Saturday, September 26, 2009

Plan To Open 51 Unit Transitional Housing for Homeless, Mentally Ill and Recovering Addicts on Mellon Street SE. Neighbors Voice Strong Disapparoval Of Project and Lack Of Community Input.


Southeast Socialite had a post last week about the long shuttered Wilson Courts Apartments located at 523 -525 Mellon Street SE.  The Debutante was hopeful that a responsible developer would realize the vast potential of the property and turn it into a great housing option. Says The Debutante:

"This would be a great place for brand new condos with an underground parking garage. Given its very close proximity (walking distance) to the new home of the Department of Homeland Security the units would sale quickly."
The Advoc8te definitely agrees that this is a great housing opportunity that is not being realized to bring quality, possibly market rate residential housing to a neighborhood  that is literally just across the street from what will be the Department of Homeland Security campus and it's 14,000 jobs. There are already great single family homes and condos on that street however they are constantly combating the nuisance of a few problem properties  and the litter and loitering  that spill over from the St. Elizabeth's Mental Hospital. The Wilson Court property on Mellon Street  if developed properly could really do wonders for not only that block but for the entire neighborhood! A large, well maintained property that would attract responsible, working residents with income to spend in the community would do a lot to anchor that street and restore it back to the greatness that it once was. Homeowners with roots in the community are more likely to be involved in the positive progress that it takes to move the community forward.

Unfortunately,  according to one of the comments in the article posted by Southeast Socialite it seems that So Others Might Eat (S.O.M.E.) who recently purchased the property may have other plans for it and those plans don't include raising the economic bar of the neighborhood.  According to a reader comment posted on the Southeast Socialite blog:

"An update for you: 523-525 Mellon Street was bought by SOME (So Others Might Eat) 9/13/08. They’ve asked for $2.7 million from the $33.7 million the city will receive in federal stimulus from the Treasury Department.

Supposedly the architectural drawings were to be complete 8/1/09 and construction should start 10/16/09--to be complete by year end of 2010.

The building is slated to provide long-term supportive housing for special needs single adults, all with initial incomes at or below 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI) and most at or below 30% AMI. Nine of the 51 units at Mellon Street will be wheelchair accessible to serve people with mobility impairment issues. SOME will provide through its annual fundraising the on-site supportive staff to address mental health problems, substance abuse recovery issues, money management, credit repair, educational and recreational opportunities.

The building currently includes one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. SOME will convert the property into 36 single room occupancy (SRO) units and 15 efficiencies, including two for on-site staff.

SOME plans to install a solar water heating system as part of the green design. Part of the first level will be used as community space to provide educational and socialization activities for the residents.

Development Team
The members of the development team include:

• Owner/Borrower— Affordable Housing Opportunities, Inc. (AHO) will be the sole member of a new LLC that will be the managing member of an LLC to be formed to serve as the owner of the property. AHO is a DC nonprofit established by SOME in 2004 specifically to develop and own affordable housing in the District.

• Developer—SOME, Inc. is the sponsor and developer of the project. SOME’s service and development experience is described above. The contact person for this project is Troy Swanda. He can be reached by telephone at (202) 797-8806 x1035 and via email at

• Architect— Nelson Architects was selected as the architect for SOME’s Mellon Street Project.

• General Contractor— SOME requested that Eichberg Construction look at the property for advice on the condition of the building and work needed for renovation. They have not been formally designated as the General Contractor though, as the project has not been put out to bid. SOME will collect at least three proposals from general contractors before making a decision.

• Property Management— SOME will be the Property Manager for Mellon Street. SOME currently manages 432 residential units throughout the District that house families and singles coming out of poverty. In addition, SOME also manages other properties that contain rehabilitative programs for people who are homeless.

SOME has a pipeline of potential residents who graduate from our other programs and are now ready for the independent yet supportive environment that will be offered at Mellon Street. For instance, graduates of their substance abuse programs and transitional housing who have steady income will “thrive” in the drug and alcohol free housing provided at Mellon Street. Potential residents will also come from their Mental Health programs, including their transitional housing program for adults with mental illness. "

