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U.Va. Architecture lecturer under fire for recurring housing violations

Residents across several of developer Tim Chapman’s D.C. properties have taken action against poor conditions

Ceiling damage, mold growing on a surface and a rodent found in Chapman Development properties all seen within the past year.
Ceiling damage, mold growing on a surface and a rodent found in Chapman Development properties all seen within the past year.

Real estate developer Tim Chapman serves as a part time lecturer and Foundation Board of Trustees member at the University's School of Architecture. He also runs Chapman Development LLC, where he has received intense criticism over ongoing housing violations in his government-funded properties.

Chapman Development owns multiple developments in the Washington, D.C. area, including Maple View Flats, The Grays on Pennsylvania and Lotus Square. These properties in particular receive extensive tax breaks from the government under the premise that Chapman provides “quality affordable housing,” as Chapman’s faculty biography puts it.

Many tenants, however, say their experiences fall short of this promise. Despite Chapman Development’s attempts to implement new management systems, residents have reported a continued failure to address basic health and safety issues across Chapman’s properties. Some have even questioned Chapman’s authority to teach a new generation of architects and developers here at the University.

Rainwater, rats and rising rent

Ashanti Narce, president of the Lotus Square Tenants Association, said the building located in Washington D.C.’s ward seven, a neighborhood with an average income of about $37,000, regularly experiences complications ranging from animal infestations to extreme water leakage during storms.

“We have a [saying] that I pretty much made up, and others made up as well,” Narce said. “When it rains outside, it pours down inside of Lotus Square.”

This September, another family’s apartment at Lotus Square flooded after a closet water tank burst.

Narce added that although the complex was constructed in 2006, the building has already begun shaking because of what she believes to be cracks in the foundation. She remembers the first time she noticed what “felt like an earthquake.”

“One night, I was lying in bed and I felt my bed shaking,” Narce said. “First I thought maybe because I was asleep, I was dreaming. And I woke up and I was like no, it's shaking. And then another night when it happened, my son jumped out of bed, ran to my room and he was scared because it was shaking.”

A representative from Chapman Development denied the presence of any cracks in the foundation. While this statement contradicts Narce’s complaints, an inspection summary report obtained by The Cavalier Daily outlines a total of 46 housing code violations found during an Aug. 10 Lotus Square inspection. It is unclear how many of these violations have currently been abated. 

Inspectors also noted an odor in the building, masked by cleaning supplies, but consistent with animal or rodent urine and feces.

The nearby Maple View Flats property faces similar issues. Former Maple View tenant Emily Clark initially found the complex under a listing for “luxury apartments” but experienced rats, roaches, water leaks and mold only six months after moving in April of 2021. Clark provided multiple photos and videos of rats appearing inside of tenants’ apartments, along with mold and water damage on hallway carpets.

Clark does not receive government aid and paid $1,381 per month in rent in November, a price consistent with other affordable housing units in the area. Yet she still feels that the price, which has increased consistent with rents across D.C. in her time at Maple View Flats, does not reflect the living conditions. 

“People don't need to be paying market rent for how disgusting that apartment is,” Clark said. “I can't even tell you how many spider bites I have right now because of all the cracks in the wall.”

Multiple negative reviews on the developments’ sites report similar accounts of molding walls, missing ceiling panels and stained carpets.

Clark also noted recurring security breaches, saying anyone from local high school students to houseless people could get past the leasing office. Both Narce and Clark also reported issues with management losing money orders and tenants’ rent payments. 

Maple View and Lotus Square community organizers have collaborated with tenants in The Grays to investigate discrepancies between Chapman’s treatment of these three properties, located in D.C.’s lower income wards seven and eight, compared to his other properties in ward three, an area with an average income of $110,000. D.C. has eight liens this year against three of Chapman’s properties — none of which are in ward three.

Narce and Clark agreed that Chapman’s developments in wealthier neighborhoods receive better treatment.

“When they call for maintenance, they get what they need,” Narce said. “When we call, we get nothing.”

Over 65 percent of Lotus Square residents receive some form of government aid, according to Narce. City documents show that the development received $1.5 million in federal low-income housing tax credits — yet currently faces nearly $350,000 in possible fines.

In Clark’s opinion, these properties in lower income areas serve as “low hanging fruit” for negligence.

“Thankfully, I'm one of the people that can move out easily,” Clark said. “But other people that are living there, [management is] definitely taking advantage. Especially with government money, for it to not be up to code with anything — it does not make sense that he's getting government anything when people are living like that.” 

“Somebody failed us”

Residents across all three properties circulated a petition this fall demanding that Chapman abate housing violations and address maintenance requests. The petition, signed by around 80 residents, also requests credit payments towards rent given past issues with rent and money orders, in addition to that fact that many amenities, like Lotus Square’s gym and community room, have been closed indefinitely. 

