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DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sounds alarm on homes in disrepair in Northwest

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sounds alarm on homes in disrepair in Northwest (ABC7)

DC’s delegate to Congress is urging the State Department to take action over abandoned, decaying buildings owned by foreign governments.

A letter from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – DC) highlights a number of properties in Northwest Washington that have been abandoned, in one case for well over a decade.

"When these buildings become vacant, run down or otherwise fall below the standards of other buildings in the area, they may pose health and safety risks and depress property values,” Norton wrote in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Norton refers to a recent article published in the Northwest Current that highlights the problem.

The buildings Norton mentions include former embassies and former homes to ambassadors. They are owned by countries such as Serbia, Argentina and Iraq.

They are all located in Northwest neighborhoods with high property values, with the Kalorama area having more than anywhere else. In a two block area of R St. NW alone, there are three abandoned buildings either currently or formerly owned by foreign governments.

In Norton’s letter she tells Tillerson the Foreign Missions Act gives him authority to take action.

“I believe this statute and other laws provide you wide latitude to require that buildings owned by foreign missions not become nuisances,” Norton writes. “The offending properties are a public embarrassment to the neighborhoods, to the District of Columbia, to the State Department, and, particularly, to the United States.”

ABC7 reached out to the U.S. State Department Monday afternoon but as of Monday night had not received a response.

One piece of good news for residents – a building that had been considered an eyesore for well over a decade is finally seeing work done. The former residence of the Iraqi ambassador at 3110 Woodland Drive NW has some new windows, and a worker at the home tells ABC7 more work will be done in the coming weeks.

Read the letter in full below:

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

I am writing to express my concern about the conditions of many buildings owned by foreign missions in the District of Columbia. When these buildings become vacant, run down or otherwise fall below the standards of other buildings in the area, they may pose health and safety risks and depress property values.

For example, according to reports to my office, the former residence of the Iraqi Ambassador at 3110 Woodland Dr. NW has been unoccupied for over 10 years, and is in a starkly visible state of disrepair. As a second example, the Northwest Current recently published an article about a building owned by Argentina in the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood. According to the article, the property is infested with rats and the neighbors fear its crumbling façade could collapse onto their property. The article also noted problems with properties owned by Serbia, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Pakistan.

I fully recognize the legal and diplomatic concerns that must be considered in any action regarding a foreign mission. However, there are appropriate actions that the State Department can take to ensure that buildings owned by foreign missions do not cause physical or economic harm to the American citizens who are my constituents. For example, under the Foreign Missions Act, “The treatment to be accorded to a foreign mission in the United States shall be determined by the Secretary [of State] after due consideration of the . . . interests of the United States,” and “[t]he Secretary shall . . . [a]ssist agencies of Federal, State, and municipal government with regard to ascertaining and according benefits, privileges, and immunities to which a foreign mission may be entitled.” The Secretary also has the authority “to require a foreign mission . . . to forego the acceptance, use, or relation of any benefit or to comply with such terms and conditions as the Secretary may determine as a condition to the execution or performance in the United States of any contract or other agreement, the acquisition, retention, or use of any real property. . . .” Finally, the Foreign Missions Act states, “The Secretary [of State] shall require foreign missions to comply substantially with District of Columbia building and related codes in a manner determined by the Secretary to be not inconsistent with the international obligations of the United States.”

I believe this statute and other laws provide you wide latitude to require that buildings owned by foreign missions not become nuisances. The offending properties are a public embarrassment to the neighborhoods, to the District of Columbia, to the State Department, and, particularly, to the United States. The State Department can and must do more to protect the residents of the nation’s capital.

I request a meeting with you or the appropriate official in the State Department to discuss this important issue within the next 30 days.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton

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