Homeless shelters concerns for Ward 4
As homeowners in Brightwood Park, and members of the larger Petworth and Brightwood community, we have closely followed the ongoing discussions surrounding Mayor Bowser’s proposed plans to close the DC General short term housing facility by 2018. We commend both the mayor and District city council for their commitment on this endeavor, and would like to express serious concerns and challenges we as community members have with the decision to place the proposed Ward 4 facility at 5505 5th Street NW (at the corner of Kennedy Street NW).
Through our conversations amongst neighbors, news media articles, communications with Councilmember Todd’s office, and participation in various community meetings on this topic, the undersigned here continue to have numerous questions and concerns surrounding the proposed Ward 4 facility, which we hope can be addressed in advance of the District’s decision to move forward with any action at 5505 5th Street NW:
- Proposed Facility Location – There are a number of concerns surrounding Mayor Bowser’s decision to locate the shelter at this location, chief among them being the District’s decision to not explore any additional Ward 4 locations. With an expansive geographic Ward like ours, it would be our hope that the city engages in a thorough search of an adequate location, particularly on a property currently owned by the District in lieu of purchasing, or leasing, a privately-owned building.
While we agree that restoring the now-dilapidated building currently at 5505 5th Street NW is necessary, we are concerned that this location was chosen without consideration of other properties. More so, our concern extends to the lack of thoughtful consideration that locating this short term facility at 5505 5th Street NW may have on our community, especially when considering the placement of this facility in a high-density residential area.
Our hope is that first, the District would undertake an exhaustive search of all buildings that would be eligible for selection for the Ward 4 facility. Second, we would expect that the District engage in a comprehensive assessment of all candidate locations, examining, among other things, the projected impact each location would have on community transportation, public safety, utilities and public service, environment, and retail/commerce.
- Financial Impact on the District – While the city council’s decision to purchase the property as compared to a long-term lease is a step in the right direction, as taxpayers, we continue to have concerns about the cost of the proposal on the District. In particular, under Mayor Bowser’s original proposal, leasing the building at 5505 5th Street NW would cost taxpayers upwards of $36 million over the 25 year lease, and each unit would cost us in excess of $3,000 per month, well above the fair market value for an apartment in Ward 4.
Moving forward, our concern would also extend to the cost to purchase this property for the short-term facility. Originally purchased ten years ago for just $1 million, the building has long remained dilapidated, and the current owner will likely be rewarded with a hefty financial windfall despite little effort to update the building to blend more appropriately with the ever-improving Kennedy Street corridor. Additionally, the District has positioned itself at a disadvantage in negotiating a sales price with the owner due to its unwillingness to identify other potential Ward 4 locations beyond 5505 5th Street NW.
- Safety Concerns – The quality of life in our community is constantly improving, yet still faces a number of challenges surrounding criminal activity and public safety. Even long-time residents are wary of walking around 5th and Kennedy NW, the proposed site of the facility, due to criminal activity and the potential for violent incidents. Last month, our neighborhood club by was tasked by our leader to identify strategies to address a rash of home and vehicle break-ins that have occurred over the last few weeks. Many of us hear gun shots in the evenings, are fully aware of open air drug markets in our streets, and one even had a bullet penetrate their window last summer. Examining MPD crime data strengthens these anecdotes. Despite a year-over-year decrease in violent crime for PSA 403 (May ’14-’15 compared to May ’15-‘16), PSA 403 has the most violent crimes when compared to all of the other 4th District PSAs.
We have heard that it is not clear what effect adding a short-term housing facility at the corner of 5th and Kennedy will do to public safety in this already-problematic part of the neighborhood. This is precisely our concern. During a recent community meeting, attendees appreciated the statements from MPD Commander Manlapaz, who indicated that MPD has no idea what type of increase (or decrease) in crime might occur near 5505 5th Street NW if a housing facility were to be located there. To that end, the District’s decision to place the facility at this location without an accurate assessment on the Kennedy Street community is disheartening.
