- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2000

A congressman with oversight over the District of Columbia yesterday said city officials must stop wasting money on dozens of needless rental properties that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each month.
"[Former Mayor Marion] Barry did this for years. These things do the taxpayers no good. This is the kind of thing that is almost criminal. The city has got to get tough on this," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District of Columbia.
Congressional and city leaders echoed Mr. Davis' concerns, prompted by a report yesterday in The Washington Times that said city officials spend $484,000 monthly for six properties that are vacant or barely used.
Citing an official inventory of the city's rented properties, The Times also reported that the District spends $400,000 monthly for 36 properties whose leases have expired, but are still occupied by city agencies.
"It's kind of an old story. It's surprising it's still happening," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee. "The city should have gotten itself out of these ridiculous leases. Enough time has gone by."
Norman S. Dong, deputy mayor for operations, said neither he nor Mayor Anthony A. Williams has reviewed the substance of the inventory, compiled at the behest of Congress and submitted days late last week.
Mr. Dong said lingering rentals for space that is scarcely used "doesn't meet the mayor's high standards on this."
Kenneth Kimbrough, director of the Office of Property Management, assembled the report.
"Nobody is more angry about this than the people who live in the District and pay taxes here," said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the city's nonvoting member of Congress. "We knew about this anecdotally, but there was no systemwide report."
Mr. Kimbrough said the inventory is the first ever done of the city's rented spaces.
The Times has obtained a copy of the inventory and has examined some of the 82 properties identified in it. The city pays $5.3 million each month in rent on those properties.
Though city officials identified only six properties as being vacant or barely used, The Times found significant empty spaces in buildings classified as "utilized."
For example, most of the second, third and fourth floors of the four-story "utilized" building at 2100 Martin Luther King Ave. SE are vacant. The city pays $151,774 a month in rent for that building.
Mr. Kimbrough could not say how long the underused rented properties have been in that condition. His agency, which began in 1998, dropped expired-lease rentals last year that charged premiums for continued occupancy, saving the city about $500,000 a month, he said.
Of the city's 36 expired leases, 22 ran out more than five years ago, the inventory shows. Seven expired in the 1980s. The city pays $399,652 monthly on all its expired leases.
Explaining why the city is paying rent on expired leases, Mr. Kimbrough said the various agencies that rent the underused properties often have several offices and probably are trying to find sites to centralize their operations.
"Before 1997, there probably wasn't money to go out there and make a new lease available," he said, adding that a new lease would give landlords an opportunity to raise the rent, he said.
"Maybe the city said, 'Let's just let this ride.' It's a two-way street," Mr. Kimbrough said.
The oldest expired lease, for an advisory neighborhood commissioner's office in Northeast, expired in November 1983. The city pays $220 a month for that space.
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said her Real Property Reform Bill will professionalize the Office of Property Management and make inventories regular reports.
"We're on the right track and I think it will be law in a month," Mrs. Patterson said.
The bill is scheduled for a first reading before the council on March 7.
"When the county of Fairfax signs a lease, it's always subject to an annual appropriation. The city ought to do that, too," Mr. Davis said.
The annual review allows county officials to nix a rental deal because of financial problems or simply because of a shift in policy, he said.

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