On the morning of Thursday August 31st at around 8:00 a.m., George Farris chained himself to the door and security grate of his home at 732 Sixth St. NE. Farris, a 40-year veteran with three Vietnam combat tours who is also an insulin-dependent diabetic, is still making mortgage payments on the home that he says has been uninhabitable for more than two years.
He says the alley to the north of his home has been in disrepair for years, broken down into the substrata by heavy truck traffic, building large depressions where rain gathered. He describes how, on New Year’s Eve two years ago, the accumulated water created hydrostatic pressure that blew out parts of his foundation into his cellar, causing damage to an antique fireplace, bathroom and wet bar as well as air conditioning and heating vents, rendering the home uninhabitable.
Farris says that he has chained himself to his home for two reasons. “The first is justice,” he says. “I want my wife and I to have a place to live. I want them to make a commitment to making this whole, and making my wife and I whole again.”
Farris and his wife, the latter a career diplomat for 33 years, are paying rent on another residence at a cost that he says exceeds his mortgage.
The second reason, he says, is because he wants to preserve the historical elements of his home. The home, called ‘Stone Croft,’ was built in 1862 by Surveyor Charles J. Uhlman and Farris notes that it is one of the few remaining District examples of river stone walls. “This house was built by working people for working people,” he says.
Farris says he has contacted the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), sending two letters in the last three months. The only DCRA response to those, he notes, was the Notice of Abatement he found on his door announcing that DCRA would begin repairs to the alley and the home’s foundation “on or about Wednesday, August 30.”
Chanda Washington, a representative from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), whose portfolio includes the DCRA, said that they had been working wtih Farris since December 2015 in order to gain access to the property and to determine the scope of work needed to address the surrounding issues.
Washington said it was critical that the agency gain access to the property and that begin work to repair it, noting that the alley had been closed for two years, preventing ease of access by first responders such as police, fire and emergency medical services.
“The ultimate goal for us is to make that space safe in order to protect not only Mr. Farris but the neighbors and businesses in the surrounding area,” she said.
The homeowner says while the District had informed him that they had obtained the funding to make repairs, the plan only includes repairs to the underpinning of the foundation and does not account for the damages caused to the interior of the home.
The underpinning, he says, is a concrete box around the foundation of the house, which will eliminate the French doors that currently enter into the English basement from the front of the home. He is dissatisfied with the repair plans with which the city intends to move forward.
Commissioner Chris Miller (6C05), in whose Advisory Neighborhood Council (ANC) Single Member District Farris’s house is located, says the issue is more complicated than it at first appears. He says the District is not trying to seize Farris’s house, but only to repair the foundation of the house in order to repair the adjacent alley.
In an emailed statement, Miller said that the homeowner is demanding repairs that stem from his own basement excavations, rather than from District neglect of the alley as Farris contends.
Miller said that Farris’s lack of cooperation has delayed alley repairs for the past two years. “People in the neighborhood are tremendously disappointed that Mr. Farris has obstructed the alley repair,” he said.
Farris says he will remain locked to his house, which he purchased in 1980, “as long as I need to. I’m here for the distance.”
“I’ve paid property and income taxes for 37 years,” he says. “My wife and I have both served on the front lines — defense and diplomatic. To have them try to wiggle out of this seems unconscionable to me.”