2000 ANNUAL REPORT
2000 - the year itself a symbol of change - was a year of hope and renewal for Washington, D.C. For the most part, the city experienced the benefits of a strong economy, with unemployment in the District falling to its lowest levels in many years - 5.5%, and some 5,800 new jobs were created bringing the total to about 270,000. As well, the homicide rate fell to its lowest levels in over a decade.
Yet in part because of the strong economy, housing and social service needs continued to rise in the city. The strong housing market resulted in large increases in rents and housing prices - forcing many working families into difficult choices and homelessness. City agencies continued to be plagued by mismanagement. Services to foster care children, the retarded, the mentally ill, and the homeless often failed to deliver safe and reliable services, with often tragic consequences for these special needs populations. For example, three homeless persons - Jesse Blanco, Deborah McCollum, and Luis Benites - died of exposure in December in the Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhood owing in part to the lack of services.
Hence the role of the religious community in the city continued to remain vital. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members consistently sought to address the myriad needs of the residents and families of the city.
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The Homeless Services Unit for the 15th straight year continued to reach out to the indigent street homeless. This team of 3 full time, bi-lingual Outreach Workers rotated between 9 congregation-based sites as well as canvassing parks, commercial areas, and other public spaces where the homeless live. The staff saw 1086 persons - 216 women and 870 men. Women were 20% of those served. The staff provided 1,200 emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide follow-up, in-depth case management services to 163 persons. Over 370 applications were made for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Some 243 of these applications were successful; numerous others remained pending. 154 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 68 received care. Some 130 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 72 actually received such aid. Over 200 persons were referred for health care. 109 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 33 persons were placed into such housing. Over 200 persons were referred for job training and placement, of which 65 obtained jobs, and 59 received training.
The goal of the Unit is to assist each person to meet life-threatening emergency needs, while addressing long-term needs in order to overcome the cycle of homelessness. This is achieved by the staff forging a working partnership with each person and family, and allowing them to identify and implement the steps necessary to re-gain control over their situation. The Homeless Services Unit continued to provide an effective, grassroots opportunity for congregations and their members to respond to the growing local tragedy of homelessness.
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Washington Area Community Investment Fund
The Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members continued to strongly support the development of this non-profit, low-income housing loan fund. The Cluster and its members are amongst the top investors in this Fund which now has assets of over $2.5 million. The Fund has completed over 100 loans totaling over $6.2 million dollars, making possible the purchase and rehabilitation of over 1,200 housing units across the region. The Fund’s loans have leveraged an additional $55 million in other private and public funding for these housing projects. Many of these developments also help to secure and anchor neighborhoods as well as meeting the needs of the individuals and families living in them.
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Revitalization of Neglected Properties
The Cluster helped to encourage the revitalization of several large abandoned or under-utilized government-owned parcels, in order to secure new jobs and housing opportunities for residents, as well as new tax revenues for the community’s use. The federal-government owned Tariff Building, one of the most historic buildings in the city had sat vacant for over a decade. In part at the Cluster’s behest, this building was finally slated for re-development as a new hotel. This $30 million plus restoration project will result in hundreds of new jobs and increased retail and business activity on the East side and should at last be re-opened to the public in the fall of 2001.
The Newseum, a non-profit museum dedicated to the history of news, made a $100 million offer to the city for a site located near Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Part of this offer included $25 million for use for low-income housing development across the city. The Cluster’s staff helped to advise the Newseum on putting together an offer that would best meet a broad array of the District’s needs. The project should generate hundreds of construction jobs, new full-time jobs, and include retail and residential uses.
The Roosevelt Hotel - a historic landmark building owned by the Control Board and also boarded up for a number of years - was finally slated for restoration and sale to a private entity. The building’s vacancy had been a drag on the revitalization of the Meridian Hill neighborhood for years. The Cluster had pushed the Control Board to speed the property’s return to productive use.
Lastly, at the Cluster’s urging the D.C. Government acted to declare as surplus property the long vacant Mather Building located in the heart of downtown Washington. Hopefully this historic building will be converted to an array of housing, arts, and retail uses. Its vacancy has cost the District approximately $1 million each year in lost taxes and related revenues.
