- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

The house and grounds of 4506 Bowen Road in the Bradbury Heights neighborhood in Southeast Washington look like an urban jungle. Snakes slither among the uncut grass and weeds, and rodents romp day and night. Vagrants and dopers enter and exit as they please. The fires are sometimes accidental, sometimes arson. If you're interested in purchasing this property on the cheap, you might want to take a gander at the property tax-sale list that appears today in The Washington Times because 4506 just might be listed. Then again, after you read about the trouble Ted Darton has been through trying to purchase 4506, his troubles might leave you shaking your head and your finger at the D.C. bureaucracy.
Mr. Darton lives next door to 4506. He is a disabled Navy veteran, and he served in Vietnam. He is on a fixed income and lives with his wife, daughter and four granddaughters. They are a happy family, but things have been very rough going for the family since 1999. That was the year that Mr. Darton handed the D.C. government $4,000 to buy 4506, an abandoned, single-family home next door. His thinking then, as now, is that he would run a program to help other veterans. Besides, the abandoned house is crawling with vagrants and other undesirables, who bootlegged electricity and often set fires there. This is a dangerous environment for his family, especially the Darton granddaughters.
Well, the sad truth is that while Mr. Darton gave the city his hard-earned dough, the city has yet to hand him a deed to the property, and no one in D.C. government wants to help him.
Mr. Darton bought or thought he had bought 4506 through the District's annual auction of tax-delinquent property, which is handled by the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) and has a list of tax-delinquent, auction-eligible properties in today's newspaper. The initial procedures for participating in the auction are fairly simple. The prospective buyer registers for the auction with OTR, and makes an advance, good-faith deposit of at least 20 percent of the prospective bid. Properties are then sold at auction to the highest bidder.
For Mr. Darton, things went downhill afterward. At settlement, he was denied a deed and the bank grew nervous. He began calling around the city for help, first calling OTR, where this whole process started, all the way up to the top floors of city hall. He gave everyone he talked to all pertinent details and documents verifying him as the successful bidder, but they never give him gave him the deed. Now, he hasnot only lost his original $4,000, but might lose his home. He thinks there may be a gag order on his case because, after promises of help from the office of Mayor Tony Williams and the office of his councilmember, Kevin Chavous, no one returns his calls anymore.
I called the office of the chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, hoping to merely get an idea of how things could have gone so awry for what appears to be a program that benefits individuals and the community at-large. Folks don't want to talk to me either.
After he learned that the property had been sold, he began calling around to get his refund, which should have accrued interest of 18 percent per annum since 1999, according to law. That money would at least help him ward off foreclosure on his home.
"I had to eventually file bankruptcy," Mr. Darton said, "I'm almost paying double the amount on a high note" he now has after refinancing to purchase 4506.
I have no evidence, and Mr. Darton hasn't any either, that shows the city is bilking folks on this auction thing. Then again, I don't have evidence to contrary either. Most times, the Office of the Inspector General and the Officer of the D.C. Auditor don't have anything to say about such programs unless the media blows the story wide open. And I'm not yet suggesting that that be the case of 4506.
But something is certainly amiss anytime the bureaucracy spins its wheels and helps and then grinds to a halt. In the case of 4506, the property and the house look worse today than they did in 1999. Vagrants sleep on the front porch and relieve themselves on the front porch and elsewhere in and around the house. And I can't imagine you, Dear Reader, raising your child next to a house like that.
If there is a new owner, that new owner has yet to take care of 4506. Oh, and get this: The Department of Public Works has warned Mr. Darton not to cut the grass or board up windows or doors because he is not the owner.
So what is he supposed to do? How is he to get his money back with interest? Why does there appear to be a gag order on 4506? Why has 4506 been allowed to languish as an eyesore in Bradbury Heights for 14 years?
Who's in charge? Is anybody in charge?

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