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Serving the GW Community since 1904

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Death in vacant I Street home prompts calls to restore neighborhood properties

Alexander Welling | Assistant Photo Editor
Metropolitan Police Department officers found a woman dead in a vacant house on the 2500 block of I Street earlier this month.

Foggy Bottom residents are pressing community leaders to restore decrepit-looking properties in the neighborhood after a woman was found dead in a vacant I Street home.

Alaina Gertz, a Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman, said police officers responded to the 2500 block of I Street on Jan. 10 at about 9:50 p.m. for a report of an unconscious person. The woman had gone missing on New Year’s Eve, according to an MPD release, and Gertz said officers found the woman unconscious and not breathing in a vacant I Street property.

The incident has raised concerns from Foggy Bottom neighbors over two other properties on the street, 2505 I St. and 2506 I St., which are run-down and vacant. Community leaders said they are planning to hold a meeting Tuesday to discuss how to address concerns surrounding the women’s death and state of the home where she was found.

Gertz said D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and pronounced the woman dead.

“D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene, where they found no signs consistent with life, and the victim was pronounced dead,” she said in an email.

She said the woman was transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the case is still under investigation. Gertz said MPD will continue to respond to service requests for drug and narcotic complaints on the block.

“We advise that if anyone witnesses any type of illegal activity to immediately call 911,” she said.

Duncan Bedlion, the Second District commander, said at a neighborhood meeting Wednesday that MPD’s technical team is further investigating the woman’s death. Bedlion said he and other officers found evidence in the home that several people may be using the home to take drugs.

“There was some indication that drug activity was taking place,” Bedlion said. “That was observed by me. I was there. I can’t disclose to you what we know about the victim at this time.”

The Hatchet is not naming the woman to respect her family’s privacy.

Bedlion added that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs boarded up the property last week to prevent people from entering the house, which is pending development. He said MPD can provide additional patrolling in the area if community members have further concerns about the property.

“Let Lieutenant Terry, let Captain Caldwell – who’s your sector captain – know, and we’ll have our officers give special attention,” Bedlion said.

Neighborhood leaders said the incident is indicative of a larger issue residents have faced with unkempt homes on I Street.

“People are fed up about the buildings that are in bad shape, and it’s brought that issue to the forefront once again.”

Marina Streznewski, the president of the Foggy Bottom Association, said she heard from community members that the woman who died struggled with substance abuse. Streznewski said the property in which the woman was found has been vacant since she moved to the neighborhood in the early 2000s.

“The property is a wreck and has been a wreck for decades,” she said.

Streznewski said the death at the property has highlighted neighbors’ concerns with the appearance and danger posed by dilapidated properties in the neighborhood. She said the Foggy Bottom Association will hold a meeting Tuesday night to discuss neighborhood concerns surrounding the women’s death.

“People are fed up about the buildings that are in bad shape, and it’s brought that issue to the forefront once again,” Streznewski said.

Following the death, Foggy Bottom community member Scott Wayne said in an email to community members that the death at 2507 I St. led him to feel concerned about vacant properties in the neighborhood, including the home across the street – 2506 I St. – that is “leaning” and has “crumbling” steps.

“We do not know the full circumstances of the woman’s death and how she accessed the space, but one thing my neighbors and I definitely agree on is that having abandoned and dilapidated properties in the neighborhood is not helpful, healthy or safe,” he said in the email, which was obtained by The Hatchet.

Wayne said allowing vacant and decrepit-looking properties to remain in the neighborhood is a “blight” to the community.

“We have lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years and will continue to do so, but are fed up with these properties making our neighborhood seem like a slum,” Wayne said in the email.

Susan Lampton, a Foggy Bottom resident, called for “accountability” in homeownership in the neighborhood.

“I look forward to immediate resolutions and will join my other neighbors who will not let the circumstances of the woman’s tragic death be shrugged off,” she said in the email.

Lucinda Babers, the deputy mayor for operations and infrastructure, said in an email obtained by The Hatchet that DCRA officials inspected the property next to 2507 I St., where the woman was found dead, and the home at 2506 I St., located across the street. She said officials noted possible violations for the front step of the home and a window but planned to do a full inspection last Wednesday.

She said DCRA officials found no citations at 2505 I St. but will schedule a follow-up inspection to confirm.

“DCRA has taken enforcement action against the property going back several years for failure to maintain the exterior of the building,” Babers said.

William Kennedy Smith, the former chair of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, whose term ended Wednesday, said the family that owns the vacant 2506 I St. property wants to extend the property and move into the home.

Smith said several neighbors are protesting the expansion of the home because the added rooms would block sunlight from the house in the back. The family will need an exception from DCRA to build if the expansion does block the light, he said.

“The ANC has to decide whether to allow these to make an exception to do their expansion, or whether they’re going to sell this,” Smith said.

Multiple community members noted in the email chain that they had often observed lights on and boards removed from the doors of the vacant I Street properties.

Inez Saki-Tay, a community outreach specialist at DCRA, fielded questions about the death and the properties on I Street from community members at the ANC meeting Wednesday. City officials cannot remove squatters or people who live in a home they don’t own, from vacant properties, according to D.C. law.

Saki-Tay said people can be arrested for trespassing for entering a home that’s been abated, but officials need proof of a “direct correlation” between the squatter and the home’s boards being removed.

“Ugly is not a violation,” Saki-Tay said. “What I mean by that is there are properties that don’t look that great. But if the property is sound, and it’s not causing harm to the public at large, then we can’t force the person to beautify their property.”

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