Long-Stalled 15th Stree,t SE, CAG Project Receives Funding/ Green Light from City Council
Director Michael Kelly of DC’s Housing Agency Accepts Blame for Construction Delay before Group of Frustrated Neighbors
by Larry Janezich
Last night, a meeting of ANC6B’s Hill East Task Force, convened to receive an update on the stalled Community Action Group (CAG) project, started on an ugly note, with hostile questions and aggravated interruptions from nearby neighbors of the CAG project at 124 15th Street, SE. In the eyes of these residents, the inactive construction site has become a blight on the community, and they came ready to confront CAG organizers, expressing their lack of confidence in new plans to complete the project and outrage at CAG’s failure to live up to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in 2011 – especially CAG’s failure to engage and communicate with the community.
A 2008 renovation project for an existing building at the site devolved into a collapsed wall. In 2011, a plan to construct a new structure and a signed MOU with neighbors failed to lead to any construction and, as became clear last night, this stall was the result of nonfeasance of officials at DC’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), a fact which Director Kelly acknowledged in forthright terms.
Kelly, who arrived at the job in July, 2012, nevertheless told the group gathered in the basement of Holy Comforter church that he accepted the responsibility for the delay in the project: “Nine out of ten of the reasons for the delay were my responsibility – and I’ve fixed them. My project managers were asleep at the wheel.” The project, he said, is back on track, and his office has committed $3.6 million for construction and “we are ready to cut checks.”
A rough timeline was revealed last night which anticipates two or three months to get the contractor geared up to begin work and a construction period of up to eight months. A factor which that timeline did not take into account is the need to reapply for building and other permits, which can be a lengthy process. It is not clear why CAG officials were not aware of this lapse in permits, nor was it clear why their new contractor did not appear at the meeting. Despite their complaints that they did not receive an agenda prior to the meeting, it should have been obvious what the community was gathered together to hear.
By way of explanation of their failure to live up to the MOU with neighbors, CAG officials told those attending the meeting that they are a small organization with limited resources and the failure to communicate with neighbors was partly the result of their inability to get information from DHCD, as well as a reluctance to pressure an agency that they were depending on for future construction funds. Former graduates of CAG testified to the benefits of the program and the effect it has had in helping them become contributing members of the community. The testimonial of one client and several staff members had an emotional resonance that seemed to shift the tenor of the meeting, which featured fewer interruptions after that point.
The Hill East Taskforce resolved to formulate a letter requesting an accounting of expenditure of city funds on the project since 2008 from both DHCD and CAG within 30 days after the full ANC signs off on the letter, anticipated to occur at the June 10 ANC6B meeting. In addition the letter will address the necessity for revising the existing MOU. There was consensus that the Hill East Task Force will convene another meeting in six weeks for another update and an examination of updated plans for the building. The attitude of ANC 6B Chair Brian Flahaven, who ran the meeting and called for order at several points early on, suggested that, while acknowledging the project was going forward, and extolling the important work that CAG does, the community still wanted more answers about the past and the future of the site.