Veteran Chains Himself To Door Over Home Repairs' Battle With City

A 69-year-old Vietnam combat veteran has chained himself to his Northeast D.C. home Thursday in protest.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - A 69-year-old Vietnam combat vet has chained himself to the front door of his 150-year-old row house in Northeast DC.

George Farris said bad drainage from a city owned alley had collapsed his basement, and neither he nor the city can agree on a plan to fix it.

"I'm definitely staying put," said Farris, as he sat in a walker locked to his door.

The disabled vet and his wife have lived here for 37 years, and they're not giving up without a fight. Even after the city put a fence around his front door.

"I deeply resent what the District government is trying to do to the house now," said Farris.

But some of his neighbors are pushing back. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Chris Miller released this tough statement:

"George Farris is not a reliable source of information.  He does not live in the house he has chained himself to; it has been vacant since at least 2009.  The DC government is not trying to seize his house.  They are attempting to repair the foundation of the house, in order to repair the adjacent alley.  On December 24, 2015 the alley collapsed as a direct result of illegal and unlicensed excavation work that Mr. Farris had previously done on his basement.  Since that time, Mr. Farris has been uncooperative.  His lack of cooperation is the sole reason this alley has remained closed for almost two years.  Currently, Mr. Farris is refusing to cooperate because DC government refuses to make unrelated repairs to his house, which is the price of his consent; this has forced the DC government to attempt to perform abatement work without his permission.  People in the neighborhood are tremendously disappointed that Mr. Farris has obstructed the alley repair. Mr. Farris's obstruction, for example, is the reason why Betty Hart, who owns the hair salon at 521 H Street NE, has been unable to access the parking spot behind her property in the alley.  The neighborhood is fed up with this situation and wants Mr. Farris to stop obstructing the alley repair."

The city is not haggling right now over who is at fault. However, Chanda Washington, a spokeswoman for the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, said both the alley and the home are unsafe. The top priority is to secure the foundation of the home at 732 6th St, NE, and to reopen the alley.

For decades now, Farris said he's been asking D.C. to fix the drainage in the alley next to his home. 

Two years ago, he said the pressure from the water building up next to his foundation collapsed the walls and left him with no place to call home. "There's water all through the basement. The foundation walls are now all imploded into the cellar," Farris said.

The home was built in 1862. Farris said the basement was all river stone, with a rock fireplace, a staircase, and a rich history. "It was built by working people, for working people."

The city has now bolted the door, closed the alley, and posted a notice of abatement, meaning workers can go in and do what they need to do to shore up the foundation.

The city plans to spend $133 thousand pouring new concrete walls in the basement. But the plan leaves Farris without even a sky light. He said the city owes it to his family to rebuild the house the way it was.

At one point, the city even sent behavioral health workers and firefighters to check on him. But they eventually left.

"I guess I will stay here til I die of exposure or get some kind of resolution from the city," said Farris.

The city plans to pay the contractor for now, but it's still not clear if it will then try to recoup the costs from Farris.

The city spokeswoman said historic preservation is a priority too, but she said that what that means, in this case, is up for further discussion.

During a live interview, Farris revealed he doesn't have a lawyer. If you would like to offer legal services to the Vietnam vet, you can email WUSA9 reporter Bruce Leshan here.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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