Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Ongoing Saga of Wilson Court

Realistically, this is a piece for Congress Heights on the Rise or Southeast Socialite, but it's something the folks in Barry Farm should be familiar with too. First a brief history...

If you're not familiar with the saga of Wilson Court Apartments, back in June of 2004, Wilson Court was sold by it's current owner Clinton Borland to a limited liability company. This would have been fine, if the tenant association had actually known about the sale, but instead--typical Ward 8 foolishness ensued and the tenants learned of the sale 6 days after the fact. This is a problem, because under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), before a landlord can sell rental property, the tenants must be given a written copy of the offer of sale, and have the right to negotiate to purchase the property themselves. That clearly didn't happen.

So, they went to court. June of 2007, in Wilson Courts Tenants Association, Inc. v 523-525 Mellon Street, LLC, the Court affirmed the superiority of tenant rights in the District of Columbia. After reviewing the legislative (and judicial) history of TOPA, the Court concluded that the clear intent of the law reflects the absolute priority of the tenants... and the conditional nature of third party purchaser's rights. Meaning the sale of the building was not valid because the tenants didn't know about it.....Now what happened after that lawsuit, is unclear...or at least I find no mention of what happened,..

Until September 2008 when 523-525 Mellon Street is sold from Mellon Street Corp. to Affordable Housing Opportunities Inc. for $1.47 million.

Now apparently, "So Others Might Eat" (SOME) requested to discuss the development with the community via a local ANC mtg (8C)--and unfortunately for the neighborhood, our Chair, Mary Cuthbert, declined to arrange for such a meeting. Thus, not giving the community a chance to respond to the housing development that was being proposed. Therefore, SOME went on their merry way and continued with planning to develop Mellon Street into transitional housing. Read the project narrative here.

Why should you care? Because it's yet another entity that will not pay property taxes and add any sort of economical value to our community. You can read, Richie McKeithen's, Director of Real Property Tax Administration for the Office of Tax and Revenue, testimony here. Has Mellon Street been offered the exemption? I wouldn't know. The District shows that $10,462.44 is owed in taxes as of 9/27/09.

My biggest issue with all of this, isn't necessarily the transitional housing itself...but where it's going.

Nearly every major American city still contains a collection of extremely poor, racially segregated neighborhoods. Ward 8 is a prime example. As much as the government would like to say, these neighborhoods did not appear by accident. They emerged in part due to decades of policies that confined poor households, to those economically isolated areas.

A large body of research has demonstrated that concentrated poverty reduces private-sector investment and local job opportunities; increases prices for the poor; instigates higher levels of crime; negatively impacts mental and physical health; produces low-quality neighborhood schools; and creates heavy burdens on local governments that induce out-migration of middle-class households. These factors combine to limit the life chances and quality of life available to residents of high-poverty neighborhoods. If thats the case, then why does the District continue to let low-income housing overtake Ward 8? If the District had any vested interest in seeing Ward 8 flourish, I would think it would begin to create more neighborhoods of choice and connection that would offer low-income residents—especially children—a true chance at social and economic mobility.

What does that mean? It means that we must begin to evenly distribute the absurdly large concentrations of affordable housing that ward 8 currently houses, across the entire city. We need to provide more affordable housing in communities with high opportunity. Opportunity that is characterized by healthy schools, safe streets, availability of affordable and nutritious food, good jobs, recreation centers, and libraries. Isolation and disinvestment of certain areas threaten not only individuals and their families, but entire communities. Ward 8 is one community that has been unfairly targeted for far too long. It's time to change that.

Unfortunately, for SOME, I'm against what they are trying to do in Congress Heights. I'm not overly excited about the senior housing that is coming to Barry Farm. I'm tired of seeing non-profits pop up that care for drug users and addicts on MLK. I want to see this city actually go for the gold when it comes to helping River East succeed. Anyone else with me?