Additionally, there does not seem to be any recognition on the part of the Mayor’s office that the violent and criminal activity documented to occur at the DC General Shelter could extend to the new proposed short-term housing facility. At a recent meeting to ‘walk through’ the property, Deputy Mayor Brenda Donald indicated that she does not believe any violent or criminal activity occurs at DC General despite numerous articles highlighting these very activities occurring at the current facility.
Further, the homeless families coming to the facility would be a vulnerable population and one at increased risk for victimization. Introducing families who are already at-risk into an environment experiencing heightened comparative violence seems counterintuitive and a disservice both to them as well as the families in the hosting community.
In summary, the District’s decision to locate the facility at 5505 5th Street NW does not address concerns surrounding safety; instead, safety measures could be hindered due to a number of criminal activities that have occurred at or near by the intersection of the proposed short-term housing facility. Assessing the impact that the facility would have on criminal activities should go hand-in-hand with other considerations on our community, including transportation, education, and economic impacts, none of which has yet been considered by the District.
- A Lack of Specifities and Concerns for Resident Quality of Life – An additional concern within the proposal surrounds a lack of details, including services provided, for the proposed short-term housing facility. As Deputy Mayor Donald suggested last month, criminal activity nearby DC General was due to a methadone clinic and STD treatment center (and not residents of DC General), but the District has not provided any specifics towards what kind of services will be offered to residents at 5505 5th Street NW. Additionally, no details are forthcoming about who would have access to the facility. Concerned community members heard rumor of potential curfews implemented for residents at the facility, but no details have been provided as to what type of security staff would be in place to enforce access to the facility.
Additionally, it does not seem clear how the District intends for residents of the facility to care for their families, including such basic necessities as providing food and safe and comfortable leisure activities or schoolwork. Plans for the facility presented at a community meeting asking for feedback on proposed exterior work showed that the facility will not include individual or community kitchens, and representatives from the Mayor’s office explained that the facility residents would be able to purchase food locally and bring it in. This is problematic for several reasons, but primarily because there are currently very few options for healthy food available for purchase within a half-mile of 5th and Kennedy NW. As residents who closely watch any proposed development with interest, we know there are no planned options for healthy food planned for Kennedy Street. The lack of kitchens was explained by plan proponents as a challenge presented by the site, which raises the question of why this site was chosen.
A related concern is the lack of transportation options available at 5505 5th St NW. Though the site has been described as having metro and bus accessibility, there are no metro stations within more than half a mile, and buses (such as the E2 and E4 on Kennedy St, and the 62 on 5th St) are already overtaxed. Students and others relying on the bus already suffer from late or overfilled buses due to overcapacity ridership. Rather than being an asset, the bus services in this part of the neighborhood would present challenges for any residents or staff at the facility, and the increase in ridership on these bus lines must be taken into account.
Finally, the proposed facility itself and its location offer no space for recreation (for children or teens) or places for families, including seniors, to sit comfortably outside. Instead, this part of the neighborhood has no benches, no playgrounds within half a mile, and no nearby green spaces. With more than 50 children expected to be part of the residents at the facilities, the city has no plan for them or their family’s quality of life, even if they are only intended to be short-term residents. Many of the undersigned are parents of small children, and we see the facility and its location as particularly unsuited for families.
- Kennedy Street Improvements – While the District’s decision to move forward with the 5505 5th Street NW location is moving at an alarmingly-rapid rate, community members remain extremely frustrated with the city’s dismissive nature of proposed infrastructure improvements along the Kennedy Street corridor. These concerns include expediting the repair of the streetscape, which a new timeline announced noted would be done in 2017 despite funding being allocated for the project in 2009, and updates on the items included in the 2008 Small Area Plan for Kennedy Street, among other items.
In addition, with the announcement of new and substantial improvements planned for the Kennedy Street NW corridor over the past year, our concern for the site extends to its potential negative impact of the local economy. Without a thorough assessment of the project, neighbors as well as current and future small business owners along Kennedy Street are unaware of the impact this facility may have on these small businesses.
While we appreciate the Mayor and City Council’s commitment to closing DC General, the outstanding items above must be addressed to ensure transparency and safety concerns surrounding the 5505 5th Street NW location are met.