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Slumlords Never Die: The Wily Ways of David Nuyen

It's been almost seven years since I first visited some of David Nuyen's slums and reported on Nuyen's foul, filthy, decrepit properties in the District (you can read the original column on the jump.) Embarrassed, the D.C. government sprang into action.

Well, sprang is a bit strong. After all, it has now been seven years, and Nuyen is still working the system, still maneuvering his way through various court cases, still--despite promises to the contrary--running substandard properties in the city.

The District's attorney general's office has accused Nuyen of still owning four apartment buildings in the city, despite a plea agreement five years ago in which the slumlord promised to sell off all his properties. And reporting by Brendan Smith of Legal Times, who has now won a journalism award from the National Low Income Housing Coalition for his work on Nuyen, shows that Nuyen has defied the courts in various ways.

Nuyen did spend some time in the slammer, and took the occasion to write a book defending his nasty way of making a buck. The book, "The Tao of Real Estate," is a primer on how to combine defiance, defensiveness and denial to subvert the law and con the system. The City Paper did a fine piece on Nuyen and his book.

Why have the combined efforts of the courts, the social service charity Bread for the City, the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, and the city's lawyers failed to put Nuyen out of business? Well, they have had some effect: Nuyen once owned 15 buildings in the city and he now seems to control but four. And he did do some time. And he is on the run, appearing in a series of court hearings with more jail and more fines potentially in the offing.

But going after slumlords just isn't a high priority in a real estate-crazed town. As Smith reported,

the D.C. Attorney General's Office has filed criminal cases against only four landlords for housing-code violations since 2001. Those cases resulted in fines, community service, or probation for the owners of three buildings in Northwest and one in Northeast. During the past five years the Attorney General's Office hasn't filed a single criminal case for housing violations in any of the poor neighborhoods in Southwest and Southeast.

[UPDATE (March 19, 2007): The D.C. corporation counsel's office, now renamed the D.C. Attorney General's office, tells me that the Legal Times story leaves in incomplete impression because it focuses on the number of criminal prosecutions the office has filed against slumlords. Traci Hughes of the office says that the overwhelming majority of landlord cases that the office takes on are settled out of court on terms advantageous to the taxpayer, and therefore criminal charges prove unnecessary in those cases. She says the number of such cases taken on by the office has increased steadily.]

[AND ANOTHER UPDATE, March 30, 2007: Legal Times editor and reporter Brendan Smith has responded to D.C. Attorney General spokesman Traci Hughes by noting that his original story indeed did reflect the city's argument that it has been aggressive on slumlord cases through means other than criminal prosecutions. Here are the relevant paragraphs from Smith's story:

D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti, who announced his resignation last week to join D.C. firm Schertler & Onorato as a partner, says housing-violation cases are a priority, even though his office has filed criminal cases against only four landlords since 2001.

"You need to look at it in total and not just the number of filings that have been done," Spagnoletti says.

Both Spagnoletti and Canavan say the threat of legal action often is enough to obtain compliance from recalcitrant landlords. The Attorney General's Office has sent nine abatement letters this year to property owners for housing violations, resulting in compliance from eight and a motion for contempt against the one holdout, says office spokeswoman Traci Hughes.

Housing-violation cases are "very complicated cases to prove," and prosecutors may not have the information they need for a conviction, depending upon the quality of the investigation, Spagnoletti says.

Smith says that Hughes only provided statistics showing how her office went after slumlords with abatement letters in 2006, not in the previous years. "She told you the number of cases keeps increasing," Smith writes, "but the AG's office only did nine cases last year - with more than 100,000 apartments in D.C. - so that still isn't very impressive."]

Nuyen cleverly works around the law by creating documents that seem to show he has transferred control of his properties to other entities. Lawyers who spend enough time on the matter can determine that these entities are phony or that Nuyen is simply hiding his ownership behind his son or his wife, but the shenanigans are wily enough that Nuyen buys time and keeps himself out of jail and in the money.

