Tue. May 17th, 2022

Brittany Bennett
Homeowner Brittany Bennett (black hat) investigated damage to her unit. (Photo by Roy Lewis, The Washington Informer)

Five years ago, Brittany Bennett and her two young sons lived in a New York Avenue homeless shelter. And while she often dreamed of buying a house, she also spent many sleepless nights wondering how her dream could come true.

Home ownership meant “stability” – something she had a great urge for for her children and herself.

So as she said, she stuck to her dream and started looking for ways that would allow her to start building “generational wealth”.

With patience and great determination, she would discover that help was available and she took full advantage of it.

“I went from being homeless for three years to becoming a homeowner within one,” she said proudly.

Her path to homeownership only took shape in 2017, when a loan officer told Bennett about the Purchasing Assistance Program (HPAP), which is administered by the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). It provides interest-free loans and closing costs assistance to qualified applicants to purchase single-family homes, condominiums or condominiums in the district.

Since 1978, HPAP has served more than 7,700 district households and provided over $ 210 million in down payment and closing costs.

Bennett worked with her lender while holding back three jobs to improve her chances of meeting mortgage requirements. She went through the process, which she describes as “boring and stressful”, before she was eligible in the fall of 2018 when she submitted her application. Bennett succeeded, saying she remembers being happy when she realized she had come a huge step closer to fulfilling her dream of being a DC homeowner.

In December, when she first saw her 3-bedroom condo in the Southeast on the River East at Grandview Estates II on Talbert Street, she said she knew “that was all I wanted.”

With keys in hand, she and her sons moved in a few days after January 31, 2019. But within a few months, her dream became a nightmare.

Cracks in the floor of Brittany Bennett's unit
Cracks in the floor of Brittany Bennett’s unit. (Photo courtesy Commissioner McKinney)

In April, she began noticing cracks in the walls and immediately called the developer, Stanton View Development, who did not initially respond. Still, she was advised not to worry and said to an official, “you’re going to see cracks in the walls because the foundation is still laying.”

Over the next two years, the structural problems with water grew that began to leak into the bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchen. Windows and doors stopped closing properly. And even when the developer made repairs, Bennett considered them simply cosmetic.

As more problems arose, she began to consult with neighbors and realized that they also had similar complaints. She, like others at Grandview Estates, had overcome homelessness only to be confronted with several security issues in their “dream home.”

Several homeowners discover fault signs

ANC Commissioner Robin McKinney (8A06) has lived at Grandview Estates since 2017. (Photo Courtesy Commissioner McKinney)

Homeowner Robin McKinney moved into her unit in 2017 after being homeless for five years.

“It was my dream to be a homeowner and to give my kids generational wealth,” she said.

McKinney, an advisory neighborhood commissioner (8A06), also noted “cracks in the walls, floor tiles cracked and doors closed incorrectly” within weeks of moving in. And like Bennett, she was told, “You’re going to see cracks because the foundation is still laying.”

Another neighbor, Karl Morrison, moved into his condominium in June 2017.

“Grandview was a new development,” he said. “I remember it because I used to drive by and tell my friends that I’m going to move there when they’m done. I thought I had achieved my dream by moving in there, but like Robin and Brittany, it quickly turned into a nightmare. ”

“I learned that there were problems in unit 9-B, even before I even moved in. When I did my home inspection, they found that my bedroom window was leaking. Stanton Development had to come in and replace the drywall and repair the window. And I had to pay for an extra inspection. ”

Karl Morrison
Grandview resident Karl Morrison (blue shirt) discusses structural damage in front of his condominium. (Photo by Roy Lewis, The Washington Informer)

“When my mother, who was in her early eighties, first came to my new place, she said as soon as she walked in: ‘Your floors are crooked. I feel like I’m going down a hill. ‘”

As for Bennett and her sons, they moved out in May last year and could no longer. Nevertheless, like other homeowners, she still bears the burden of mortgage payments and condominium fees – despite the fact that the district has considered the property uninhabitable.

McKinney is about to leave his home, and Morrison moved into a hotel last month.

The smell of mold remains evident in Bennett’s condominium and without the carpet to hide imperfections, the floor shows significantly large cracks in the floor. Raw sewage has destroyed the walls and the foundation of the building has taken a downward slope on the back of the property. Outside the entrance to Bennett’s unit, visible cracks can be seen in the structure running from the roof to the ground.