If this is true then The Advoc8te is royally P-I-S-S-E-D off!! I really like S.O.M.E. and what they do in the community but why does Ward 8 and our Congress Heights neighborhood in particular have to be the exclusive locations of all these damn grouphomes!!! We are drowning in transitional housing, group homes and substance abuse treatment centers that provide treatment  for the entire District!!! If these plans are in fact accurate then this latest group home would be located NEXT DOOR to another large group home - in a residential neighborhood. Some folks may say that the overabundance of group homes in Ward 8 is because of the overabundance of homeless and addicts in Ward 8, but The Advoc8te has to ask what came first? The chicken or the egg? If you place a large portion of the group homes and mental shelters in Ward 8 and funnel the Districts poor and disadvantaged to Ward 8 of course there are going to be a lot of people seeking their services and let’s be honest; most potential residents or current residents don't want to live next to a group home or a shelter or a drug treatment center.  And thus over time you are left with what is typically less expensive real estate which is far more attractive to non profits who are looking for places to expand and thus the cycle continues. It may not be politically correct but group homes for the mentally ill or homeless shelters often attract unwanted attention and for most neighbors present challenges in terms of litter, loitering and noise which is why placing them primarily in residential neighborhoods is problematic.  Patients of these homes (especailly recovering addicts) are often easy targets for drug dealers who set up shop near these places. The community has been complaining FOR YEARS about the challenges faced by patients of Saint Elizabeth's who are just turned out during the day and are left to loiter, sleep, drink , eat and litter throughout the immediate neighborhood. The issues experienced in Shepherd Park is a perfect example. 

As a resident of the immediate area around Saint Elizabeths and as a resident on a street where group homes are currently being snuck under the radar THIS ROYALLY PISSES ME OFF!!

I can't help but feel (and what I know) that this type of thing would NOT happen in an affluent community in Northwest! The Advoc8te doesn't know when or how Ward 8 was elected "back yard and spare closet" of the entire District but it needs to STOP! There is so much negativity surrounding Ward 8 and most of it is not even our fault. Traditionally, the city stores the majority of its more "unsightly" city services and disadvantaged residents here and then refuses to provide the adequate support services such as agressive drug treatment, job training, transportation, community clean up or productive day time activities and then we in the community are left to hold the bag. Not only are we left to hold the bag but then we as a community are held responsible for every act of violence, every vacant house, every drug corner, every run down block. Ward 8 didn't just get a bad reputation as being the place for the poor and the disadvantaged the City gave it to us and the City was alright with it as long as all the "unsightliness" stayed hidden on the other side of the bridge - away from their image as a forward moving city. It also doesn’t hurt that most of the disadvantaged don’t vote so it’s much easier to herd them like cattle to one location. There has been a bad habit of clustering poor and disadvantaged people in one area and it needs to stop!

Again, I  like S.O.M.E. and what their overall mission is but if these plans are true then I am totally not in favor of it and I have no qualms about saying that! The last thing we need in our community is another group home - especially one of this size!!! This neighborhood is on the verge of returning to its former glory yet with every step we take forward there is another entity (goverment or non profit)  ready to set us back. You may be thinking that The Advoc8te is a cold heartless witch but I am not. I just don’t understand why MY street, MY neighborhood, MY ward ALWAYS has to be the social services center of the ENTIRE District of Columbia?! We get all the responsibilities with none of the rewards.

We want shops, restaurants, quality housing options, coffee houses, etc. We want businesses that will bring much needed services and jobs to the community!!! WE DON'T WANT ANOTHER GROUP HOME THAT WILL DRAIN OUR ALREADY LIMITED RESCOURCES AND THAT WILL ADD TO THE PERCEPTION THAT WORD 8 IS ONLY THE PLACE FOR NON PROFITS AND THE DISADVANTAGED.

Heaven forbid we want to maintain and increase our property values! There needs to be a moratorium on group homes and non profits in Ward 8.  Let them open these centers in NW or NE!!!! At the very least there needs to be some notice to the community. I have sat in ANC 8C meetings for almost two years and this is the FIRST I have heard about this property being turned into a group home!! That totally doesn't shock me because overall ANC 8C has been woefully incompetent and curropt for YEARS (that's right I said it) so instead of being on the ball and informing the community of these plans instead they opt to have a 45 minute presentation on kidney health!!! This is another reason how these types of plans end up sprung on the community - the lack of a feasible challenge by our ANC Commissioners because most of our ANC Commissioners are woefully unqualified (speaking for ANC 8C anyway). The community suffers and the ANC complains when in fact it is as a result of their negligience they have created the problem. Anyone who has a group home or a drug treatment center on their street knows it is nearly impossible to get them out once they are in. Instead of promising to "whoop residents' asses" perhaps our "Chairwoman" Mary Cuthbert should get on the ball and get on this RIGHT AWAY! I can assure her and the rest of the ANC 8C Commisioners that the last thing that residents on Mellon Street want to see is yet ANOTHER group home, especailly a 51 unit one! To be fair this isn’t the only group home slated for the neighborhood where there has been a lack of community notice. On the 400 block of Oakwood Street a group home for troubled youth is being set up as we speak by a DC Fireman– on the downlow and under the radar of the neighbors and ANC 8C. Please note this group home is going in right across the street from a house that sells drugs. What in the world? Why wasn’t the community informed?!

