Housing Complex

Anacostia Holds Public Flogging For Stonewalling Nonprofit

A poster with all the social services in the neighborhood.

After holding off Anacostia residents for five months—and keeping them in the dark for another six months before that—Calvary Women's Services had to know it was in for a drubbing when it finally showed up for a public meeting about the transitional housing facility it's building on Good Hope Road SE. And a drubbing they got, as person after incensed person rose to berate executive director Kris Thompson for not coming to talk to them sooner.

"I don't care what happened, it didn't happen. You didn't reach out," said local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Greta Fuller, in the middle of a long tirade. "Councilmember [Marion] Barry is here today, he says put it behind us, but I don't see how that's gonna happen. I don't think so."

Although some residents don't want the facility at all, it was really Calvary's astonishing lack of transparency that seems to have permanently damaged relations, even among those who might have been sympathetic to the non-profit's good intentions. Because in Anacostia, it's more than discourtesy—it's disrespect for a community that's felt dumped on for too long, and it stings.

"You saw our black faces, and you thought we were all black, we were in this together," accused local blogger Nikki Peele, speaking to Calvary's blithe assumption that Anacostia's middle class would welcome low-income women with open arms. (Peele has posted videos of the meeting). "We're going to send a message to people tiptoeing behind the scenes: You can try and come here, and we're going to rip you apart."

Not coming to talk to the community was Calvary's second mistake. Its first mistake was buying on Anacostia's main street in the first place. Half the people who don't want the facility wouldn't care if it were an apartment building somewhere off in the neighborhoods, but the storefronts on Good Hope Road are seen as public property, with great potential hasn't yet been realized. "It's our gateway," as one resident put it.

Thompson doesn't seem to understand this. When audience members asked what the facility would look like on the outside, she assured them they wouldn't even realize it was there. "You'll see nothing," she said. "It will be like you're standing in front of an apartment building." Not only that, but security guards would be pushing people along; those who've loitered on that street won't be allowed to anymore.

But you don't want blank storefronts in a commercial area. You want something that passersby can interact with.

Nonetheless, Calvary claims it plays a part in neighborhood revitalization. They're leaving their 25-bed space on 6th Street in Chinatown because they've been leasing there since 1983, and it's now an expensive neighborhood. When I asked her after the meeting, Thompson wouldn't say whether their lease was up and their rent was increasing, but obviously buying in a cheap neighborhood gives them some long-term stability.

Why that building on Good Hope Road? Neighborhood folks in the know suspect some connection between Independence Federal Savings Bank's move to foreclose on the property and its relatively quick sale to Calvary, which is well-connected in politics and financial services (for example, immediate past board director Ann M. Hilpert is the chief financial officer of powerhouse local law firm Wiley Rein). I don't have any proof of those connections. But Thompson doesn't seem to have seriously considered any alternatives.

"I guess I don't know," she said, when I asked where else Calvary had looked. "We could have looked at a number of different things."

Calvary had enough media and political savvy to give Mayor Vince Gray an award at its gala last May, to send out press releases about its fundraising campaign, and to ask me personally back in July to write an article about the project (Thompson refused to talk after the neighborhood exploded in anger). How were they so boneheaded as to not contact the neighborhood first?

Local activist Phil Pannell may have hit upon the answer when he asked Thompson—who says she lives in Ward 6–whether any members of her board live in Ward 8. She couldn't answer definitively, but didn't think so. If any had, though, they might have clued her in before the organization made a permanent enemy out of the neighbors.

  • capcityrecordspanhandler

    2012 Wash Post Award For Dingbat of the Year in Non-Profit Management!

  • Karen

    I am a resident of Anacostia and attended the meeting with the hope of getting some explanation as to how a seemingly great non-profit could make such a major misstep. Truthfully, I am not against them coming to the commercial corridor – although I am in support of some restrictions (a good neighbor plan) and would like to see CWS incorporate first floor retail into their plans. These are two relatively easy fixes that provide a win-win.

    However, both the executive director and the Board chair were astonishingly dismissive, vague and condescending to the residents. I am AMAZED that they came unprepared to answer some very valid questions and didn’t seem to care at all about the very negative impact their facility could have on the commercial corridor.

    I am completely in favor of helping women in transition, but not at the expense of the entire surrounding community.

  • SCBrown

    An ED not knowing the board make-up is a dereliction of duty. From what I understand CWS doesn't collect basic demographic info about where their clients come from. That is astonishing in light of last year's budget debate about DC social services serving non-DC residents.

