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Residents of DC Housing complex say padlocked gates, mold, rats and bugs are hazards to living

DC Fire said the padlocks at Potomac Gardens were a fire code violation.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — Neighbors in one D.C. housing complex said they are living in filth and need help now. The tenants of Potomac Gardens in Southeast Capitol Hill said they have been dealing with mold, rats and bugs and city leaders are ignoring them. 

WUSA9 is listening.  

Courtney Mills is a mother of four and has lived in Potomac Gardens for 10 years. She invited us inside her apartment to show us what she’s been struggling to get city leaders to fix: numerous holes where she says mice have chewed through her walls. She showed us a patched-up hole behind her daughter’s dollhouse in the living room, hallway, by the radiator and one behind her son’s bed.  

“They eat at my patchwork solution,” she said as she pointed out the hole covered in glue traps. 

Mills tried covering the holes up with the glue traps landlords gave but she said the mice still get in. 

“They’re (managers) basically saying you know you have to live like this,” she said. “Catch your water bugs, catch your roaches, catch your mice.”

In fact, as we were touring the house, a huge water bug emerged from a kitchen cupboard as she raced to spray it with bug spray. She even showed us a picture of five mice stuck to a glue trap.  

“It breaks my heart, the anxiety that I see my kids go through, that I go through. We shouldn’t have to live like this,” said Mills. “No one wants to live with mice. It’s not one or two, it’s hundreds of mice!”

As we walked the property, we noticed padlocks on the iron gates surrounding the complex. Margo Falls is an elderly woman who was visiting her sister. Falls told us the padlocks mean she must make the long walk around the grounds to visit family but being locked in also poses another safety concern.

“God forbid if there’s a fire!” she exclaimed.  

In fact, DC FEMS said the padlocks are indeed a fire code violation. 

Shantell Powell also wanted us to see her place: a first-floor apartment she barely spends time in. Powell said she spends her own money on a hotel room now for her and her 9-year-old daughter who is afraid to sleep at home. She walked us to the bedroom where three mattresses were piled up on top of a bedframe. 

“We slept like this because we caught a rat in our mattress,” said Powell.  

Powell shared pictures and even videos of large rats roaming inside her home. She is now suing DC Housing Authority over the uninhabitable conditions.

The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs told WUSA9 the agency sent inspectors to the property on April 21, 2022. Violations were found and now DC Housing, who manages the property, is being fined more than $7,000.  

“Something needs to be done. We’re living in a crisis,” said Thomasia Moore.

Moore is the Resident Council Vice President. She wrote a letter about the horrible conditions including black mold inside the complex. She handed that letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser during her news conference Monday announcing the building was getting free WIFI.  

“They are poverty hustlers and they’re enriching themselves on our backs, on our pain, on our misery,” said Moore. “It’s not fair and it’s not humane.”

WUSA9 reached out to several DC agencies. The Department of Energy and Environment received a report of black mold and told WUSA9 they are sending inspectors to the property. The DOEE sent a statement stating they “contacted the DC Housing Authority so that both agencies can collaborate to address the resident’s concerns.”

A spokesperson with the DC Housing Authority takes residents’ concerns seriously and that it’s their mission to provide safe and quality affordable housing. In fact, they told us the property is undergoing a $3.7 million improvement.  

We asked if the work is currently being done and they said exterior doors are being replaced. 

“We’re just neglected and an underserved community,” said Moore. “I challenge the mayor to come and take a deeper look at these problems.”

Moore said she is forming a task force and hopes city leaders will join to come up with real solutions. 

As a result of our reporting, DC Housing Authority removed all the padlocks on the gates. The fire department said they are installing lockboxes instead. 

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