City Paper is not for tourists.
Your article on the decay along Florida Avenue (“The Florida Mile,” 9/7) is a page taken from my current life.
I currently reside in Baltimore County and have wanted for several months to live in D.C. Once I saw the Homeownership Opportunities section of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Web site, I thought the process would become easier. Wrong. I took down all the information for the Homestead Housing Preservation Program because I wanted to rehab a house to my needs. I attempted to call the number that, according to the site, you can use to contact the director of the DHCD. It appears that no one actually answers the phone, but you can leave a message. I then saw a section of the Web site that allows you to send an e-mail to the mayor’s office, to be returned within 48 hours. I sent a message on Aug. 6 and got an automated response on Aug. 29. The e-mail advised that if no one contacted me within five business days I should call and follow up with the tracking number assigned to my message. Well, before I got the response, I decided to take a day trip to D.C. to talk with as many people as I could to obtain a listing of abandoned homes, because I just knew that these types of houses were a concern for the city. Wrong again.
My first visit was to DHCD headquarters, on North Capitol Street. Once I arrived there, I questioned the receptionist about the Homestead Housing Preservation Program and was told that the mayor had canceled it because he was not satisfied with the past year’s results. Now, I do not mind making the trip to D.C. from Baltimore, but it would have been nice to know via the Web site that the program had been canceled.
After the receptionist gave me additional information about the other programs, which really do not benefit me because I am not a current D.C. employee or resident, elderly or handicapped, I was back to Square One. I asked if there was a list of abandoned homes in existence, and the receptionist directed me to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). Once I arrived at the first floor of DCRA headquarters, I received strange looks for my strange question. I was then shuffled off to the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR). After taking a number and waiting, I was greeted again with strange looks for a strange question. The woman behind the counter proceeded to tell me that there was no list in existence and that I would need to contact the Board of Condemnation; as I was writing the information down, she quickly stated that she did not have a phone number for that agency and did not know where to find the number. She did inform me of the lottery that goes on in July and what it involvesand that there is no guarantee of getting a home through this auction because the owners have six months to pay their back taxes. I gave her a strange look, smiled, and left feeling just as empty as when I came in. Square One again.
After regrouping, I thought that maybe the library could help me with my search. While looking on the Internet for the library information, I came across the Real Property Tax Database and was able to access the names and addresses of some of the city’s abandoned homes. The majority of the homes that I searched for in the database were between 4th Street NW and 7th Street NW, anchored by New York and Rhode Island Avenues. I took time to take pictures and catalog the addresses of the abandoned homes that I could see potential in. While I was taking the pictures, several people either walking by or riding on bikes wanted to know if I were going to purchase the property. I really do believe that the neighbors of these abandoned houses want the properties not to be abandoned.
There are several properties in the area around the new convention center that have been bought by large corporations and are still sitting. I think that these companies are just waiting for the convention center to be opened. They bought the houses at cheap prices and will sell them at outrageous prices once the convention center opens.
Now that I have information regarding these properties (owner names and back-taxes amounts), I have been trying to find out how to make bids to either the individual owners or the companies to get the property off the OTR’s rolls and into my possession to begin the process of remodeling. This is the challenge I now face. I was told by an OTR employee that the agency does not keep phone numbers of the owners in its database. So truly, how far have I gotten, and how much does the city of D.C. really want to get its back taxes? I have gotten very little assistance from the city in my search of the information. Neither the mayor’s office nor any of the housing agencies have any clue how a citizen can obtain an abandoned property.
I would love to see a follow-up article for people like me on the how-tos of obtaining and rehabbing abandoned homes. I would love to make a bid on one of these homes but am not sure where to go next. You would think the city would be knowledgeable and willing to assist me with Mayor Williams’ vision of neighborhood revitalization.
Thank you for the article. You gave me more fuel for my struggle.
Windsor Mill, Md.