Thursday, December 9th, 2010
“I first came to D.C. when I was doing research for my Master’s thesis. I spent six weeks here and told myself that I would do anything I could to get back to D.C. I just fell in love with how different it was from anywhere else I had lived, and how the people were from everywhere. This city has its own unique flavor, and I love go-go music, so that helps, too.
“When I finished school, I applied and got into the Emerging Leaders program at the Department of Health and Human Services. They didn’t send me to D.C., but to a position in Baltimore. I spent my time working up there and trying to get a job in D.C. after the program. Finally, I found something with the Administration for Children and Families in the Office of Head Start.
“I had a sorority sister who was living in the Marbury Plaza on Good Hope Road SE and she said it was a nice place to live and close to everything, including my job. My daughter and I moved in without having ever seen the place. You know, when I lived in Baltimore, I used to drive into D.C. and got lost a lot in SE. I would see the Anacostia sign and thought it was not a safe place to be because of what I had heard, so I tried to get out of there as quickly as possible. Now, after living here, when I see that Anacostia sign on Good Hope and Martin Luther King, I feel at home. I love it here and think that I will always live east of the river.
“While I love my neighborhood, my building has been a different story. After I moved into my place in October 2006, I started to notice things that weren’t right. Most of the apartments would flood because of old piping. There were a lot of security incidents in and around the building. There were times when we didn’t have heat or air conditioning. The building didn’t seem to be doing anything about this other than making minor repairs that never seemed to fix the major problems.
“In April 2007, the building got an offer to sell, and I was talking to my neighbor, who is a lawyer about it. I had no idea of tenants rights or anything like that at the time. She told me that the tenants would also have an opportunity to purchase the building. I thought that the opportunity to give so many people of color an opportunity to own property was incredible, so we organized a tenant’s association and put a board together to try and purchase the building. In the end, it didn’t happen for a number of reasons, mostly because we got screwed by the developers we selected, but the experience taught me about our rights as tenants and got me involved in the building.
“After that whole process, the Marbury Plaza was never sold, and is still owned by the Lightstone Group out of New York. After we took the action to try and buy our own building from the owners, they stopped caring about the facilities and let them fall apart. It got to the point where almost every apartment had been flooded, most people had been witness to a crime in the building, the disabled had trouble getting into one of the buildings because it was not ADA accessible, and we would go for periods without heat and air conditioning. The conditions were terrible.
“As the owners weren’t doing anything to seriously address these things, the tenant association and I started calling every city agency that handles codes and having them come to see the conditions we were living in. We managed to bring every department in here from recycling to health to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. We wanted to document all of these things and start to hold the owner and management company accountable. To add to that, 80 of us started to withhold rent over two years ago to make a point that this was not acceptable. We had the elderly, disabled, single Moms, working families, single professionals, and all kinds of other people involved in taking this stand against the owners. We really got a boost of support this past summer when after going two weeks without air conditioning, the D.C. Attorney General finally got involved on our behalf.
“Now, after a number of years of fighting it out, with much of that time in the courts and dealing with appeal after appeal, we are in the final stages of a settlement with the building. Those of us who withheld our rent will get an abatement and the building has promised to make the necessary repairs and adjustments to bring the building up to code. While nothing is ever perfect, and there are people who feel like the settlement is not enough, I view it as a success. The 1,000 to 1,500 residents here will finally be able to live with regular heat and air conditioning and free of animal infestation, security problems, and constant concerns by the disabled about getting into and out of their buildings. We couldn’t get everything, but I think that these changes will make all of our lives here better.
“When I tell people about all of this, they are always pretty shocked when they find out that I am not a D.C. native and still, I organized and led a movement to make our living conditions better. To be honest, I don’t think it really matters where you are from. If something is wrong, it is wrong, no matter where you are. I saw something that needed to be addressed, and I did it. The experience has made me rethink what I want to do with my life, and I want to go to law school, if I can find the money, and do this kind of work full-time. Now, I spend my days now working on regulations and grants, but to be able to actually make a real impact in someone’s life is really powerful. I want to help other people do what I did and help make them feel powerful, too.
“I know that it may sound really corny, but when my daughter and I first moved here, we didn’t have anything. We chased a dream to come live and work here and make a new beginning for our family. I feel blessed that I have been able to do that while also making a difference in our new home.”
April Goggans was the recipient of an Activist Award through the Washington Peace Center on December 8 for her work at Marbury Plaza.