Meanwhile, the people who live in Nuyen's buildings still deal with rats, roaches and bedbugs, broken heat systems and radiators, busted faucets, peeling paint and on and on.

Nuyen told Smith that "The government still want to get me. I don't know why. I'm out completely [of the rental business]. It's too much of a headache."

But of course Nuyen's not out of anything, except perhaps any shred of decency.

[Fisher column, May 25, 2000]

Last stop on our House Tour of the Slumlords will be David Nuyen's pride and joy, a pink brick McMansion on Watts Mine Lane in stately Avenel: double mahogany doors, a two-story atrium, a striking all-glass dining room, lavish landscaping that spells curb appeal.

He'll need it. The Avenel place is empty now, on the market because, Nuyen says, he couldn't keep up with his debts.

No problem; maybe Nuyen--a former South Vietnamese Navy commander who left his job as an analyst with Lockheed Martin in 1987 to go into real estate full time--would like to move into one of his properties in Southeast Washington. Come see: Here's 1655 W St. SE, a three-story brick apartment building on a hill just a couple of blocks from Frederick Douglass's historic home.

Watch your step: The stairwell is filled with garbage. Never mind the stench; that's just hallway urine. It's a sweltering day, so you'll appreciate the fact that Nuyen's apartments feature no-pane windows. The parking lot is packed with discarded ovens and refrigerators, as well as abandoned cars. The mailboxes are gone, ripped from the wall. The glass in the front doorway is shattered, which is better than next door, at Nuyen's other W Street building, where there isn't a front door at all.

Yvonne Brown is kind enough to show us her apartment. The toilet doesn't work, the paper dispenser has been ripped out of the wall, the faucets leak, the fridge leaks, there are gaping holes in the bedroom door, the paint is hanging off the ceiling in cracking sheets, there are no smoke detectors, the roaches are as big as your thumb and the mice are everywhere. Brown, who lives here with her two children, ages 3 and 13, pays $ 375 a month for her one-bedroom unit. She hasn't seen Nuyen since 1996.

A sign in the front hall, a keepsake from the building's 1942 opening, says, "Parents! Please Keep Children Out of the Halls! No Eating in Halls."

"Nuyen never cared about the people or even about his own property," says housing inspector Philip Miller, who is riding Nuyen hard now, part of the city's aggressive Hot Properties enforcement campaign. Last week, Nuyen had to turn himself in to D.C. police after the city filed criminal charges against him for failing to correct thousands of housing violations.

Perhaps Nuyen would prefer his place at 1814 Q St. SE, a 13-unit building whose 1950s charm is reflected in the "Fallout Shelter" sign still nailed to the front bricks. One unit is thoroughly burned out. The front door is locked, but a passing gentleman offers to open it with "my special key"--his shoulder bones.

The door to an apartment on the second floor is ajar. Maybe it's an open house. The kitchen features two sinks, one upside down and smashed on the floor, the other right side up, connected and leaking. The bedroom appears to be in use. Hope we're not intruding. Whoever's staying here uses the rear window as an entrance. On second glance, there is no rear window.

Traci Darmon and her husband have been living in a third-floor, one-bedroom apartment for just a week. She's 24 and pregnant, and this is her first place of her own. She pays $ 400 a month, but the landlord has installed Plexiglas sheets where real windows should be. The stove is broken, the coils in the fridge are iced over, and the tub is so worn out and corroded that Darmon wears shoes into the shower.

"My son stays with my mom, but he visits here, and he wouldn't even use the bathroom," Darmon says of her 5-year-old. "He said, 'No, it's nasty.' "

The man who handles problems at Nuyen's three buildings in Southeast lives here. Sam Seymour has worked for Nuyen on and off for more than a decade. Well, "worked for" may not be quite right. Nuyen doesn't pay Seymour a salary. He lets him live at Q Street in exchange for maintenance work. Sometimes, for extra work, Seymour gets a fee.

Seymour says he could fix a lot of the problems here if he had materials. But he says Nuyen won't buy what he needs. When the building's front door vanished one day, the owner "wouldn't get me a door, so I went out and bought one myself," Seymour says.

