After a year of negotiations, the District's housing department has agreed to sign a contract with a Capitol Hill citizens' coalition giving the group the authority to represent the community's interests in matters before the agency.
The contract calls for the coalition, the Near Southeast Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Committee, to receive a$92,000 grant from the housing department with which to carry out a program of neighborhood involvement and to act as a liaison with the agency.
The agreement was reached last week during a meeting called by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 6A and 6B, which represent the Capitol Hill area.
Dan Bankett, who represented the D.C. department of housing and community development at the meeting, said. "The department will take whatever steps are necessary to sign a contract by Oct. 1.
"If everything is in order, funds could be available by Nov. 1."
Janet Gordon, chairwoman of the housing committee for ANC 6B, said after the meeting that she was "cautiously optimistic" that the contract would be signed by Oct. 1.
"We've hassled the department a long time over this contract, "I want to believe that they intend to sign it this time. But we've had promises before," she said.
Gordon said that the coalition and the department had been close to initialing a contract last October but that the department, at the last minute, decided not to sign.
"They had some last-minute objections to the makeup of the coalition," Gordon said.
There was concern that the citizen's committee should be made up of members of the community, as well as ANC commissioners, Gordon said. Since then, she continued, a broad-based organization has been created. ANC commmissioners are still on the panel, but other committee members were "elected democratically," Gordon assured Bankett.
Bankett said that the agreement would be signed, if the committee would make several structural changes.
Among his expressed concerns were the absense of youth, minority business and welfare representation on the committed, the vague definition of the scope of services to be performed by the group and the absence of a budget.
Gordon assured Bankett that the problems he raised would before the signing of a contract.
A controversy over such an agreement with the Capitol Hill coalition arose more than a year ago, when some ANC commissioners accused the housing department of trying to establish a competing advisory group just after the ANC's were elected.
"Just after the ANCs were set up a competing advisory group.
"We thought that was an affront to the ANCs because that was exactly what we were created to do - advise the agencies and departments about issues of concern to our neighborhood," said Raymond Gooch, chairman of ANC6B.
Gooch said tht after initial effort to have only the ANC represented on the committee, it was decided that it would be better to have a formal, contractual arrangement with the housing department. Once that was decided, he said, they began putting together a broader-based community group.
Gooch said that one reason a contractual agreement is necessary is that many segment of the Capitol Hill community don't trust the housing department and its programs.
He cited as an example the community's response to the department's Neighborhood Improvement Program. Under that program, the housing department designated the region enclosed gy East Capitol Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th and 19th Streets as a target area, and offered low-interest loans to homeowners who wanted to repair housing code violations.
"Before the people could decide whether they wanted to consider participating in the program, housing inspector had to go into all the homes and determine where there were code violations," Gooch said.
"Many of the people in those homes were older, black families who had worked all their lives for those houses, and they were distrustful of the housing people," he added.
As a result, on three separate occasions - during community forums sponsored by the ANCs - community residents rejected the NIP program, Gooch said.
He said one thing the coalition plans to do with money from the contract is inform area residents about the NIP and other programs so that they do not distrust new programs.
Gordon said that the coalition, which will have separate financing from the ANC, would use funds from the contract to "inform citizens about housing programs. We'll organizing forums on rent control and other alternatives. We'll hold workshops on home repair.
"We'll be going door-to-door to inform people about he NIP program. We'll try to get the community involved in a development plan for this area.
"We'll continue to work with banks and businesses in the area to get them more involved. And we're going to try to help the people in public housing get some action out fo their resident councils and management," Gordon said.