Editorial

EDITORIAL: The Village is on Fire

Raymond Holten, 74, was miraculously found alive five days after his senior citizens apartment complex in Southeast was severely burned leaving more than 161 senior residents safe but homeless. Rescuers said Holten emerged without serious injuries and that he reportedly told rescuers who found him sitting in his apartment, “I’m not going anyplace.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser has every right to be upset after receiving false information that every person in the building had been accounted for. She reported in a press conference last week following the intense Wednesday fire that all of the tenants had made it safely out of the building – another miracle as well.

Holten’s rescue is full of symbolism. It mirrors the conditions under which many elderly and poor D.C. residents live and are treated. For Holten and the other residents of the Arthur Capper Senior Public Housing Community, their only desire was to live in a safe, clean and affordable place that they could call home.

The original Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg project was built in 1958 with 707 households including units for nearly 300 seniors. In the late 1990s, the projects were demolished under a Hope VI grant displacing all of the residents including the seniors, left with little more than a grain of hope of being relocated. In 2007, the new mixed-income community was completed with only 162 senior apartments, less than half of the senior units previously available. For those who made it back, the loss they incurred by the fire is difficult to reckon with, which may address Holten’s insistence on staying.

Fires are burning across the city where seniors live alone and unattended. No one has checked on Holten, according to Bowser, as is the case with so many seniors surrounded by gun violence and murders and who find the only knocks on their doors to be from strangers trying to convince them to sell and move.
Like Holten, they insist they’re not leaving. Their only desire is to live safely and in place, which means the District must do a much better job of keeping an account of who they are, where they are and what they need.

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