The other day, a new manager appeared at Q Street, a woman Nuyen has asked to make the building profitable. She's renting out each room separately--one family in a bedroom, another in the living room. She is running a rooming house, which Arla Scott, director of the District's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, says is illegal.

More troublesome, Nuyen's new tenants--who pay $ 150 a week for one room in a one-bedroom unit--must sign a document that says, "The day that I do not pay my rent I promise to move out of the room that I was renting. I waive my right to 3, 5, 7, or 30 day notice if my rent is not paid."

"Totally illegal," Scott says.

I don't imagine Nuyen wants to live here. But I want to find out for certain. He's not home in Avenel. He's not at his office in Hyattsville, where subpoenas and court papers pile up on the receptionist's desk. I find him at his old place, a midsize, two-story brick home in the Fairland section of eastern Montgomery County.

He welcomes the chance to defend himself. He sits on the plush golden couch in a living room decorated in tasteful Oriental furniture, and he is near tears.

"I don't know why they want to get me," he says of the city. "I have 250 units in Washington, and I have problems only in Southeast. They destroy my building. I try so hard, but the law in D.C. protects the tenant so much. They scapegoat me. It's very tough as an Oriental."

It's all the tenants' fault, Nuyen says. "They break the window and blame it on me. We put up the front door three times and the drug people break it. It's hopeless. They make holes in the walls for the drugs and money. I can't afford it anymore. Can't take it anymore. I have to close the buildings."

He bought the buildings in Southeast in 1987. They were a steal--half the price of similar apartments in Maryland. "I thought the area would turn around. It could be a beautiful place. But I was wrong. I don't like to admit it, but I failed." He says he owes the water authority $ 300,000.

Nuyen sits erect, his hands and face clenched as he recites his tenants' misdeeds. "I manage with a good heart," he says. "But they steal from you left and right. The problem is that the tenants are so dirty. The black people, so dirty. Every bedroom has dog [feces], and they don't care. They just walk over it. This is not human. This is animal."

His only hope now is the woman who is converting units into a rooming house. "If that doesn't work, I must close," he says. But isn't it illegal to rent by the room without a license? "Not illegal, no big deal," he says. "The tenants don't like that, it's so crowded. But she has a good approach--rent by the room, and if they don't pay, kick them right out."

Of course Nuyen sees himself as a good guy. How else could he live with himself? I asked whether he would live in one of his buildings in Southeast. He looked at me like I was nuts. "You can't live with these people," he sputters.

In these flush times, a lot of people like to pretend that the only inequity we need worry about in this country is the digital divide. The people who live in David Nuyen's houses are on the wrong side of a refrigerator divide. They don't fret much about having the latest version of Windows; they're more concerned about getting windows.

By Marc Fisher |  March 15, 2007; 6:36 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Who filled the stairwells with garbage, the hallways with urine, broke the doors, toilets, paper dispensers? Stole lightbulbs and ripped mailboxes off the walls? What are landlords supposed to do, just endlessly put up with vandalism and peoples trifling ways? Once again the culture of victimization is trotted out, the class warfare against someone trying to make something by the have-nots because they are too lazy, trifling or thieving to do things right.

Posted by: Stick | March 15, 2007 8:17 AM

Maybe he thinks he's filling the gap in affordable house?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 15, 2007 8:35 AM

I once worked for a real estate maintenance company in the district and we had to have apartments in near immaculate condition for the section 8 inspectors before i they were rented out. Within a couple of months the irresponsible tenants would have these places in deplorable conditions. They are vermin!

Posted by: wcracker | March 15, 2007 8:53 AM

I am a landlord of an apartment building in SE. I wouldn't be so quick to blame Nuyen. I see firsthand what he is saying. I have tenants that are ABSOLUTELY filthy. Animals wouldn't live like they do. I have had repair people come out and refuse to work in such a filthy apartment. And there is absolutely nothing Nuyen or anyone can do to punish them. I once had a tenant throw a mattress out the front door of my apartment building. I got a fine from the city because of it. Yet, it takes 2-3 months to even get a court date to evict a tenant. Guess who suffers during that time? The rest of the tenants and the landlord.

