- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2016

Kennedy Street residents in Ward 4 have long waited for the city to revitalize the area, and with the possibility of a homeless shelter coming to the neighborhood, they think it’s a good time to kick-start long-stalled projects.

“Without additional investments in public amenities, transportation, employment services and safety, this facility will not be a success,” said Myles G. Smith said on behalf of the Kennedy Street Development Association (KSDA), a coalition of residents and business owners trying to spur a revitalization of the corridor that spans from Georgia Avenue to North Capitol Street in Northwest.

If the government can fast-track a project like building homeless shelters across the District, then it should be able to put money into ensuring the area is equipped to handle homeless families, the group says.

“We further implore the administration to urgently revisit its unfulfilled commitments to upgrading the infrastructure of Kennedy Street NW,” the organization says in a statement.

The proposed shelter, at 5505 Fifth St. NW, would house up to 49 families. It is part of a $22 million-a-year initiative developed by Mayor Muriel Bowser to close the run-down 285-room homeless facility at the former D.C. General Hospital and transfer families into new shelters in seven of the District’s eight wards.

But the Bowser administration has encountered resistance to and criticism of the plan, which has been presented to residents as a fait accompli without any public input or information about how the sites were chosen and why. The Washington Times will examine each of the proposed sites.

Ward 4 residents have said they don’t mind a shelter in their neighborhood, but they want to make sure investments are made to make the area more enticing to businesses and foot traffic. They said that would bring amenities that their new neighbors in the shelter would sorely need.

Ben Michels, who lives near the proposed site, said he’d have no problem supporting the plan if the development of the property and the revitalization of the Kennedy Street corridor are done right.

“This will take a large effort, including delivering on the current promises to Kennedy Street, upgrading infrastructure and purchasing the building, before construction starts on the proposed facility, not after,” Mr. Michels said.

For the Ward 4 shelter, the Bowser plan calls for making over the existing 20,000-square-foot building, which has been in disrepair for about a decade, and constructing a 10,000-square-foot building along with recreational space, computer lab for residents and support services for families.

Construction is set to start in November and finish by January 2018. The property was bought last year for $3.3 million by MED Developers, which will lease the site to the city. The company did not return an email seeking comment.

The site is just off Kennedy Street, which is dotted with an international food market, a liquor store, a check-cashing service, a beauty parlor and several small eateries. Several bus lines serve Kennedy and Fifth streets, including the 62 and 63 lines (which head downtown and to Takoma) and the E4 (which runs crosstown). The Petworth and Fort Totten Metro stations are about 1.5 miles from the proposed shelter.

A Wal-Mart sits about a half-mile from the site on Georgia Avenue, and the Petworth Safeway is about a 1.5 miles away. Both stores include a pharmacy.

Residents said the area could use more business development.

D.C. Council member Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Democrat, said he understands the need for improvement.

“The revitalization of Kennedy Street has been a long time coming,” he said.

Mr. Todd said he wrote legislation to make sure that new business comes to the corridor, but his bill has not yet seen any action by the council.

Bowser communication director Michael Czin said the District will continue to invest in the revitalization of Kennedy Street.

“The family housing facility will utilize a building that has been vacant and blighted for more than a decade. Utilizing a vacant property for a public good is certainly a sign of progress,” Mr. Czin said.

Leon Andrews, who lives a block from the site, said that the plans to revitalize Kennedy Street and to create a homeless shelter are bound to fail if they aren’t worked on together.

“When there is a conversation now about fully investing in a building and there isn’t another conversation about how that’s connected to other development, it’s just talk,” said Mr. Andrews, who is challenging Mr. Todd for the Ward 4 seat on the D.C. Council.

Though residents think the site could be good for homeless residents, they’re angry they weren’t part of the site selection process.

“If the community isn’t supported during this process, this will be doomed to fail and instead of having one disgraceful DC General, we will have eight,” Mr. Michels said.

Mr. Andrews agreed.

“It’s like, ‘Just get on board and don’t ask any questions,’” he said.

But Mr. Czin said community engagement has been and will be important going forward.

“Engagement is a cornerstone of this administration,” Mr. Czin said. “We will continue to meet with members of the community to further our conversation in the coming days and weeks.”

Mr. Todd also defending the roll out of the homeless shelter plan.

“I support the method that Mayor Bowser employed across all eight wards to find locations for these short-term housing facilities,” he said. “The Ward 4 location places a vacant, blighted building back to use on the block.”

Mr. Michels lamented the fact that questioning the plan to open shelters across the District is being seen as not wanting to help the homeless.

In her annual State of the District address on Tuesday, Ms. Bowser said opponents of the plan are speaking from a “place of fear.”

“People have said vicious things. They clouded the mission, and they have threatened those trying to carry it out,” Ms. Bowser said. “Because, sadly, sometimes people fight from a place of fear. And, sadly, sometimes leaders retreat to that place too.”

But Mr. Michels said he just wants to make sure the shelter in Ward 4 is a success for both residents and the homeless families who will stay there.

“It is a shame that any time anyone speaks out against the deal, they are labeled as hating the homeless and a NIMBY [not in my back yard], when that is just not the case in our neighborhood,” he said. “We just want the things necessary to make this successful, and right now, I can’t see it being a success without changes.”

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