Federal Halfway House Threatened

April 1, 2021

On April 1, 2021, D.C. Council Member Vincent Gray circulated the “Downtown Ward 7 Urban Park Eminent Domain Authority Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2021,” to the D.C. Council, with accompanying emergency and temporary legislation that would allow the District to use its eminent domain powers to seize the Ward 7 property where a new halfway house is slated to open in May.

Opponents to the planned halfway house first claimed that it should not open there because it would hurt the economic development of the Benning Road corridor. Then they claimed that the old meat-packing building on the site was historic and must be preserved. After that, they claimed that a 300-bed facility was too big. Now, they’re proposing that the property should be used as a park, citing such an urgent need as to require a governmental taking of private property. Unfortunately, these claims all obscure the truth of the opposition – some residents do not want a halfway house and its residents in their neighborhood.

Returning citizens, their loved ones, and local organizations have long advocated for a safe, supportive environment to facilitate residents’ reentry into our community. The journey to a halfway house that supports the success of returning citizens has been a long, and complicated saga.

  • January 2016: The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued its solicitation for proposals for a new halfway house for men in D.C.
  •  November 2018: The BOP initially awarded the 5-year, $60+ million contract to CORE DC.
  • April 2020: Hope Village closes with less than two-weeks notice, leaving D.C. without a halfway house for men.
  • June 2020: After a prolonged contract battle, and several blocked sites, CORE DC receives final contract approval from the BOP to open a new 300-bed halfway house at property they purchased at 3701 Benning Rd. NE. The facility was scheduled to open October 1, 2020.
  • September 2020: ANC7F files a historic preservation claim to prevent CORE DC from demolishing the existing building on the Benning Rd. property.
  • December 2020: The Historic Preservation Review Board votes 7-1 to deny the historic preservation claim, clearing the way for CORE DC to file its raze permits.
  • December 2020: CORE DC files raze permits and building permits with DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
  • February 2021: Councilmember Gray files resolution to cancel a contract extension between DC’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and CORE DC for CORE DC to continue running a family homeless shelter in Ward 7.
  • April 2021: Councilmember Gray files emergency and temporary bills and an emergency resolution to use eminent domain to seize CORE DC’s property and instead use it to build a park.

Since Hope Village abruptly closed its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave, D.C. has gone 336 days without a halfway house for men. With no halfway house within city limits, D.C. residents – more than 90% of whom are Black – face enormous additional barriers to their successful reentry. Some people are sent by BOP to a halfway house in another state (like Baltimore, MD, Wilmington, DE, or Norfolk, VA); others are sent from prison straight back to the streets of the District, often without a plan for housing, a job, or any connection to reentry services. Of course, the lack of safe housing, employment, and supportive services for returning citizens has been exacerbated by the pandemic, just as it has for all District residents.

In May 2020, the DC Reentry Action Network asked the ReOpen DC Task Force to “support the new halfway house contractor in opening the doors of the new facility as quickly as possible.” In February 2021, the District Task Force on Jails & Justice also recommended the District prioritize “quick and safe approval of the raze application and all other permits required for CORE DC to open its new halfway house facility at 3701 Benning Rd. NE.” The BOP itself stated in an email on April 1, 2021 that, “continued efforts to delay, or not allow this facility to operate as intended, will result in the inability of the BOP to provide these critical services to offenders releasing to this area.”

We demand that the Mayor and D.C. Council immediately and permanently put an end to these delay tactics and take all steps needed to safely and quickly approve all permits needed for CORE DC to open a new halfway house for men at 3701 Benning Rd. NE. No more contract disputes, no more attempts at eminent domain, no emergency changes to zoning laws or municipal regulations, no more veiled attempts keeping our returning citizens from coming home.

The DC Council must VOTE NO on Tuesday on the “Downtown Ward 7 Urban Park Eminent Domain Authority Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2021,” the “Downtown Ward 7 Urban Park Eminent Domain Authority Emergency Act of 2021,” and the “Downtown Ward 7 Urban Park Eminent Domain Authority Temporary Act of 2021.” All District leaders must send a clear message that further delays will not be tolerated – we must open a new halfway house for men now.

Sincerely,

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