    For the ED & chair not to come with hat in hand, offering a board seat(s) to a ward resident, bringing renderings of the renovations, & generally being as deferential as possible is tone deaf.

  • xmal

    Question: Is Calvary required to meet with neighbors, get approvals, or disclose anything about its activities, or is this a by-right development?

    Won't the risk of this type of neighbor needling discourage the other developments that the neighbors purport to want for Good Hope Rd? How have some of the other proposals (e.g., W & Shannon) been received?

  • trulee_pist

    Huh. Seems like when neighbors object to commercial developments they don't think will improve the neighborhood, some people, Lydia, are quick to play the NIMBY card against those neighbors. In this case, when neighbors object to a social service provider coming into the neighborhood, the NIMBY card does not come out.

    I'm totally sympathetic to the ANC and neighbors who felt they were kept in the dark--unlike a commercial development, this was a matter of right and therefore never made it to the ANC agenda or required a community meeting.

    But it's a bit much to take the tone, as this article does, that Calvary was incompetent or boobish for not publicizing their plans better. When social service organizations stick their head up out of the trenches, they get shot at from all sides. Better, most social service organizations have learned, to keep your head down, do your good works, and try not to attract any attention to yourself.

    I hope this author will find in her heart the same sympathy for neighborhood objections she displays in this report the next time she reports on a PUD process where residents are objecting to an objectionable commercial development.

  • Anon

    No outside businesses opened up because no one thought they could turn a profit in that location.

    If locals thought otherwise, they were free to purchase that derelict building to open a business that "passersby can interact with."

    That building had been vacant for years, giving local residents (or outside investors) plenty of opportunity buy it at a bargain-basement price.

    And what of the unfortunate homeless women? Is Anacostia's motto: "Put them on the streets of anywhere rather than under a roof in Anacostia?"

  • Brian

    What does 'a matter of right' mean? Who determines what or who qualifies as 'a matter of right' type facility?

    What about the Title 11 law that was put in place to limit the number of social service programs to be concentrated in one area?

  • Fred

    "I don't have any proof of those connections."

    So why make them? You're not being a journalist, you're being a conspiracy theorist.

    You are no better than a birther or a 9-11 denier.

  • Les Johnson

    Not the best location. This is prime real estate on a major corridor with big potential.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Trulee_Pist

    In fact, if you'd cared to click through to previous coverage, I "played the NIMBY card" when I first wrote about this in August, to many Anacostians' anger:

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2011/08/01/nimby-watch-anacostia-protesting-homeless-women/

    Then I explained my philosophy of NIMBYism:

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2011/08/02/what-i-talk-about-when-i-talk-about-nimbyism/

  • Marc

    Look back through the archives. Lydia put tjis in NIMBY watch six months ago. We understand it is within their right to build but they were extremely dismissive of the community where these women will live. There are a number of buildings that can be bought in neighborhoods in Wards 7&8 that would have offered many of the same things without feneratinf the negative community feedback. There are way to many social service facilities on that block. Maybe CWS can buy another building in the
    area and open a thrift store. Even that would be more desirable than their current plans.

  • Anon

    Les J. wrote: "This is prime real estate on a major corridor with big potential."

    The facts say otherwise -- greedy capitalists have stayed away.

    If think you are smarter than the market, then buy up some of those empty buildings and make a fortune.

  • Cindy

    Anon, the building was not previously vacant. It support an Elks Lodge.

  • Dave

    LOL @ Good Hope Rd. being considered "prime" real estate.

    No, it's not. It's a dilapidated commercial corridor in the city's poorest ward. Prime real estate is a chunk of land in Shaw, or a building in Dupont, or--as Calvary found out--a building in Chinatown.

    Perhaps one day developers, business owners and entrepreneurs will be tripping over themselves to land a coveted spot on Good Hope Rd. But that day is a ways off, and the building Calvary is moving into has been vacant for years. I understand the neighborhood's frustration with the way Calvary has handled this move, but some perspective is in order here.

  • @Anon

    I am surprised by your comments. Were you even at the meeting? A significant number of residents were open to the idea of the shelter but are flabbergasted that CWS wouldn’t even talk to the community, despite repeated requests. They won’t consider moving the residential uses off of the first floor, so that the first floor can be used for retail. They won’t agree to enter into a good neighbor agreement and they wouldn’t agree to have a representative of Ward 8 on their board.

    Why should the entire community suffer when it sounds like CWS (which has a good reputation from all accounts) is intent on being a bad actor in Anacostia?

