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Last November, nine-year-old Oscar Fuentes was killed in an apartment building on Columbia Road, shot through a door while fleeing a robbery. The Washington Post wrote about the condition of the building:
The white building where Oscar lived is tagged with graffiti, and the locks on the heavy metal front door are broken. Residents said they live with public drug use, broken lights and condoms strewed about public spaces. One resident said the building urgently needs locks, cameras, security and police.
The building’s longtime owner, Herminia Steininger, said that she ordered a new metal door five weeks ago and that it was expected to be installed next week. She said she has called police about problems at the building but “nothing was done.”
“Every time I fix the door, they come and break the door,” Steininger said. “The building is safe. Whatever happened, the building [has] nothing to do with it.”
It can’t have been that safe. About a month after the shooting, according to city records, the building was slapped with a lien for the correction of wrongful housing conditions, amounting to $8,654.52. According to Farah Fosse of the Latino Economic Development Coalition, a DCRA inspection found numerous violations, including missing fire doors, exposed electrical wires, and an open bucket of flammable liquid next to a boiler. In the months following, a tenant association formed, fixes were made, and the lien was paid (although records show that Steininger still owes $23,564.75 in back taxes).
Now, Latino Federation president Juan Carlos Ruiz tells Housing Complex that the attention brought to the building by Fuentes’ murder has spawned a new effort to organize and inform Latino tenants of their rights.
“That was a true indicator that there was a need for our tenants to be educated about what their rights are, how to do what they need to do to have good quality buildings,” Ruiz said. In partnership with the Office of the Tenant Advocate, the city-wide Latino Tenant Coalition will work to “stop gentrificaton, fight crime, and provide safe, affordable housing for all.”
The new body will be announced Saturday at the first-annual Latino Tenant Summit at the Carlos Rosario School, where housing providers and tenant advocates will be on hand to help about 250 low-income tenants learn about procedures and protections having to do with housing.
As for the Office of the Tenant Advocate itself: via the WBJ, the Committee of the Whole restored $300,000 to the 15-person office’s severely slashed budget, which a staffer says they’re hoping will prevent staff cuts.