It’s Bigger than Money – Developers Have an Obligation to be Good Neighbors Too.

December 2, 2020 
By Barrington M. Salmon

Real-estate developers can profoundly change the fortunes and character of a struggling community – for better or for worse.

Development can, for instance, attract new businesses that create jobs for local residents, provide new goods and services and promote stability and safety. Or, conversely, development can lead to gentrification in which high-income families move into the neighborhood, drive up housing costs and displace middle-and low-income residents.

In short, every developer has his or her work cut out balancing the demands of progress and commerce with the needs, desires and hopes of a community.

Which brings us to Ward 7, where efforts to open a residential reentry center for men leaving federal prison, are running into resistance from supporters of a major retail development project that would modernize East River Park Shopping Center and from the council representative.

Cedar Realty Trust and its allies could potentially delay CORE’s efforts to bring the proposed 300-bed residential reentry center to Ward 7. Councilmember Vincent Gray has raised concerns about the fact that the halfway house would undermine the East River Park Shopping Center, a major retail development of Cedar Realty Trust. Gray appears to be worried that the reentry center would somehow impinge on Cedar Realty Trust’s plans to modernization the East River Park Shopping Center.

Gray notes in a press release that the nearby Senator Square, which was recently purchased by Cedar Realty and the shopping center, are located on land that is in a federal opportunity zone.

The link between locating the reentry center in Ward 7 and developing these parcels of land is unclear. Attempts to tie one to the other is highly sketchy – if not preposterous. CORE believes that the halfway house and these potential long-term investments in these opportunity zones are a pair of efforts that could build, rebuild and strengthen Ward 7.

Gray has said he’s a strong supporter of returning citizens and services to support reentry into their communities, but not this time. He adds that he and Ward 7 residents are concerned about what he says are “the harmful effects of placing a facility of this size, in a prime commercial area.” The councilmember said in January that he planned to meet with federal and District officials to discuss these concerns and the adverse impact this would have on the 70,000 people who live in Ward 7 and who envision this area as a long-awaited site for economic development.

It is unclear if those meetings allayed Gray’s fears.

There are rumors that Cedar Realty has privately approached some individuals involved in the negotiations over the reentry center to say it would undermine the retail development project. If this is true, that’s dirty dealing. The developer should resist the urge to place a thumb on the scales and allow the location of the residential reentry facility in Ward 7 to be based solely on its merits.

This is not the first time a developer has failed the DC community on this very issue of the reentry of returning citizens. Indeed, Douglas Development – without clear reason last year – pulled the plug on a lease it had with the social-service provider, CORE, for space out of which it would operate the reentry center.

CORE expected opposition to locating the residential reentry facility in any ward. But at what point do developers look beyond making money, supporting one part of the community and focus on the needs of a constituency that doesn’t have lobbyists and political action committees to sway peoples’ minds?

This reentry project is worthy of community support. The men who’re returning home have paid their debt to society. It’s time for the city to pull them in, embrace them and help transform the lives of these men who have paid their debts to society and want an opportunity to be fully reintegrated into their respective communities. They need our help to and the services that will allow them to rebuild fractured and interrupted lives.

Developers like Douglas Development and Cedar Realty have an obligation to be good neighbors when they move into a community – embrace all members including those returning home from incarceration and not merely seek to make money at the community’s expense.