Posted by: Nathan A Boggs | March 15, 2007 10:42 AM

No, I have a friend who's in real estate and I understand that some folks are not up to maintaining a property. But what was written about and what is evident here, is not the sort of thing that we are talking about. There's no question that DC makes it hard to evict negligent tenants and that the city should look at those rules, however, that is no excuse for a property manager or owner to be willfully negligent.

Posted by: Pippsk | March 15, 2007 11:11 AM

There is no excuse for someone like Nuyen, so what about the people who live in these properties? Are all of them incapable of moving? If any of them have young children, are they not also irresponsible for keeping them in that environment? Work two jobs if you have to--why would someone pay $375 without running water?

Posted by: CPS | March 15, 2007 11:25 AM

all of you sound like monied yuppies, that call people, animals. You all need to move to another city. We don't want you in DC. That clown real estate mogul is using the system. If he kept the buildings up, people would respect, and try to take care of the places. You all need to check yourselves out, you yuppies looking down on people, sound like animals yourselves. Got it ?!

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 11:41 AM

we live in shaw. on our block there's a house that's completely falling apart and several immigrant families live there (we suspect illegal). They are filthy -- they urinate on the front lawn, through their liquor bottles all over and trash on the front yard. for months there was a horrendous sewer smell. after months of complaints to the city the landlord finally showed up. Apparently a toilet had been leaking the whole time, filling the entire first floor with putrid, toxic mold. The families still live there with many small children. I have seen rats literally follow them into the house. THey don't seem to mind. I blame the tenants, the landlord and the city. I feel bad for the children.

Posted by: a | March 15, 2007 11:53 AM

What is shameful is that there are people who have no other alternative than to pay to live in such squalor. The only other choice, really, is either a shelter, which is a band-aide solution, or homelessness.

Having lived under similar circumstances, I can say that Nuyen, while not 100% responsible per se (I know I would resent the man who charges me 400$ a month to live w/o a working sink) certainly has power to change the situation, but won't spend the money to do so.

He is, ultimately, symptomatic of the problem.

Posted by: C. | March 15, 2007 12:03 PM

bill of brookland:
Say what you want, but until you walk a mile in the shoes of a landlord in SE, you have no idea how filthy some of these people can be. I have a 3 unit building. Two of my tenants are just fine. But one of them makes it hell for everyone. They play loud music constantly. What could a landlord do about that? They fill up the bathtub with trash as if it is a trashcan. Again, what can a landlord do about that? I installed an auto lock door so unoccupied people can not get in the building. How do they respond? They prop the door open. Again, how would you handle that? Nuyen has it right in that the worst of these people live like ANIMALS. Step outside of Brookland and ride around SE and you will be shocked at how people live.

Posted by: nathan | March 15, 2007 12:03 PM

I owned the house located at 1703 W street, s.e. Ok? I was there. I saw it, 3 years ago. No windows in many large apartment bldgs that are now renovated condos. You cannot call ALL renters, even the ones this slum lord had, as vermin, animals, whatever. The person saying some "illegal immigrants" (did you ask them where they were born?) had rats following them as if they are pets, get real. Yeah, I've rented to sect8 renters, and most are aok. Ask some residents in brookland about young gentrified "kids" that attend Catholic U, and have all night filthy parties, and call them the same thing, ok? Don't condemn people for one idiot. Not all landlords are slumlords, but that clown in Mr.Fisher's column, is. Y'all remind me of Reagan, calling a black woman on welfare, a welfare queen he heard about driving a cadillac. You really sound prejudiced, do you understand me? Can you hear me now ?!So, you can't walk in my shoes buddeee. Two sides to stories. Why not help educate, rather than condeming? A system like we have, breeds situations like this. DC doesn't people that think they are better than others, therefore it's ok that they have to move out of DC.That hubris and arrogance I read in your responses, sickens me.

