Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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A man who appears to have been homeless was found dead Sunday outside a building in Columbia Heights that’s been in development since 2012 and has attracted squatters.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services discovered a man without a pulse and not breathing at the bottom of a set of steps leading to the basement of the building under construction on the northeast corner of 14th Street and Parkwood Place NW, shortly after 4 p.m. Paramedics performed CPR on the man and transported him to the Washington Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead less than two hours later. An official cause of death has not been ruled, but an FEMS report indicates that the man suffered “cardiac or respiratory arrest.”

A detective from the Metropolitan Police Department, which a civilian had contacted, determined that the man’s “death was not of a suspicious nature,” per an incident report.

Temperatures Sunday afternoon were in the 40s, so the man does not seem to have died of hypothermia. During a cold snap in November, a homeless man was found unconscious in a wheelchair just steps from this construction site, on 14th Street NW, and was later pronounced dead.

Lin Lawson, a Columbia Heights resident for 16 years who lives on Parkwood Place NW, says vagrants have occupied the basement of the building in question for months. Since the 14th Street NW side of the five-story development is inaccessible, people have used a back alley off Parkwood to enter the property’s basement. Lawson suspects that half a dozen people have set up shop in the building, and she remembers seeing about three men who appeared to have known the deceased being questioned by police Sunday.

Lawson says she heard a detective asking one of the men about an “Oscar.” A former social worker, she says she is sympathetic to homeless in the area, many of whom suffer from addiction, and wishes the city would do more to connect such individuals with services.

“We’ve tried our best to do something,” Lawson says of resident outreach to local agencies that oversee development and services. “I was very sorry to hear that [the man had died].”

The site is owned by 3517 14th Street LLC, a District-registered entity that acquired what used to be a parking lot and an older brick building there for $450,000 five years ago. A $1,750,000 refinanced Capital Bank loan was taken out on the property last August, but days later, D.C.-based Villa Residential LLC and Ecco Homes Inc. brought a civil action against 3517 14th Street LLC for an alleged “breach of contract concerning a purchase and sale agreement” for the property, public records show. Just yesterday, a judge stayed pending motions in the case and set a status hearing for March, according to a D.C. Superior Court docket.

Reached by phone, developer Habte Sequar, who’s spearheading the project, acknowledges that break-ins have occurred at the building. “We’re making sure the place is secured and that we won’t have this problem again,” Sequar says. “It’s an unfortunate situation.” He declined to comment further, saying he is waiting for additional information from police. Sequar has worked on many residential projects in the District, including a 2015 proposal to build a 200-room hotel and 30 apartments on K Street NW.

In 2016, homelessness jumped 14 percent over the year before, with officials recording roughly 8,350 people without a home. A count of D.C.’s homeless population was just conducted last week. The results of this “point-in-time” census are due out in the spring.