March 2016 Meeting Report

Fillmore, Shelter and Pepco-Exelon

At our March 16 meeting the ANC voted unanimously to urge the District to restore funding for the Fillmore Arts Center program that Stoddert School and four other local elementary schools have participated in for the last several years. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh told us that the outcry against this budget cut has been heard and she is trying to get the funding restored.

It is always a good idea to speak out when you don’t think your elected leaders are doing the right thing. And that was the focus when the ANC took up a resolution regarding the Mayor’s legislation to create homeless family shelters in all the wards, including in Ward 3 at 2619 Wisconsin Avenue (the vacant lot at the corner of Edmunds Street). Some people felt the ANC was doing the wrong thing. To them, the need to close DC General and provide better temporary shelters for families is so urgent that no criticism of the Mayor’s legislation was justified. Others believed that the legislation was flawed because the site selection was done in secret without involving ANCs or residents, and consequently there are serious problems with some of the sites that need to be addressed. People were also concerned that the Mayor was taking the wrong approach by committing upwards of $300 million solely for rent paid to developers who will own the shelter site properties at the end of the leases.

After a vigorous discussion, aided by the presence of Jay Melder, chief of staff to the director of the Department of Human Services, who answered question after question, the ANC voted unanimously to approve the resolution, which is posted at our website, www.anc3b.org, under “Documents.”

Our intent is to improve the plan for housing homeless families in our community and make it work better for the neighborhood. Just in the few short weeks since we were told about the site, we have already succeeded in winning some changes. Instead of 50 dormitory-style rooms, each with 4 beds, we have a firm commitment that the maximum will be 38. That’s still a huge footprint for a site in a single-family neighborhood and CM Cheh continues to suggest that Ward 3 may do better with two smaller shelter sites. We also got an agreement, not yet in writing, that the building will be 3 stories, not 4, and that instead of communal bathrooms on each floor, no more than 2 families will share a bathroom. We believe that dignity and security, especially for families with small children, require private bathrooms, so there’s more to advocate for.

But our biggest concern is about the effect on Stoddert School, which would be the school of right for children from the shelter. The severe overcrowding and the need for extra resources to help shelter children adjust, since they will likely be enrolling at all times of the school year, present real concerns. A possible solution suggested in our resolution would be to focus this site as much as possible on families with children under the age of 5. We also call for the inclusion of day care as one of the support services at the shelter.

In addition, we want to make sure that the DC Council does its due diligence by assessing whether the sites selected are appropriate, and determining if spending so much money on temporary shelters is necessary, given the need for permanent, affordable housing.

As I said in my testimony before the Council on March 17, our community knows that living near a shelter is not necessarily a problem, as long as the community is involved and the shelter is planned well. We have asked for the creation of a community advisory board and will continue to push to improve the plans for the site. Chairman Phil Mendelson has said the Council will act on the proposed legislation by mid-April, but he and many members of the Council have serious concerns as well. So we will have to watch and see what happens. I hope we can all agree that as critically important as this initiative is, it’s better to get it right now than deal with mistakes later.

The ANC approved sending a letter to the Public Service Commission asking them to reject the latest round of settlement options offered by Exelon, following on our previous resolutions opposed to the merger with Pepco. After 20 months and 4 tries to craft a deal acceptable to all parties, it’s time to say a final no.

ANC3B will meet next on April 14 at 7 p.m. at Stoddert Elementary School. The agenda will be posted at www.anc3b.org and circulated on the listservs.