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The stench of piss floods the stairwell. There are broken bottles, footprints on the carpet, and in one corner is what looks to be dried human feces.
“Never thought I’d be doing this for a living,” Reuben Pemberton III chuckles, as he checks behind a stove after moving it off the wall. It’s the type of thing he deals with daily as program manager for the Vacant Building Enforcement unit, but this is a special case: Usually, Pemberton and his crew deal with abandoned buildings, not abandoned rooms.
“This building is occupied with people but in this instance, it’s that one apartment open and people going in and out,” Pemberton explains.
3031 30th St. SE is a condominium, with families living in the rooms above the one that’s been left empty and destroyed. Pemberton had gotten complaints from residents, the police, and even the Mayor’s office, which made it an emergency.
Vicki Thompson greets Pemberton at the front door, and immediately tells them about the apartment room where local teens have been hanging out. Pemberton nods as she talks, and then steps aside for the police to go in, waiting outside as the rain pours and collects into wounds along the concrete. Within a few minutes, the police beckon them in with a team of staffers—the Abatement team—who do the dirty work of cleaning up the mess. They enter, some shaking their heads at the condition of the apartment.
In the hallway, the teenagers etched words into the walls. In the unit itself, Bank Head Da Cartel and Trapstarz have scrawled their calling cards in black chalk on the ceiling and wall. In one room blankets lie mangled and heaped. Flies scatter.
In the kitchen, the sink is plugged up with wrappers and soil. The freezer holds an empty bag of potato chips. It looks to have been barbecue-flavored.
“There was a girl who lived there. She had three kids,” Thompson tells them. “But she had a domestic violence thing where the man got out. She was just terrified so she hurried up and moved.”
Thompson, 52, says that the teens had taken her TV and would go in through the back door constantly once they knew no one was living there. The smells crept into neighboring rooms until one of her other neighbors, Mrs. Alexis, and her three older grandsons cleaned up the room the best they could, only to have the teenagers return and ruin it again.
“They just trashed it, they just trashed that pretty nice apartment,” Thompson shakes her head.
The A-team gets to work, cutting wood to fit the windows to prevent future break-ins.
Since it’s a condominium, Pemberton can’t tax the whole building at the blighted rate. Instead, the owner will be sent a bill for housing code violations like letting the room remain accessible even though no one was clearly living inside it anymore.
“There are families who live around here,” Pemberton says as he gazes up at the building, “They shouldn’t have to deal with this…”
As Pemberton and Logan start to leave, Thompson waves at them to express how thankful she is.
“Y’all made the sun shine,” she says. And it’s true. The rain had stopped, or at least, eased up.