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 12:19 PM

Lastly, if you don't like your tenants, legally evict them ! Isn't that the American Way ?!?!

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 12:22 PM

Bill of Brookland. I dont live in DC so you got your wish. Maybe you should become the kind of landlord in SE/SW you think other people ought to be? Nguyen didnt turn his buildings into $h**holes, the tenants did.

Posted by: Stick | March 15, 2007 12:22 PM

Stick, were you there? Trouble just follows that guy, huh? That's incredible. Why didn't he get them evicted, take them to small claims court. You are over your head. As I stated, I had a house in S.E. I intend to buy more there, and will rent to section8 tenants, after I interview them. If you were smart, you'd video tape the apartment before renting. When you go to inspect, if it's messed up, evict. Write it off on your taxes. Do I need to tell you how to do the right thing in DC? You should know by now. My goodness.....

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 12:27 PM

dear bill of brookland:

I'm the one who posted about the illegal immigrants breeding rats next door. I happen to be a bleeding heart liberal just like everyone else in dc. My parents were immigrants (legal), and I support a compassionate form of immigration reform. My problem is with these tenants in particular -- not because they are poor, but because of their filthy ways. literally we have seen the men piss off their front door step. they throw their trash in the yard -- what's stopping them from walking a small distance to the curb?

Posted by: a | March 15, 2007 12:58 PM

One thing, A, not everyone in dc is a liberal. Just ask Big George and his crew that live on 16th Street... Regarding the man that did that act, call the police, call your city councilperson, document it. Living in the city is not easy. If readers had said,"I know some wonderful tenants, but there are some that make all tenants look bad, I'd have no problem with it. I have seen similar. Vigilance ! That is what is necessary. Report them ! That's what I do.Don't condemn all. That's all I ask all of you, don't condemn all or even most. If you do that, we can agree on something. But not on my watch will I let anyone condemn poor or section 8 tenants. Some are the salt of the earth. But as Rappin' Ronny Reagan used to say,"trust, but verify", video tape it ! Before they arrive, and check on them. If they see you don't care, some tenants won't care. IF you respect them, and demand respect, odds are you will get it. And don't walk around fearful everytime you see some poor people. You don't know until you communicate with them. They are people ! They are people ! Ok ?

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 1:07 PM

Wow! The comments to this article are sad. A building has one or two bad tenants, and that gives the landlord the right to completely ignore the property. Write off the entire neighborhood as a bunch of animals and condemn them to third world conditions because of one bad tenant. You here one horror story about an apartment in SE and suddenly you are in expert on how people in SE live.

Guess what, if you are a property manager, your job is to manage the property. That means evicting bad tenants, installing security cameras and proper lighting and fixing things when they break. Wow! And then all this talk about SE from a bunch of people who have never crossed the Anacostia.

The classist, elitist statements in this comments section are a sad commentary on the state of Washington, DC. This city is fast becoming one big yuppie paradise. Sad to see a city with such a rich history and culture become what it is becoming. Once you get rid of all the blacks, Hispanics and poor you'll be free to change the name to Washington, DR (District of Reaganomics) or maybe Washington DS (District of Starbucks). Thanks for the crack Mr. Reagan and Mr. North. What you started in the 80s has finally come to fruition. The city of DC will soon be yours.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 15, 2007 1:12 PM

exactly. Thank you, and thank you Mr. Fisher.

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 1:16 PM

Well they are being gentrified out of DC anyway; probably what now is happening is as they get run out of Cap Hill and NE they are running to SE/SW. Few more years they will all be relegated to PG. We've gentrified most of 'em out of Arlington; pretty soon they will start in on Buckingham and up the Columbia Pike corridor to get rid of them there as well.

Posted by: Stick | March 15, 2007 1:18 PM

I was going to try and add something meaningful to this blog but the last two entries beat my post.

Wow. Now the problems with DC housing are because of Ronald Reagan and Oliver North! Never saw that one coming.

Then again, I am not a crack addict.

