to assess the structure’s underlying soils and determine how to salvage the building.

The engineers made a stark choice: either try to fix the structure by elevating the building and patch up with the foundation underneath — work that could cost upwards of $12 million — or tear it down and start over.

Jones said that once homeowners knew what was going on under the property, the choice became much clearer. The shifting foundation puts pressure on pipes and other structures that gave way and exploded underground. Jones said the leaking water accelerated soil erosion under the building. He added that with residents gone and fewer people flushing toilets or running water, the damage has slowed, but it is still changing.

Jones said demolishing the entire building would “cost less over time” and would be “faster and easier” for crews to start from scratch rather than trying to rebuild the faulty.

“Knowing that there were sloping floors or windows that were never able to close, we knew you would have to go to everyone’s unit and fix it piece by piece, even after dealing with foundation issues,” Jones said. “For some units, the floors were so steep that you couldn’t fix the units without demolishing and rebuilding some homes. So at that point, we talked about it as a community, and we decided it made sense to demolish the building and rebuild.”

But this will also be expensive.

Jones and the other board members of the condominium union are waiting for cost estimates to present to DC officials. But he said they had not received any assurances that the region would provide any financial assistance.

He’s worried he’s running out of options.

Muriel Bowser helps first-time homebuyers in the capital’s housing market

“Unless some millionaire decides to drop the cost of whatever that number issues to the Condo Association, there is no one else who can help us but the city,” Jones said. “We are 100 per cent sure that the owners don’t have the ability or the resources to fund the rebuilding ourselves – people had to apply for assistance just to pay their condo association fee. With the new insurance, we’re barely keeping up with it now. So if it doesn’t help, city, we would all be stuck with properties that keep moving and pose a danger to everyone around them.”

Hubbard said the city was waiting for more information from the condo association before deciding how to proceed and “the city’s ability to help with repair.”

Building deterioration may also pose a public safety risk for those under the property along Morris SE Road, a busy road dotted with homes and bus stops, according to an engineering report released in July. Experts wrote that the retaining wall at the rear of the property is slowly moving toward the drop-off point just above the road, and is in dire need of repair.

“We are concerned not only about the location of Talbert itself, but about other structures below and outside Morris Road,” Hubbard said.

Larrube May, a former member of the 8 DC Ward Council and an attorney representing nine residents, including her sister, Laduna May, said that despite the county’s offers of rent assistance and sympathy for homeowners, she and her clients believe the capital must do more to save population. who were saddled with dangerous and deteriorating property after they were promised a stable future–and a way to build wealth for their children and families–through the county’s first-time homebuyers program, which linked many apartment owners to properties on Talbert Street.

Homeowners are still in trouble for their monthly mortgage payments. To “correct the mistake” made against these families, Larube-May said, DC officials must figure out a way to either speed up needed repairs to the building or free homeowners from their mortgage obligations and give them another chance to buy an affordable home. Same help as the first time.

“The area has to create a structurally safe place for these families to come and build the legacy of wealth that we need in our black communities,” she said. “This is a good fight. The residents of this estate deserve better.”

Hubbard said the city is committed to waiving home purchase assistance loans, the interest-free loans DC provides to eligible homebuyers to help fund the gap and closing costs. But since each homeowner has obtained mortgages from different sources, the wide mortgage tolerance is more difficult.

Hubbard said DC officials are working with 40 or so mortgage lenders representing different homeowners, adding that several lenders have asked to review the engineering report to determine better tolerance or flexibility options should the building undergo major repairs or renovations. Jones and condo association attorneys have also been in touch with the banks to learn about options for mortgage holders.

“We try to see where there is a willingness to consider patience,” Hubbard said. “Mortgages are more complex than HPAP.”

Meanwhile, LaRuby May is fighting to reinstate a defendant in a lawsuit that seeks to hold the developer and subcontractors liable for the damages and emotional distress the homeowners are experiencing.

To help advance their case, Larrube-May said, residents have agreed to hire a new attorney to serve as co-counsel: Ron Austin, a Louisiana attorney who recently secured a $20.5 million settlement from Brad Pitt and his now-expiring charity. Make it Right, to provide New Orleans residents with 109 new, affordable, flood-resistant homes in the Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area. The lawsuit said the homes built by the Pete Foundation began to collapse almost immediately after their owners bought them.

mode in this caseIt’s strikingly similar, Larube-May said: black homeowners who dumped all their life savings into a newly constructed dwelling, thinking it would be a safe place to live and allow them to build a fortune for their families, only to face reality. From faulty construction and a series of serious problems.

“Ron has industry experience and a passion for bringing justice to black and brown people,” said Larrube Mai. “We are excited to bring him to the team.”

The Capital Court of Appeals has yet to rule on several petitions in the case, including whether the county can be reinstated as defendant.

Hubbard said the city has already shown a commitment to helping these homeowners and pledged to “ensure they are in a good place” as the situation develops. But for residents who have already experienced great disappointment, hope is difficult.

“I’m one of those homeowners who worked hard to buy my house and I’m tired,” Jones said. “But I still want to fight for the other owners who are single moms, single dads when they moved in, who have two and three kids and may not have a lot of time and energy to stay on top of all these things while they are displaced from our property. I know how important it is that Someone is looking for these people.”

He paused, choosing his words carefully before adding: “I hope the government feels that way too.”

Julie Zosmer Will contributed to this report.

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