- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

A tax lawyer named Randy McRae, who lives in Prince George's County and works out of a row house on Capitol Hill, owns several apartment buildings in the District. Five are on the city's so-called hot list, and two of those five have amassed 2,836 housing-code violations. A third is in Mount Pleasant at 1417 Newton Street NW, where a banner in English and Spanish says, "Now Renting." Problem is Mr. McRae's tenants may be out of a home soon because the city is threatening to condemn the buildings if he fails to resolve the violations. His tenants on Newton Street, however, face another imminent threat. The city is threatening to cut off water to their building because Mr. McRae has an outstanding water bill of $89,920.70 the largest on a recent list published by the city.
Mr. McRae is the fourth landlord facing serious criminal charges as part of the Williams administration's citywide anti-slum campaign. The campaign, appropriately dubbed the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, includes a hot list of dozens of multifamily dwellings that are threatened with condemnation because of long-standing housing violations. Several of the targeted properties, including Mr. McRae's Newton Hall Apartments, are near the new Metrorail station in Columbia Heights, which has a large Hispanic population. Most of the buildings on the hot list have been deemed "unfit for human habitation" because of vermin and roach infestation, faulty and dangerous plumbing and electrical wiring, asbestos and lead paint, and because they are fire traps.
Residents have also long complained to landlords about trying to raise their families without benefit of hot water and working smoke detectors, amid peeling paint and plaster and broken and missing windows screens. If water is cut off at Mr. McRae's building or any of the other buildings, a host of other problems could arise, including health-related issues.
Similarly squalid housing existed in St. Louis, Mo., where Mayor Williams and his director of consumer and regulatory affairs, Lloyd Jordan, worked before coming to Washington. So, understandably, the mayor has told Mr. Jordan and other members of his Cabinet to employ "every legal means necessary at our disposal" to ensure residents of the District of Columbia live in decent rental housing.
But unhappy Hispanic and Vietnamese residents are misdirecting their anger, booing and hissing at the mayor. In their minds, the city is at fault for condemning their buildings, thereby evicting them. They have filed suit against the city, charging that the condemnations disproportionately affect Hispanic households.
Anyone who considers the above-mentioned violations and the squalor to which they have contributed understands the city is hardly to blame. "These buildings did not get this way overnight," said Dorothy Brizill, a longtime Columbia Heights resident and well-known critic of the Williams administration. "Where were the Latino organizations then?"
This is not a racial issue but a public-health issue. The tenants and their lawyers should be directing their legal ire at those who violated the rules, not those who enforce them. Ultimately, their faulty aim may make it even more difficult for them to find a place to call home.

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