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For years, Larry and Leroy Perkins outlasted the steady stream of community activists, government bureaucrats, and local politicians who tried in vain to eject them from their 1424 Ives Place SE home, which neighbors call a crack house (“Neighborhood Beating,” 1/29). They may finally have met their match. Wednesday, Feb. 3, a week after the Washington City Paper profiled the brothers, D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) announced that their property would be the test site for “a new anti-squatter home protection system” patented by Hyattsville-based Vacant Property Security (VPS).
In a press release, DCRA Director Lloyd Jordan explained that the city spends $1,600 a year for boarding up vacant and condemned properties. But he said subsequent break-ins cost taxpayers another $6,000 annually per property. Jordan said that the high-tech barricade, which costs $85 per week per house, would be “a proactive weapon in the fight to return District neighborhoods to their rightful ownersthe law-abiding, concerned residents….We hope this new security system will do the job the first time.”
Housing Regulation Administration Administrator James Aldridge says the Perkins house was chosen for the test because it had been re-entered after being boarded up because of a recent fire.
A phalanx of police officers, two National Guard members, and a sprinkling of city officials showed up to watch the red-brick house become a fortress, according to Larry Perkins, 47. Engineers replaced the plywood boards over the windows and the two doorways with sheets of galvanized steel coated with vinyl clamped directly onto the bricks. The new front door has two keyhole devices on which visitors must enter a security code. If you turn the door’s metal latch, a message appears: You have five seconds to punch in the code.
“It does say, ‘I am strong. I am here to protect this building, so don’t try,’” says Alan Riseborough, VPS’s technical director, who adds that the system has worked elsewhere in America and Europe. No one has yet broken into a VPS property in Chicago, Riseborough states flatly. “It’s meant to blend in with the environment.”
At the demonstration, owner Larry Perkins was also expected to blend in with the environment. Perkins says that he wasn’t allowed to be near the house. When he started asking questions, officers on the scene threatened to cite him for disorderly conduct, according to Perkins.
Perkins doesn’t dispute that he re-entered his property after the fire. He claims that the DCRA didn’t give him and his brother enough warning before boarding up the house. Perkins says he was simply told to leave with his belongings. Because he had nowhere to put them, Perkins says, the agency threw out many of his clothes, as well as personal items such as his deceased mother’s jewelry, flower boxes, and pictures. Perkins says he only re-entered the house to store belongings retrieved from the garbage.
These days, the 40-year resident of Ives Place can’t get to those belongings no matter what he does: The metal sheets have so far withstood all efforts. The front door has a huge scratch and some scuff marks, but is still firmly in place. When Perkins tries to guess at the code, he doesn’t come close. He doesn’t know what to make of the two keyholes. “This is sad,” he says. “CIA shit. What kind of shit?” He fusses some more. “This don’t make no fucking sense. They got a code.”
According to Theresa Lewis, deputy director for operations, DCRA no longer has the resources to help people left out in the cold. “In the past, we used to have the ability to work with the Department of Human Services,” she says. “The resources are severely limited.” DCRA hasn’t decided whether it will continue to do business with VPS; the Ives Place demonstration was a “good-will gesture” and done for free, according to Riseborough, in the hope that his company would be awarded a contract.
Aldridge says the Perkinses can still get their property back. “No one has taken their property,” he explains. “They have to bring the property up to code. They could bring a contractor in to abate the code. They still own the property. We encourage that.”
But it’s not too likely. Larry Perkins barely has money for lunch, let alone a contractor. By day, he’s still hanging around on Ives Place. He says he needs a lawyer. “I’m not giving up,” Perkins explains. “I’m going to fight it. There is no way I can be completely wrong. This is not Gestapo Germany.” Jason Cherkis