The day of reckoning that many Lynnhill Condominium residents dreaded finally came to light on Oct. 25 when Pepco cut off power to the troubled housing complex in Temple Hills, Md. Washington Gas did the same. Meanwhile, residents were left to scramble for new housing and county officials were left to explain why they didn’t have the resources or were prepared for the dozens of families who were suddenly homeless.
Those who were left without power and a place to live after the utilities were turned off were renters and condo owners who paid their rent and fees to the condo association and management company that mismanaged what appears to be millions of dollars over the past 10 years. The Pepco bill for the complex was in excess of $1 million and negotiations for a suitable repayment plan failed.
Lynnhill condominiums. (Courtesy Photo/Google)
By Oct. 28, following a lawsuit brought by Maryland State Sen. C. Anthony Muse, the lights came back on, but by that time, many of the residents had found housing elsewhere. On Oct. 31, Washington Gas resumed its services.
“These are my friends; my constituents,” Muse said during a visit to the property. “They have done nothing wrong. They paid their rent. We will get this straightened out.”
Prince Georges County Executive Rushern T. Baker also visited the property and said he had no knowledge of the property being sold to developers. He promised residents the county would do its best in finding the right solution.
Once the blackout occurred many homeowners were left in the black while others were moved to shelters and nearby apartments that pitched in to help with what is becoming a growing challenge in Prince George’s County — affordable housing. While D.C. rents apartments for the homeless in Prince George’s, the county doesn’t have a similar program, but rather they depend on three shelters and the Warm Nights Program which allows the homeless to come in out of the weather during winter months.
“Ray Charles can see what is going on,” said Bill Butler, 36, who lived on the property with his girlfriend. “A lot of these people are returning citizens or recovering drug abusers. They are single mothers trying to make it. Now this happen. There is no safety net here in the county. There is a lack of affordable housing. We have no place to go.”
The Maryland Business Clergy Partnership and National Capital Baptist Convention DC & Vicinity joined forces to set up a fund to pay first month deposits and rent for displaced residents. “It’s what we are called to do,” said National Capital Baptist Convention DC & Vicinity President and Maryland Business Clergy Partnership Co-Chairman Rev. Charles W. McNeill, Jr. He said he was appealing to his church partnerships to sponsor at least one family because many had been “traumatized” and would need more than just money.
Others like Rev. Tony Lee, a pastor at City of Hope AME Church in Hillcrest Heights, Md., also stepped up to help. The Prince George’s Community Foundation established a Neighbors in Need Fund for residents as well.
“It’s criminal what they have allowed to happen here,” said Jack Lyle, a disgruntled renter. “It’s been the same merry go round over and over again.”
Problems at the condo go back at least 15 years, according to Patsy Stewart, who owns four units at the complex and ran her nonprofit Reach One Teach One at the property. She said she had spent thousands of dollars helping the youth that lived there with basic essentials, including eyeglasses. She said she has been fighting the legal system since early 2000 in an effort to hold on to her property and to address what she said was a litany of legal problems and mismanagement.
Most recently residents charged a past condo association for misusing their condo fees, failing to pay electric bills and misappropriating more than $400,000 in insurance that was supposed to restore a building that burned in a fire.
“This has been a long fight and a nightmare for our families,” said David Gilmore, president of the Lynnhill condo association. “We are still working with Pepco and others to come out with a viable solution.”