Maybe Hillary is right about the vicious right-wing conspiracy being alive and well. Then again, maybe thou dost protest too much - just to keep us from looking too close at you.

At least Republicans just fire people. Their rejects aren't found dead in the park after committing "suicide".

Posted by: SoMD | March 15, 2007 1:21 PM

God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to behold....move the poor people,black people, hispanics, bring in the upwardly mobile gentrified, that don't care about anyone but themselves. That's one helluva target........

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 1:24 PM

Stick, I am going out on a limb and guess that Nuyen probably bought some buildings that were in bad condition and did absolutely nothing to them. The descriptions that Marc gives do not even begin to suggest that he put in things like GFI outlets in the kitchen or bathroom (code), or had smoke detectors (code), thumb turn locks, etc.

I'm guessing with some of these things the buildings may have been grandfathered in based on rent levels, still this Nuyen guy sounds pretty sleazy.

What blows my mind is that this guy was able to receive Section 8 payments from the city. (I am assuming that is how he got his money). If a building is registered Section 8, it is my understanding that it needs to be approved in advance, or at least periodically by a city inspector. How did this guy continue to receive rents?

A few other quick points:
Section 8 tenants run the spectrum in my experience. Some are responsible and take care of the properties, others don't. Dealing with the city government, or city services though is almost always painful. Paper work gets lost, departments don't communicate, it is hard to get basic things done over the phone. Sometimes section 8 payments aren't available, or they might not get paid for months in a row. It's pretty screwed up. There are individuals that I've worked with who are responsive, but the processes and the laws need to be streamlined.

Rent control needs to be abolished too. A well intentioned policy that was designed for the return of G.I.'s at the end of WWII is one thing, but the program actively DISCOURAGES an owner from properly maintaining apartment buildings these days. If a tenant is in a property for decades and ends up paying 30% of the open market rent while the owner watches as property taxes continue to go up along with upkeep costs where is the profit margin? There has to be a balance between creating more affordable housing, and also providing sufficient incentives for conscientious investors to come into communities.

Posted by: Rick | March 15, 2007 1:38 PM

Rick, you hit the nail on the head. I just don't want anyone to prejudge....anyone. Whatever their economic,cultural, or ethnic background. I'll fight for your right to live in DC also ! Don't gang up on poor people, folk. One may save your life one day, believe it or not. And they have a right to live in DC just like we do.
Help, don't hinder. Isn't that what we were sent here to do ???

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 1:56 PM

As a child growing up in the DC area during the crack wars of the 80s, I used to wonder how 400 men could be murdered in the same city that the President lives in. The same city that is home to the FBI, Dept of Justice and DEA. I remember thinking, "Doesn't this Reagan guy give a dam." He lives 5 minutes from my house and watches the same news I watch at night.

Then we find out, thanks to Congressional Hearings, that the major supplier of cocaine in the US (Freeway Ricky Ross) is making his purchases from Nicaraguan rebels who were funded and managed by Oliver North. Rafeal Edmonds, who was the principal drug kingpin in DC during the 80s bought his cocaine from gang members in LA. If you think this is just conspiracy talk, look into Sen. John Kerrey's hearings under the auspices of the Subcommittee on Narcotics and International Terrorism. Or you can look at documentary's featuring Rafeal and Ricky Ross. You can hear it straight from the horses mouth. You can't ask the reporter who broke the story cause he supposedly committed suicide by shooting himself multiple times. This is the kind of stuff that any third generation Washingtonian would know. You would also know what DC was before crack and what it became after crack. Sorry if I blame Reagan and North for flooding my city with crack. But really, who are the real animals here?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 15, 2007 1:57 PM

Amen. You did your research about Reagan.

Posted by: bill of brookland | March 15, 2007 1:58 PM

I get sick and tired of all the "gentrifier" bashing. I feel compassion for the people who are getting forced out of gentrifying neighborhoods, but let's be clear about the fact that yuppies have just as much a right to ownership of property and pursuit of happiness as anyone else. Furthermore, NOBODY has automatic right to a city or neighborhood simply because they happen to have grown up there. I'm a longtime DC resident, but due to my race and my (relatively recent) increase in income, I could probably be considered by some as an evil gentrifier. That said, there is no way I can afford to live in the kind of suburban neighborhood I grew up in. Should the government subsidize my income so I can afford to move into a 4-bedroom Victorian in some leafy Maryland suburb? Obviously not.