Can the DC government clean up the mess?

DC officials continue to work with homeowners as they try to tackle the crisis.

Drew Hubbard, deputy director of operations for the DHCD, responded in writing to The Washington Informer: “Mayor Muriel Bowser set up the Talbert Street Task Force, led by the DCHD. The multi-agency task force helps homeowners navigate their insurance claims and alleviate loan obligations to the district while maintaining their ability to access first-time homebuyer programs and relocation needs. ”

Section 8 Councilor Trayon White, Sr., works with Councilor Anita Bonds, chair of the Housing and Administrative Administration Committee, and members of the Mayor’s Task Force to assist homeowners.

“I know the city has offered several temporary solutions, including offering $ 7,000 to move them into a residence or pay for their residence for a year,” White said, “it is my understanding that as of Friday, everyone has except for six or seven homeowners who accepted the district’s offer. ”

When asked if the district had been helpful, Bennett replied, “I feel like no one is doing anything. They gave us $ 7,000 to cover moving costs and stuff like that. ”

“They gave us a certificate for which they will pay our rent for 12 months and our utilities at a reasonable market price. But where do you find a three bedroom unit like the one I already have? I have to cover that gap for rent with what the government is offering for a 3-bedroom apartment. Plus, I’m still responsible for my mortgage and condominium fees, even though I can not live here, ”she said.

McKinney added: “To be honest, someone had to be held accountable for murder because they killed my dream of becoming a homeowner.”

“The developer would never have cut corners [in other parts of the District] as they did in section 8. They felt they could do this and no one would care or do anything, ”she said.

For many, another motion day comes year too fast

McKinney, who called HPAP a “good program,” estimates that structural damage similar to what she experienced now affects between 70 and 75 percent of Grandview residents. She plans to leave the premises soon because it is no longer habitable.

“Are you telling me I have to live in a sub-survey because of something I did not do? Grandview Estates is a failure as no one can live there and I think the DC government is responsible, ”Morrison said.

Bennett said her next steps are still unclear, but for now, her sons have moved in with her mother as she moves from house to house – sometimes with family members, other times with friends.

“It’s time to move on, but I probably won’t buy another home in this part of town,” she said. “My boys and I have already lost too much. Even worse, it counts as the second time we have been homeless – and in the same area. ”

Last January, the Falcon Group completed a report describing a comprehensive list of problems, including defective exterior walls, a structurally unhealthy foundation, water damage to roofs and poorly installed structures.

In April, Stanton View Development filed for bankruptcy and is still under investigation by the Attorney General. The phone number on the company website is no longer in operation.

What is still clear is that the district needs to do more to ensure this never happens again. What is the local government’s control process for developers? Has Stanton View Development built other homes in sections 7 and 8? If so, have district inspectors visited these homes to make sure they are safe? The Bowser administration needs to do more so that dreams of home ownership can never be turned into nightmares.

Talbert Street Southeast Homeowners Davina Callahan and Yvonne Lawson at City Hall.
Talbert Street Southeast Homeowners Davina Callahan and Yvonne Lawson at City Hall.

Several homeowners from River East at Grandview Estates on Talbert Street Southeast gathered on the steps of City Hall to protest uninhabitable living conditions. Each of the residents successfully completed the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP), which is administered by the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

Talbert Street Southeast Homeowners Yvonne Lawson and Davina Callahan distribute flyers in front of City Hall.
Talbert Street Southeast Homeowners Yvonne Lawson and Davina Callahan distribute flyers in front of City Hall.

Each of the women, several of whom have already left their homes due to internal and external structural deficiencies in the basic communities, handed out flyers with a list of immediate relocation needs from local elected officials. These demands range from a $ 4,000 rent supplement ($ 1,500 extra for larger families) to an agreement to extend the 12-month assistance offered by the district, with the expectation that the shift will extend beyond one year.

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What is still clear is that the district needs to do more to ensure this never happens again. What is the local government’s control process for developers? Has Stanton View Development built other homes in sections 7 and 8? If so, have district inspectors visited these homes to make sure they are safe? The Bowser administration needs to do more so that dreams of home ownership can never be turned into nightmares.

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