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After over 2 years of community education and legal effort, the local Water and Sewer Authority authorized "lifeline" rates for low-income users, and the establishment of a voluntary assistance fund. The Cluster has sought the repeal of new rates that were imposed on non-profit and religious institutions without proper notice. As part of its effort it sought to garner affordable service rates for low-income users. The Authority finally took steps that instituted affordable rates similar to what is offered by other utilities. The new rate should result in about a 20% reduction in the bill to qualifying low-income households.
The Cluster also testified before the Public Services Commission seeking to insure that all neighborhoods have equal internet access. Many areas of the city, particularly east of Rock Creek Park and the Anacostia River, do not yet have high speed internet access.
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Community Services and Issues
The Cluster’s request to the D.C. Auditor resulted in a full review of the operations of the D.C. Office of Unclaimed Property. The Auditor found that the agency performed poorly at returning funds to their rightful owners; that the public was not adequately informed regarding unclaimed funds procedures, and that even securing a full inventory of funds held by the Office could not be determined. The audit will hopefully result in significant operational changes, allowing more persons the opportunity to reclaim their assets. This agency now has over $100 million in unclaimed assets..
The Cluster supported the effort of the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council to have new metro buses be operated by clean, compressed natural gas as opposed to diesel buses. The Metro Authority re-considered its order and new natural gas operated buses were ordered.
The Cluster assisted community agencies to notify over 500 local congregations on a number of matters relating to local health issues. These efforts included encouraging enrollment by qualified low-income families for health care coverage through the DC Healthy Families program, encouraging use of local community health care centers, and eliciting community input on proposed hospital closings at Greater Southeast Hospital and D.C. General Hospital. The closing of Greater Southeast Hospital was averted.
The Cluster continued to provide leadership in opposing the expansion of liquor licenses to adult strip clubs. A liquor license application for the 1720 Club to relocate to the 1700 block of I Street, N.W. was denied after over 2 years of proceedings before the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. However, as the year came to a close the D.C. City Council acted to lift a moratorium on new liquor licenses for strip clubs in the downtown area.
The Cluster continued to support the efforts of FAIR - Food Access is Right. FAIR was founded after the closing of the only full service grocery store in Ward 8 in 1998. The group has sought the expansion of full service and other grocery outlets particularly east of Rock Creek Park. The City Council passed a bill allowing property tax abatements for new grocery stores that are located in underserved areas. The legislation was cited as one reason a new Giant Grocery Store was announced for development in Ward 5 in the Brentwood Road area.
The Cluster continued to advocate that special events go forward in the downtown area but in a manner and use of routes that allow congregation members access to their properties. At the Cluster’s behest the Mayor’s Task Force on Special Events adopted a policy of having road races alternate between Sunday and Saturday mornings, and the Metropolitan Police Department helped to devise routes that keep major arteries such as 14th Street, N.W. open allowing greater access to downtown congregations.
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Special recognition goes to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church which continued to provide administrative office space and program space to the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, as it has since its inception in 1972. Special thanks also goes to Church of the Pilgrims, Calvary Baptist Church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Epiphany Episcopal Church, and St. John’s Church of Lafayette Square for their provision of operating space for Cluster activities. The Cluster’s other members also provide financial aid, volunteers, operating space, and Board members for countless community endeavors.
The Cluster’s membership grew to 37 member congregations with the entry of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church.
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President: Mary Miller, John Wesley AME Zion Church
Vice President: Maxine Maye, Lincoln Congregational Temple, UCC
Treasurer: Austin Dandridge, Second Baptist Church
Asst. Treasurer: John Mack, First Congregations Church, U.C.C.
Secretary: Jack Womeldorf, Church of the Pilgrims
Asst. Secretary: Marian Carrick, Second Baptist Church
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Executive Director: Terrance Lynch
Senior Outreach Worker: Julie Turner
Associate Outreach Worker: Juan Carlos Benavides
Associate Outreach Worker: Sharon Winfield
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Directors and Financial Reports
A listing of member congregations and Directors is available upon request.
The Downtown Cluster of Congregations is independently audited annually. Such audits are available upon request.
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