BTW -The Advoc8te is aware of a responsible developer who wanted to purchase this property for a reasonable price and turn it into condos but the current owner (who also wanted to turn it into condos) wouldn't sell it because he wanted more money despite the fact that the property was vacant and run down.  Looks like the owner found someone willing to pay the price.

What I and what the community wants to see is SOMEthing that will move the community forward on an economic level - not further establish us as the designated social services arm of the entire District of Columbia! Every quadrant of the city should be doing their part! Ward 8 needs to stop being the most obvious option just because it is perceived to be the cheapest option and the path of the least resistance!

The Advoc8te wants to know what do YOU think? I would love to hear from a representative of S.O.M.E.

To learn more about the S.O.M.E project on Mellon Street (including to voice your concerns) you can contact: Troy Swanda. He can be reached by telephone at (202) 797-8806 x1035 and via email at

Better still get on the phone or send an email to your ANC Commissioner and demand they find out what the heck is going on and get on the ball! I will be sending an email to my SMD Commissioner ASAP. Since construction is slated to begin in October there needs to be an emergency meeting to ensure that the neighborhood has a voice in this project!


William Ellis/8C01

Dion Jordan/8C02

Mary Cuthbert/8C03
*no contact info posted on ANC 8C Website

R. Calvin Lockridge/8C04


Cardell Shelton/8C07
*No contact information posted on ANC 8C website

For more Congress Heights and River East news visit The Congress Heights Examiner website,
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Anonymous said...

Oh hell no! Don't they have to go before the ANC before they go to zoning?

DC Debutante said...

Thats right! Tell them how we feel over here. This is crazy. Our ANC is useless. I am sick of this foolishness.

Ward 8 or Die! said...

More affluent neighborhoods in the city wouldn't put up with this because it is percieved that they are a stronger voting block, they are better organized and their citizens are way more vocal.

Ward 8 (and River East) in general has become the "back yard" of group homes (with few of the city's services) is because until now it has been easy to do so.

It's a horrible practice and does nothing to move anyone (including these neighborhoods) forward.

The Advoc8te said...

I wish someone could explain this process. I always thought that before proceeding with these types of plans they had to present before the community. If not in an ANC meeting then during some type of forum. Then again knowing the history of our ANC they probably offered and they were either ignored or turned down. I would much rather have this property sit empty for another year with the potential of being developed into a nice condo or apartment building than be developed as any time of transitional or group housing. Enough is enough!

No way in the world is adding yet another social services residenetial program on a residential street a good idea. We are trying to present a new face for our community and it's like we keep running into the same brick wall.

It's not about the services it's about the location and the location is inapprorprate.

Yet another reason why we need new leadership in Ward 8 - from the Councilmember on down.

The Advoc8te said...

One more thing. We have been emailing DPW for OVER A YEAR to install trash cans on Mellon Street to combat the litter that spills over to the neighborhood - mostly from the patients who are released into the community from St E's and we can't even get trash cans! How are you going to further compound this problem with a 51 unit "group home" when we are already suffering the negative side effects of housing a mental hospital/homeless shelter in the middle of the community?

We have already sacraficed our commericial district, our park and our neighborhoods. What more do we have to give?

Deanwood Denizen said...

You guys are great detectives! There was a lawsuit filed two years ago against DCRA, which gives Certificates of Occupancy, releasing group homes from notifying the community. The thought is the residents would be unfairly discriminated against by sellers and community members. NW is dealing with this issue and a commissioner in 4B Sara Green tried to change the city's land use plan to require notification but the Office of Planning balked. Read more about Sara's amendment here, Because of the legalities of group home engaging legal assistance is probably the next step.

However, residents must put this on blast on the listserves and go directly to the top--SOME's Exec Director George Jones. Demanding that there be an effort to create a mixed-income building instead of congregating the "last, the least, and the lost." If SOME has excellent classes and the individuals have "thrived" the individuals should be given an opportunity to own their homes, using Habitat for Humanity as an example give those individuals low-interest rate loans or allow for rent-to-own options. SOME could also partner with the Housing Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) to identify first-time homebuyers so that there's a greater chance of targeting building occupants. Additionally the building should be a mix of 1-2-3 bdrms. The original occupants aren't going to be in the building forever and having a marketable building for the long-term is important to the neighborhood's growth. This is also a opportunity to get community benefits in this discussion.

Good luck and I'll be as helpful as possible.

The Advoc8te said...

@Deanwood. Thank you SO much for the information! Will definetly look into it!

Deanwood Denizen said...

I incorrectly gave George Jones as the ED for SOME. George is the ED for Bread for the City. Richard Gerlach is the ED for SOME. My apologies for the incorrect contact. Residents must stand in the gap if the "official" channels are clogged. Contact Gerlach to demand a meeting and community benefits discussion. Residents must stand in the gap if the "official" channels are clogged.