Leaders presented the petition to Chapman’s office with no response, and Chapman declined to provide public comment for this story at time of publication.

Narce created Lotus Square’s tenant organization following the COVID-19 pandemic after realizing that issues with missing documents and money were far from isolated incidents. With help from the D.C. Tenant Advocate Center, who organized a class aimed at reaching a consensus among residents, Narce saw just how many people wanted change.

“I started it because I care about the people, and when I started seeing our most vulnerable people being taken advantage of, I was upset for those who may not feel as strong as for standing up for themselves,” Narce said.

The representative from Chapman Development clarified that the organization does not directly manage daily operations at properties, but is instead responsible for coordinating with separate management companies at each location. Chapman Development claims that after learning of previous issues, the company completely replaced the former management last March with new teams who have since responded diligently to complaints.

Tenants, however, continue to report ongoing property violations. Clark says they have not noticed an improvement in issues such as pests, water damage and overall safety. 

When Narce first met with Chapman last August, she said he apologized for the building’s condition and planned to make the necessary changes. His liaison, Brenda Richardon, held a walkthrough of the property to identify issues to be fixed in 90 days. Yet the majority of property code violations still remain unabated, according to Narce.

“They had 90 days, they actually had over a year, and it's still not good,” Narce said. “Mr. Chapman knows about the conditions, he can no longer blame management. He needs to take accountability for what he has allowed to happen when they built these buildings.”

Clark also said Chapman appeared apologetic at first but failed to take action. When she called him after her car was broken into, he sent his personal number and told Clark to update him on ongoing issues. Now, Clark has been blocked after sending scathing reports of houseless people wandering the building.

Management across the three properties sees an unusually high turnover rate. Former Maple View manager Kelly Collins entered the role January 2023 before being removed, reinstated and then removed again last fall, according to notes provided by Clark.

Many individual residents have taken management to court over the years, with varying degrees of success. Although management has responded to select maintenance requests, Narce called the overall response a “band-aid fix.” She is asking for a structural engineer to assess the structure's foundation

“The builders that they used, the material that they used, something was done wrong, whether they put the building up too fast and didn’t use the proper materials, didn’t secure it properly,” Narce said. “Somebody failed us.”

An uncertain future for Chapman’s properties, and his future at U.Va.

Chapman Development continues to expand, and rents are rising. 

At Lotus Square, people have been abandoning their apartments. Last summer, facing over 20 vacancies, management started moving people from the Homeless Prevention Program into units, even though many apartments lacked working stoves and air conditioning. Narce says most residents have lost hope of improving conditions anytime soon.

Although she will continue working to help fellow residents in the meantime, Narce was clear about her own intention to find new housing.

“I don't want to be forced out of my home before I'm ready,” Narce said. “I want to prepare myself for what's to come.”

Clark echoed this sentiment, citing concerns for her physical safety. She officially moved out of her apartment last month after working with a lawyer in search of rent abatements and solutions to remaining property violations. Part of the process involved securing her missing tenant file, which contains sensitive information such as her ID and social security number.

“I wish that I could be more positive about it,” Clark said before leaving Maple View. “It's just too dangerous for me to want to stay.”

Chapman is currently developing a sports bar right next to Maple View. Clark worries that this building, and any future properties, will suffer from all-too-familiar code violations.

“I definitely feel like D.C. should put a complete halt to him getting any more certifications for him, getting any more building licenses,” Clark said. 

As a part-time faculty member at the University, Chapman did not teach classes this fall. However, Architecture leadership confirmed that Chapman is slated to return as a lecturer for the fall 2024 semester.

While it is unclear which classes Chapman will instruct, he is listed as a member of the Urban and Environmental Planning and Real Estate programs. The University’s Urban and Environmental Planning website lists healthy built environments and affordable housing as central to the program’s curriculum. 

Clark said she was shocked to learn of Chapman’s ongoing relationship with the University. She said the school’s leaders should remove Chapman if they feel strongly about what students are learning.

“In three of his buildings, there are over 100 people in despair, especially at Lotus,” Clark said. “It makes no sense that he is able to go and teach people what he is doing to people. That's not okay. By no means should this man be teaching anybody.”

University spokespeople have yet to respond to a request for comment.

Narce cited similar concerns over Chapman’s approach to property development, especially given his treatment of those in vulnerable communities.

“I don't care if you don't pay any rent, or you know, the government paying for your rent,” Narce said. “You don't pay anything, you pay all the rent in the world, it doesn't matter. You still should be treated respectfully, and as a human being, you deserve to live in a habitable place.” 

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