Upon learning about CORE, LLC’s intent to move a 300-bed halfway house around the corner from a hub of urban revitalization, Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) expressed his opposition to the plan, telling federal officials that the residential reentry center threatens any possibility of economic development in that area.
In the weeks since speaking with Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, Gray has encouraged constituents to make similar calls to CORE LLC and BOP. A contingent of Ward 7 residents, however, said they remain committed to ensuring that returning citizens can finish their sentence in the District.
For Ward 7 resident the Rev. George C. Gilbert, Jr., Gray’s concerns don’t account for the harsh reality that Ward 7 residents have faced long before CORE, LLC considered 3701 Benning Road NE as a site for a halfway house.
“In every instance, Ward 7, especially the neighborhood in question, hasn’t changed in 30 years, and Ward 7 is just getting Skyland development completed after 20 years of planning,” Gilbert, assistant to the pastor of Holy Trinity United Baptist Church on Gault Place in Northeast, told The Informer.
“There hasn’t been a halfway house in Ward 7 for 40 years and we haven’t seen any economic development,” added Gilbert, who also serves as chairman of the civic and social actions committee of the Missionary Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Washington, D.C.
“We must really understand the totality of a half-century of non-business and [slow] economic development. We’ve had Ward 7 and at-large council members rise to the top of our city, and we’re still fighting for some of the basic necessities like grocery stores, restaurants and market places.”
Since 2010, Ward 7 and Ward 8 have lost four supermarkets, according to data collected by D.C. Hunger Solutions. There are currently two full-service grocery stores in Ward 7 serving 70,000 residents. In a recent statement, Gray said pending legislation will earmark grocery stores, restaurants and other amenities for the East River Park Shopping Center – a mixed-use development that’s under the purview of Cedar Realty and less than half a mile from the proposed venue.
If CORE, LLC follows through on its acquisition of the Benning Road venue, 300 formerly-incarcerated men will complete their sentences near what have been designated as opportunity zones – places in low-income urban areas the federal government will support with long-term investments.
The conflict between Gray and CORE, LLC and the FBOP comes more than a year into the search for the residential reentry center that would replace Hope Village on Langston Place in Southeast. The halfway house, in operation since the late 1970s, has garnered a reputation for what has been described as life-threatening conditions, subpar employment counseling and unfair treatment at the hands of staff.
Numerous complaints eventually compelled FBOP to schedule Hope Village’s closure and enter a five-year, $60 million contract with CORE, LLC for its operation of a new residential reentry center. By last October, the halfway house received an extension that would allow it to remain open until April, despite strong opposition from returning citizens advocates.
This happened as Ward 5 residents countered attempts to open a new residential reentry center at 3400 New York Avenue NE. In late 2018, Attorney Donald Temple filed a lawsuit against the District alleging that neither Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C), Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D), or Ward 5 residents had been notified about FBOP’s contract with CORE, LLC. A month prior, McDuffie expressed his apprehension to the then-acting FBOP Director Hugh J. Hurwitz, telling him that CORE, LLC didn’t reach out to him or Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jacqueline Manning (5C04).
Returning citizens advocates, clergy people and others have stood on the frontlines to ensure that returning citizens could complete the terms of their incarceration near family and friends. Many have done so out of fear that, without a federally-operated halfway house in D.C., hundreds of men would be relegated to facilities as far as Baltimore.
Longtime Ward 7 resident Richard Tingling-Clemmons described the controversy surrounding the halfway house as part of a large-scale effort to oppress the masses of Black people in the United States, and around the world. While he expressed a desire for a 300-bed facility at the Benning Road venue, even pledging to volunteer there, he criticized the District government for what has happened to generations of incarcerated Black men.
“D.C. is taking the same non-action they’ve always taken. They took away our parole system. The federal government took control of our citizens so they can get an adequate number of slaves,” said Tingling-Clemmons, business manager for the Metropolitan Washington Gray Panthers.
“In this area, close to 80 percent of all men have been arrested at some time [in their life]. That’s what we’re all facing. They didn’t get rid of slavery. They just set it aside for some people.”