I am working hard, working smart, and doing what I can to build a good life for myself. God willing, I may yet scrape together enough capital to buy a home in Shaw, Mt. Vernon Sq., Eckington, or Brookland, and I refuse to feel bad about that. I refuse to feel bad about working hard for what I want out of life.

...and change is a part of life. The longtime residents who complain that "You all need to move to another city. We don't want you in DC," need to check themselves. If longtime residents want to stay in these neighborhoods, they need to teach their kids to value hard work, education, academia, and success, instead of allowing them to celebrate thug life and hate on people who are heads up enough to make something out of themselves.

The problems in DC's communities started a long time before the latest cultural cycle made city-living chic again...and regardless of the genesis of those problems, the only way they are going to be resolved is by the community itself (tip #1: don't reelect crackheads to city government--if you do, you'll get what you asked for). Allowing this city to become a cesspool of decrepit buildings, failing schools, and inept politics is the fault of longtime residents--and trying to blame that on new residents who just want to fix the place up isn't going to get you too far.

Posted by: smorg | March 15, 2007 2:49 PM

Sorry, gentrifiers. We really don't hate you. But sometimes you guys are kind of like the new guy straight out of college who shows up on your job ready to "fix things." You really can't speak credibly until you understand the history and context of a given situation.

One thing you need to understand about people who have been here for generations is that our families have been working for the government, both district and federal, for generations. So we tend to view everything with a political perspective. Our understanding of social ills goes beyond slogans like, "Culture of Victimization." We know all of the governments dirty little secrets. We understand that most of what is wrong with our city and country is more than just a matter of "Personal Responsibility." It is often, equally, the result of public policy. So it's not that we're mad at gentrifiers, it's just that we feel like sometimes you guys don't understand the game. It's chess not checkers.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 15, 2007 3:23 PM

Its interesting the responses here to whites moving into the District as "evil gentrifiers" when African Americans moving to Prince Georges County are welcomed as a "gentrifying" force. Irony.

Posted by: James Buchanan | March 15, 2007 3:28 PM

Holding up a few bad tenants (and they do exist) as a blanket excuse for why a landlord does not follow the law is pure ignorant foolishness.

Posted by: Wow | March 15, 2007 4:05 PM

To 3:23 PM,

Hey I'm a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, and fully understand that the problems in this city and country are not due solely to a lack of personal accountability or a culture of victimization. Clearly our society and our government has an obligation to help level the playing field for everyone, and to do whatever possible to get a subculture in crisis back on its feet and out of the morasse created by bad history and bad public policy. the same time, the GOP didn't reelect convicted crackhead and perennial tax-dodger Marion Barry to the city council, mayors office, and then the city council again. That idiocy (and the resulting rampant cronyism, ineffectual city services and junkbond financial status) is on the residents of the city. And guess what, I am aware that Barry was a charismatic leader who cut his teeth in the civil rights movement. I understand the context, and I STILL DC residents were idiotic to vote this loser into office again and again, even as the city sunk to its lowest depths (murder capitol, crack epedemic, financial ruin), and became national embarassment.

So please forgive me if I don't share your notion about who understands the game being played. If the goal is to "win" (and by that I mean to raise everybody up and turn this city into a beautiful place full of wealth and opportunity), longtime residents may want to learn how to play checkers--because they apparently suck at chess!

Posted by: smorg | March 15, 2007 4:06 PM

The open air drug markets of the 80s weren't just supplying Marion Barry. They were supplying senators, congressman, congressional staffers, judges, cops, FBI agents and everybody in between. If you think Marion Barry was the only public official with an interest in perpetuating the violent culture of DC in the 80s, you're not even playing checkers, you're shooting marbles.

