YWCA Tenants Complain of Bedbugs, Mold
Conditions Called 'Utterly Outrageous'; Officials Say Residents Owe Back
By Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007; B02
Vera Arrington says she can't enjoy a full night's sleep because her
bed is home to a colony of bedbugs. Antonia Manthus says her repeated
pleadings to fix her broken air conditioner have been to no avail.
At the historic Phyllis Wheatley
YWCA in the District's Shaw neighborhood, they and other residents
complain of persistent problems with water service, mold, mildew and poor
A group of tenants, all elderly women, picketed outside the building
yesterday to protest what they call the "negligence of the management."
Several carried placards reading: "Please help us
Mayor Fenty," "Bedbugs, mildew, mold. Oh my!" and "Ladies Deserve
"Your mom's sleeping on the floor -- think about it," Sharon Rohner,
62, a building resident, shouted into a loudspeaker. "Seniors, no heat in
the winter. Did you hear me?"
The four-story building, at 901 Rhode Island Ave. NW, opened in 1920
and over the years became a shelter for women seeking low-priced housing.
Many tenants were referred by social service agencies.
The 117 single rooms rent for $300 to $600 a month. The organization is
not associated with the national YWCA system.
This year, dozens of residents received court summonses seeking
thousands of dollars in overdue rent. YWCA officials said they had issued
numerous warnings to tenants about unpaid rent, and the facility needed
the money to function well.
More recently, residents have complained of health problems related to
bedbugs, mildew and mold and of receiving indifferent treatment by the
The YWCA board of directors has promised residents that it would work
to address the health issues and the other complaints. But residents say
the results have not been tangible.
The building's managers declined to comment yesterday.
"Our only comment is that we are addressing the issue that they are
protesting about today," said an employee in the reception area who would
not identify herself. Telephone messages left with the managing agent,
Vision Realty Management, were not returned.
The tenants have not contacted Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's office, but,
said Mafara Hobson, Fenty's spokeswoman, "we'll be more than happy to sit
down with the residents to hear their concerns and to learn about their
Alex Padro, an
Advisory Neighborhood Commission member from Ward 2, joined the
protesters, calling conditions "utterly outrageous."
"We have women who are being eaten alive by bedbugs," said Padro,
holding a sign reading "YWCA Bug Infestation" with a large photograph of a
"It's filth," said Eunice Talley, 74, president of the tenants'
association, sitting on a chair outside the building. "I want them to fix
the building up so we can have a decent place to live."
In the building, dusty chairs and file cabinets are crammed in what was
the lobby a year ago. Many tenants said they used to spend most of their
days there. "But now, they have to stay in their rooms with bedbugs,"
Jennifer Berger, a lawyer with
AARP, is trying to help the residents improve their living standards.
"The management is completely unresponsive to the needs of the most
vulnerable residents in D.C.," she said. "The conditions in the building
are exacerbating the physical conditions of the tenants."
Padro said, "I'm confident if we get the [YWCA] board to meet in one of
the bug-infested rooms, they'll get the inspection team fast."