First-time homeowners in a Southeast Washington, D.C. condominium are being told to evacuate their residences after developers and city officials ignored structural problems with the building.
Homeowners at the River East at Grandview Condominiums on Talbert Street were first advised to evacuate the building Aug. 16 after residents hired an outside engineer to assess structural issues that residents claim to have persisted since the building’s erection in 2017. Despite the evacuation notice, several residents have remained in the building. However, before the evacuations, nine residents filed a lawsuit against the building developers.
Stanton View Development LLC, the condominium developer, constructed the building as part of the Home Purchase Assistance Program, a city initiative that assists with loans, down payments and closing costs so people with low and moderate incomes can become homeowners. Stanton View Development LLC filed for bankruptcy in March of this year.
Soon after buying her condominium in 2017, Robin McKinney, a resident of the building who sits on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8A, began to notice that walls were cracking, the air conditioning unit was not functioning and her door was shifting in its frame. Other residents noticed similar problems with the housing units.
The issues were unsettling given that the building was only a few years old, according to McKinney.
“I would respect it more if I was there 20 or 25 years and the issues started happening,” McKinney said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “It’s not even five years in, and I’m out of my dream home that I purchased.”
The developers were able to take advantage of the situation and let the dangerous structural issues go unchecked because both Ward 8 and the residents of the Talbert Street building are predominantly Black and low income, according to May.
“Had the population living in the building looked differently — had they not been Black folk — we wouldn’t have gotten this far,” May said.
Many residents contacted the developers for assistance with the structural issues soon after they moved in; however, none of the concerns were taken seriously, according to LaRuby May, one of the lawyers representing the group of residents in the Talbert Street lawsuit.
“The developers were kind of brushing them off and saying, ‘Hey, this is normal settlement. You’ve never been a homeowner, so you don’t understand that in every new home and new construction there’s settlement,’” May said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “They discounted the repeated request of the residents to address the core issues.”
City officials did not adequately ensure that the condominium was of a livable quality and did nothing to address the residents’ concerns, according to Je Yon Jung, the lead attorney on the Talbert Street case.
“They should have done a better job at making sure what they were building in Ward 8 was sufficient for habitability and for the health and safety of the people they were putting in there,” Jung said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “They didn’t do that.”
In response to the evacuations, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) launched the Talbert Street Task Force through the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development to help affected residents.
The task force helps residents address issues they may be facing because of the evacuation of the building, according to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
“The multi agency task force is helping the homeowners navigate their insurance claims, to alleviate loan obligations to the District while preserving their ability to access ﬁrst time homebuyer programs, and to address relocation needs,” the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The Talbert Street Task Force does not do enough to help the residents of the building, who still have payments to make even though their homes are not safe to live in, according to Jung.
“These women still have to pay mortgages, they still have to pay their insurance and they have no place to live,” Jung said. “The task force has not come to resolve that.”
While McKinney waits for the lawsuit to proceed, she remains appalled by the lack of support and extreme impacts that she has felt because of the issues with the building.
“No matter where I go, what ends up happening is that I have to pay my mortgage, because I don’t want my credit to get messed up,” McKinney said. “I’ve worked too hard for it.”