But I do agree that the ultimate goal of everyone in the city should be to build a strong, diverse community.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 15, 2007 4:37 PM

I really don't see what name calling does in this situation.

As if a poor person can decide to stop being poor, or a white student can stop being white. Calling people names doesn't help.

I think that the rose colored glasses need to come off both sides. The problem here isn't personal vigilance. The problem is a system that is not responsive enough to either sides needs. Fact. No rental owner can afford to constantly service a building when the apartments are renting for 375-400. It just isn't financially doable. Sadly for someone who wants to pay that little they are almost guaranteeing that the conditions will be untenable.

Asking someone to report everything that the neighbors do isn't realistic either. First because it assumes that the police or other authorities will be responsive. Second because it would take up so much of your time that you would never be able to do something else.

I think a better goal for this forum would be to discuss solutions to this problem. Slumlords are real, and so are disrespectful tenants. You can't just put an end to it. What are methods for solving this problem.


Posted by: greg | March 15, 2007 5:32 PM

...and most of this commentary ignores the fact that the landlord in question repeatedly broke the law in an effort to hide his ownership of the properties under discussion.

That is a constructive admission of guilt.

Posted by: wow | March 15, 2007 5:37 PM


1. Create a independent low-income-housing oversight group to identify trouble areas and act as a fast response group. Mediating land lord tenant disputes etc.

2. What about requiring that a portion of rent in a low-income-housing area must be set aside and would be 'banked' as an incentive for the tenant. If the the afore mentioned oversight group deems the conditions of the rental to be maintained or damages not their fault then they would be able to receive that money back later on. Like a continual security deposit.

3. Require that landlords renting in low-income designated areas be certified by the oversight group.

4. Enable fast property extraction from bad landlords instead of telling them to sell off property they simply lose it. And penalties that multiply based on length of time before a response. The oversight group could mediate these issues.

5. Enable fast eviction for bad tenants and allow the oversight group to require eviction even if the landlord doesn't. This way good neighbors can have the power to get rid of bad.

6. allow the oversight group to determine maximum capacity for buildings etc. and be involved in setting rents for designated buildings and districts.

7. Create a police group that is assigned to the oversight group, much like metro or the capital.

8. Creative tax incentives for large developers to invest in these designated areas, while still maintaining low-income status. rewards for things like building improvements, educational / internet facilities, property and exterior improvement, security features, health care, programs for elderly tenants, and supporting business in the areas.

By investing in these areas it would facilitate other more cost effective projects for these large developers. The city needs to look at the carrots and sticks that it has in it's inventory and use a mix or public and private policies to tackle these issues.

I think there are probably a lot of positive approaches that could be implemented to deal with the concerns that people have. But then I'm just a semi - independent - conservative - died in the the wool - gentrifying - pro diversity - let's be practical-liberalish - white guy who has never owned a piece of property.


Posted by: greg | March 15, 2007 5:53 PM

Reading that article really hurt me. Unlike anybody else who has posted, I grew up at 1655 W. St S.E. Apt #103. Of course, that was the late 50's and early 60's. I still often think about what a wonderful neighborhood it was. No junk, just laughing playing kids. The Paramount grocery at the bottom of the hill. The alley out back and the woods where we played all day. Walking to Ketchum Elementary School. We weren't well off, the apt.'s were small, we used to sit on the front steps in the summer, but it still brings back fond memories.

Posted by: rlc | March 16, 2007 1:29 AM

Good ideas Greg, but they bring up more questions:

Your idea # 2: " ... requiring that a portion of rent in a low-income-housing area must be set aside and would be 'banked' as an incentive for the tenant." Sounds good for the tenant, but you just reduced the amount of money the landlord has available for maintenance, hence you will create more slums.

Your idea # 4: "Enable fast property extraction from bad landlords instead of telling them to sell off property they simply lose it." That would hurt the pocketbook of the slumlord but (1) you make no mention about who will be responsible for the property after it is taken and (2) what happens to the tenants while the property is being fixed?

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