To the Editor:
As a resident of Sedgwick Gardens, I was surprised to read Kimberly Macleod’s letter of July 23 defending her client (and our landlord) Daro Management’s screening policies for prospective tenants and implying that the landlord bears little responsibility for the security lapses we’ve experienced here over the past couple of years. Perhaps she was not informed about the day last January when seven or so police/ATF officers entered our lobby equipped with shields and semi-automatic weapons to arrest a resident under indictment for “Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Heroin, Cocaine, Cocaine Base [Crack], a Mixture and Substance Containing a Detectable Amount of Phencyclidine [PCP], and Marijuana.” This indictment was in force at the time the tenant moved in and grew out of a year-long law-enforcement operation heralded in press releases by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Attorney. The defendant was quickly back in his Sedgwick Gardens apartment under a “high intensity supervision program,” with orders not to have contact with any of his more than 15 alleged co-conspirators. Contrary to Ms. Macleod’s assertion, this tenant’s application could have been rejected under the Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016.
This is not the only example I know of tenants approved for leases despite disqualifying felony charges, though some cases, it’s true, are ambiguous. A man already on probation claimed Sedgwick Gardens as his address when he was arrested last April after allegedly shooting a man in the abdomen (not on the premises), but he was apparently a constant guest here rather than an official lease-holder. And it’s not clear whether the tenant who triggered the overnight police-and-SWAT-team occupation of Sedgwick Gardens in March 2018 could have been denied a lease under the above 2016 law despite having a long, violent criminal record – Daro made contradictory claims about this. (He was removed from Sedgwick Gardens only after a second arrest, upon his release from custody, for allegedly assaulting another tenant. He subsequently moved up Connecticut Avenue into the Brandywine.) What killed the community’s confidence in Daro’s screening policies was the company’s claim that, regarding this volatile tenant, “NO criminal history records were indicated at all in the background screening ran prior to the approval of the application.” Yet all it took to challenge this assertion was a simple Internet search of public records.
At the 11/1 community meeting to which Ms. Macleod refers – and she is mistaken to say that this or the meeting on 2/18 was initiated by Daro; both were called only in response to sustained tenant pressure – a Daro executive claimed that its screening company had been fired in the wake of the above-described lapse and that all residents had been rechecked. There were no additional security concerns, she said, even though it was around just this time that the indicted alleged heroin trafficker was moving into the building.
Safety concerns are not “grievances about vouchers,” since all residents are being exposed to risk, regardless of how their rent is paid. It would be nice if the city played a more constructive role in promoting landlord accountability. While the 2016 Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act is for the most part a positive contribution to criminal-justice reform, Section 9 of the law grants landlords “immunity from any claims related to actual or constructive knowledge” of a tenant’s criminal background. This hardly seems like an invitation for landlords to screen responsibly and take precautionary measures to protect the public safety when warranted.
As for Ms. Macleod’s claim that Daro “addresses all resident concerns quickly, and works diligently with DHS and other agencies on a daily basis,” a resident with debilitating, heart-breaking behavioral health issues has been living at Sedgwick Gardens alone since last fall, despite the fact that she persists in a state of unhygienic indignity, gnashes and wails at all hours inside and outside the building, and accosts residents and passersby. I don’t believe that the two sets of neighbors who moved out after months of disruptions would agree that Daro addressed their concerns quickly. Nor has this disabled woman been humanely served by city agencies: On Wednesday, July 31, police officers were in the building for hours establishing that she is a missing person. As of this writing, I am told she has yet to be found.