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In the middle of last August, residents at the 672-unit Marbury Plaza on Good Hope Road SE had a breakthrough: Attorney General Peter Nickels brokered an end to a two-year rent strike with a new management company and the promise of $5 million in repairs. The settlement was hailed as a major victory for tenant organizing, garnering glowing press and retellings of the long struggle.
But five months later, Marbury hasn’t exactly been transformed. On February 25th, a man was fatally shot in apartment 316 (the same floor where a sexual assault had occurred a few months ago). According to tenant association president April Goggans, security guards weren’t on duty at the time; in fact, they haven’t been around during the day at all. The front doors are still unlocked, more than a year after property manager Urban Investment Partners committed to installing closed circuit T.V. cameras and securing the front doors with key fob access within 60 days.
“The tenants were saying that someone had to die for you to do something,” Goggans said, of UIP. “Things happen in any building, but this was so easy. They can’t use the excuse that they’re the new management company.”
The murder was just the most extreme of ongoing troubles. Since the August settlement, property crime in the immediate area—just a few blocks from the newly-completed Anacostia library—is up 22 percent over the year before. Marbury Market has been robbed several times since last August’s settlement, the security booth was broken into, and a Coinmach machine was stole—all of which leaves residents feeling decidedly unsafe.
“The neighborhood knows that you can come to Marbury Plaza and do this, that and the other and nobody’s going to do anything,” Goggans says, noting that she wouldn’t even send her daughter to the store anymore.
Besides crime issues, although UIP has started to make improvements to the physical condition of the building—the terms of the settlement require them to be finished by September 2011—major problems still arise. At the end of January, a power surge ripped through the buildings and fried appliances, and the heat goes out periodically as well.
Goggans says she didn’t figure tenants would be best friends with management when the rent strike ended, but had hoped for more responsiveness and concern than the old company had demonstrated. When you have a lot of projects in the pipeline that require resident cooperation, the extra effort really helps.
Regarding a heating outage last week, Goggans wrote to the property management staff:
I need to relay that we are very disappointed by how long it took to get a response from management after first reporting this emergency situation via email, and how long we were without the heat without any steps to make sure tenants were not left in the cold too long, or that heat or some relief was provided. In the settlement it speaks of emergency situations where the AC goes out and the measures management has to take to ensure tenants have a cooling area. It goes without saying that lack of heat should be treated the same. Again, sometimes “empathy” should be a guiding principle in these matters. Being sensitive to the human part of “resolving” such issues is the only way this collaborative relationship can work. Trying to sleep and worrying about keeping my child warm for 12 hours without any idea of a resolution time frame does not do much to foster “hope” for me personally. From the conversations I have had with tenants since, the feeling is widely mutual. If you recall one of the hesitations we had when the settlement was being discussed was this exact issue. It really sets back the confidence we were beginning to have about the housing provider/management sincerely wanting to repair trust and relationships with the tenants. We have a long road ahead.
A representative from UIP declined to comment on issues surrounding an ongoing criminal investigation, and said all security upgrades were being completed on schedule.