Sep 27, 2021 - News

D.C. homicides fueled by rundown properties

Illustration of boarded up homes, broken windows, and chain link fence in the shape of a firearm

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Angela Washington was the last line of defense for residents at the Oak Hill Apartments in Southeast besieged by gun violence. Then, on the evening of Sept. 21, the 41-year-old special police officer was shot to death.

Why it matters: The District’s spike in gun violence is being linked partly to rundown properties that city officials and residents say have become magnets for criminal activity.

  • Residents tie Washington's killing to longstanding squalid and dangerous conditions at the apartment complex.
  • Before Washington's death, residents at Oak Hill complained to their landlord about doors that didn't lock, backed-up sewage, rotting walls, and strangers in vacant units.

The big picture: Washington's killing was the 19th homicide to take place around the Congress Heights neighborhood over the past two years, according to police data.

  • Across D.C.'s neighborhoods most plagued by gun violence, properties allegedly mismanaged by landlords are driving violence, the attorney general's office told Axios.
  • Homicides are currently up 11% from 2020, which saw a 16-year high in killings.

What they're saying: "Almost always when there is drug or firearm-related activity, there is also unkept property," Jennifer Berger, head of the social justice division in Attorney General Karl Racine's office, told Axios. "It usually goes hand-in-hand with overgrown shrubs, trash that is not being picked up, doors that are not being secured [and] inadequate lighting."

Oak Hill resident Cecelia Ginyard, 64, said that the property has become more violent as conditions worsened and vacant units went unlocked.

  • When she moved in 18 years ago, "the kids were able to play out here without being chased down with bullets," Ginyard told Axios outside in the courtyard of the complex.
Two residents of Oak Hill Apartments discuss conditions at their complex in the courtyard.
Roshawn Petway (left) expresses frustration to longtime resident Cecelia Ginyard about conditions in their units days after the killing of a special police officer. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios.

Another resident, Roshawn Petway, has battled a collapsing ceiling and mice, and is fearful of the violence that surrounds her home with four children, the youngest a seven-year-old daughter.

  • "It took an officer to get killed on the property for the police department and the chief to come over here," Petway said in an interview with Axios, after "all the murders that happened on this property."

State of play: Racine's office has taken several landlords to court over dozens of properties plagued by violence.

  • Some settlements led to repairs and the hiring of special police officers such as Washington, who can carry guns and make arrests on those properties.

Oak Hill has been on Racine's radar. It was previously owned by notorious landlord Sanford Capital, which in 2018 settled lawsuits over its properties by selling off its housing units in the city.

  • The weekend after Washington's killing, residents blamed Sanford and subsequent property managers for the violence.

What's next: Beyond addressing the mold, an unrelenting rodent infestation, and vacant units, residents said they want the 107-unit complex's perimeter to be secured with a fence and locked gate.

  • Residents said new property manager Noble Realty has only installed poles for a gate that hasn't been built.
  • Axios emailed Noble Realty and a recent property management company, UIP, but did not receive responses.
A picture of a rundown vacant unit shown by a resident of Oak Hill Apartments.
Roshawn Petway says there have been several rundown vacant units like the one pictured above on her phone, attracting strangers and making the Oak Hill Apartments complex unsafe. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios

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