Jun 21, 2022 - News

Mayor Bowser's affordable housing record is under fire in third-term bid

Homeowner points to a crack in the brick facade of building
Homeowner Regina Haire, 64, shows a large crack in the Talbert Street SE condo building's facade. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s bid for a third term is in part a referendum on her affordable housing record. One project gone wrong highlights criticisms surrounding the public dollars spent on development over nearly eight years.

Last August, residents of an Anacostia condo project began abandoning the complex over fears of a collapse. The 46-unit project, built in 2017 on a hill on Talbert Street in Southeast, was financed with $6 million of the Bowser administration’s centerpiece affordable housing fund.

Upset homeowners took their plight to Bowser herself, confronting the mayor at a Brookland polling location after she cast her ballot last Thursday.

Why it matters: Leading up to today's election, Bowser has touted the hundreds of millions spent on affordable housing as outpacing other big cities. But her opponents running to her left, council members Robert White and Trayon White, have questioned the effectiveness of that spending in a wealthy city where Black residents continue to face displacement.

  • An audit last year criticized her administration for not meeting a legal benchmark that half of the money go toward housing for the city’s lowest-earning households.
Data: The Washington Post, D.C. Executive Office of the Mayor. Chart: Axios Visuals

What's happening: Residents say that shortly after moving into the complex, cracks began appearing on interior and exterior walls. Then there was the smell of mold and sewage. By August 2021, an engineering firm said that the building was unsafe, leading residents to leave in droves.

  • Since then, “we’ve gotten little to no results,” says Davina Callahan, 31, who cares for her 3-year-old daughter.

A lawsuit filed against the District seeking damages in part under a consumer protection law was dismissed last year, and an appeal filed this year awaits a response from the District by July 1, said LaRuby May, the attorney on the case and a former Ward 8 council member whose sister is one of the homeowners.

  • May argues the District should be accountable. “The District had their hand in every single aspect of the project,” said May, referring to the city’s financing of the project, assistance throughout the homebuying process, and other planning and oversight. “When the project went wrong, they said, ‘Hey, no, we didn’t do it.’”
  • An attorney who previously represented the developer, Stanton View Development, did not respond to an email from Axios seeking comment. Stanton filed for bankruptcy in March 2021, but the case was dismissed in February.
  • The District did not respond to a request for comment.

What they're saying: The residents said the District offered to cover their leases elsewhere for 12 months, and some are more than halfway through that timeframe with no clear fix in sight.

Regina Haire, 64, bought her condo with hopes it would be her “last home,” to retire peacefully. She is recovering from a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and was drawn to the unit she purchased in June 2018 for its accessible shower.

  • But Haire said she moved out last November, months after the engineer’s report and once the smell of mold became unbearable.

What’s next: Theresa Brooks-Hill, 46, frustrated and still awaiting a sit-down with the mayor, held out until today to cast her ballot, still weighing her options. She said Ward 8 council member Trayon White had visited the site before.

  • They point out that many of the homeowners are just like the mayor — single Black mothers who are native Washingtonians.
  • “My family, we supported her,” Haire said about voting for Bowser twice before, outside the condo complex. “I was walking around with her name on my shirt.”
  • “And this is how she repays us,” Brooks-Hill chimed in.
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