    Also, check your facts, a lot of the property is being purchased http://www.anacostianow.com/2010/07/dhcd-buys-big-in-anacostia.html. CWS is hoping to sit on the property until they can sell it at a profit. They are just going to drag down everyone else’s property values in the meantime.

  • trulee_pist

    @Lydia, I saw the previous posts at the time. You have had many opportunities to label residents opposing offensive commercial developments in their neighborhood as NIMBYs, and have taken the opportunities to do so. Then you wrote this. Just hopin' going forward that you show same restraint with the NIMBY card you showed in this report.

    @Brian, "Matter of right" means there is no requirement to get an exception from Board of Zoning to start construction. But you make an excellent point about whether Title 11 law required some sort of hearing for this particular use. Maybe it should have.

  • Anon

    Cindy -- how long ago did it support the Elks Lodge? If recent, they weren't good neighbors. It looked vacant for years.

  • Anon

    In reply to 2:18pm,

    “They won’t consider moving the residential uses off of the first floor, so that the first floor can be used for retail.”

    Did you offer to donate the several hundred thousand dollars this would cost? CWS is a women’s shelter. All money is spent on taking care of the downtrodden. Spending the money to meet your demands would leave more women on the street. Is that what you really want?

    “They won’t agree to enter into a good neighbor agreement and they wouldn’t agree to have a representative of Ward 8 on their board.”

    Why should they? This isn’t about feeling important. This is about giving women a place to sleep.

    By the way, most board members on these sorts of organizations donate tens of thousands of dollars of their own money to the cause. It is part of the job.

    Are you ready to volunteer yet?

    “Why should the entire community suffer when it sounds like CWS (which has a good reputation from all accounts) is intent on being a bad actor in Anacostia?”

    How is the community suffering other than by having its ittle wittle feewings hurt?

    “Also, check your facts, a lot of the property is being purchased http://www.anacostianow.com/2010/07/dhcd-buys-big-in-anacostia.html.”

    Did you even read your link? Wow. “There are few properties in Historic Anacostia more derelict than those at the corner of MLK & Good Hope and the 4 buildings on the Big K Liquor block.” And the DC department of housing is buying it.

    That is not “a lot of property being purchased.” That’s taxpayer dollars buying crap no one else wants.

    “CWS is hoping to sit on the property until they can sell it at a profit. They are just going to drag down everyone else’s property values in the meantime.”

    First, you make no sense. They are going to profit by driving down property values? Buy high and sell low?

    Second, if CWS could turn a profit, wouldn’t that be great for homeless women -- CWS could buy a bigger building somewhere else and more women would be off the streets.

    But your feelings got hurt, so to hell with the needy.

  • Anon

    "A significant number of residents were open to the idea of the shelter but are flabbergasted that CWS wouldn’t even talk to the community"

    So this is what it is really all about -- CWS didn't say "pretty please with sugar on top," so you want to deny women a chance to get off the street.

    Get over your self.

  • Dave

    I think anon is confusing opposition to a women's shelter (which I'm not really seeing) with opposition to a women's shelter in *that* location.

    Those are two different things. And though it's worth noting that CWS was under no obligation to come before the community with their plans, it probably would have been a smart move from a good neighbor/PR perspective.

  • JustMe

    A significant number of residents were open to the idea of the shelter but are flabbergasted that CWS wouldn’t even talk to the community, despite repeated requests.

    Why would that be flabbergasting? Some people like to be left alone to go about their business. Those who run the shelter are some of those people. DC has a huge entitlement culture regarding the idea that everyone who rents commercial/retail space needs to "engage the community" before doing anything. CWS probably knew that these sorts of "conversations" would be pointless, and they weren't obligated to engage in them, so they didn't bother. And I think a lot of restaurant owners are looking at CWS with a certain amount of jealousy regarding their ability to do so.

  • Anon

    Dave, where else would CWS get the square footage, ability to put in a commercial kitchen, classrooms, etc., access to public transportation (for volunteers and for the women) at a comparable price?

    Our charming hostess Lydia says -- without support -- that "Half the people who don't want the facility wouldn't care if it were an apartment building somewhere off in the neighborhoods."

    It's easy for Lydia (or "half the people") to say that, but they didn't actually point to any specific property that meets the shelter's needs at a comparable price.

    As you allude to in your second paragraph, I think another quote more accurately sums up the opposition: "We're going to send a message to people tiptoeing behind the scenes: You can try and come here, and we're going to rip you apart."

  • http://www.congressheightsontherise.com Nikki Peele

    A few things I would like to clarify because unlike some I was at the meeting and I also work in Anacostia.

    Those "vacant" buildings you see aren't really vacant -- not in the sense that they are readily available for purchase. They definetly aren't available for rehab unless you have some mighty deep pockets and that will come in the form of grants, savings, or private funds. Your ordinary small business can't come up with that type of capital.

    The former Elks lodge (now the Calvary shelter) was occupied and then it went into foreclosure. A local developer approached the bank to buy it for retail and was told it was not available (this happens a lot). A year later we heard it was sold to CWS

    The other two large vacant buildings on that block have a $3million tax lien on them. Until the lien is satisfied no one can go there.

    Around on MLK the other furniture store (about 20,000sqf) is also in foreclosure and bogged down in paperwork. Attempts to purchase that space has gone on for years.

    Not to mention all the properties being land banked by Douglas Jemal.

    Contrary to what some folks like to think there is a huge need for office and commercial space in Anacostia -- if only some of those "vacant" buildings were actaully available we could do something with it.

    One last thing. In the past 60 days at least 3 LARGE scale "transitional" housing projects have opened up in Anacostia -- that is already adding to the numerous number of halfway houses and group homes. The map posted in this article is incomplete. It doesn't include the group homes/halfway houses nor the DC government juvenile monitoring projects and the like.

    But I think that the commentors on here who think no one would want to open a business in Anacostia point to what our primary concern is -- having a corridor oversaturated with social service programs and homeless doesn't make it as appealing as other communities when it comes time to open a business.

  • http://www.congressheightsontherise.com Nikki Peele

    @Anon 7:34pm

    "It's easy for Lydia (or "half the people") to say that, but they didn't actually point to any specific property that meets the shelter's needs at a comparable price."

    Umm, actually the people did. If you don't want to take Lydia's word for it watch the meeting yourself. I am uploading all the segments now.

    I am curious if folks are surprised that the people of Anacostia (and Ward 8) are smart enough and committed enough to actually advocate for their community or if that doesn't fit into the stereotype of the Marion Barry loyal supporters (of which last night's meeting had very few).

    The Calvary saga:

    http://www.congressheightsontherise.com/search/label/Calvary%20Womens%20Services

  • danmac

    @Lydia
    "they're leaving their 25-bed space on 6th Street in Chinatown because they've been leasing there since 1983, and it's now an expensive neighborhood." Is that the one on 5th St between Mass Ave and K or do they have another on 6th st?

  • http://www.anthonylorenzo.com Anthony Lorenzo

    Those who don't live in the community will never understand, so please don't sit back and criticize the ANC and the community like you do.

    Anacostia has been a dumping ground for social services for years. It has completely become too much to bare for the community who want to open businesses in this commercial corridor. No business can possibly turn a profit when you have methadone clinics, homeless shelters, endless group homes, etc, piled up in one area. The problem lies in our zoning and the failed leadership on the council which allows this to happen.

    When construction started on the 11th Street bridge, which runs endless traffic directly into Anacostia, many like myself thought this was a turning point in our fight to revitalize this area. A brand new bridge should meet brand new small businesses, and opportunity for Ward 8 residents to stand up and claim their own.

    But it's hard to do this when our entire ward, including Historic Anacostia, has been designated a social services dumping ground. To that, this Ward 8 resident says No.

  • Eleanor

    --CWS conducted a $3 million capitol campaign to purchase,renovate & operate their shelter in Anacostia
    --CWS is consolidating all 3 of its' locations into one facility
    --CWS has/had an absolute right to purchase and build the shelter at the Good Hope Rd location & needs no community approval
    --the vast majority of homeless women served at CWS are African American
    --Has any of the oppositon ever volunteered at CWS or any other homeless shelter?
    --Has the opposition put up any of their $ either individually or collectively to purchase a building on Good Hope RD or any where else in Anacotisa to operate a retail bus. put your money where your month is
    the mtg was the sham CWS knew it would be

  • http://www.anthonylorenzo.com Anthony Lorenzo

    @Eleanor Were you there?

  • jamilah fagbene

    How will this neighborhood ever be revitalized with all this red tape?

    The funny thing is this: once these women get transitioned out of the shelter, where will they work? Looks like the only jobs they will be able to get in Ward 8 is at another non-profit organization. Lol This doesn't create wealth - it creates more poverty pimps who will, in turn, open more clinics and shelters.

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