Across the street from the white brick home that Mary Hundley has occupied for almost 40 years stand two of what the city calls "community-based residential facilities" for minors -- group houses for juveniles caught between the courts and their own homes.
These houses, one for girls at 2539 13th St. NW and one for boys next door at 2541 13th St., are but two of the six facilities within two square blocks of Hundley's trim home on 13th Street NW.
The houses across from Hundley sport neatly painted exteriors and well-swept walkways, but their serene facades belie the emotional controversy they have ignited among their Columbia Heights neighbors.
"I had to fight in court to live here," said Mary Hundley, an 82-year-old former teacher at Dunbar High School. Hundley's legal battle to move into her home in 1941 led to a loosening of restrictive covenants' throughout the country.
"They told us they didn't mind colored people living on side streets, but not on an important street, at the top of the hill. Now there's a halfway house (at 1301 Clifton St. NW) at the top of the hill. It isn't fair to people who have worked hard for their homes," she said.
Hundley's view was seconded by David Tilghman, a Library of Congress employe who moved to the 13th Street NW area within the last three years.
"It's as if they set out to find the worst place in the city to put a halfway house," he said.
The Clifton Street halfway house for adult exprisoners, he noted, is across the street from Cardozo High School and from the Clifton Terrace housing project. It is two blocks from an elementary school and close to the drug traffic on 14th Street NW.
As with most housing and property-rights issues, the efforts to establish an estimated 350 group homes throughout the District have stirred frequent criticism. Most of them are located in Wards 1 and 4. Clustering the homes has perhaps generated the most anxiety.
Soon, however, neighborhoods throughout the city may be sharing Hundley's and Tilghman's concern, if not their anger.
Next Thursday, the D.C. Zoning Commission is scheduled to vote on a proposal to limit the number of community-based residential facilities permitted to one per square block, and to restrict them from locating within 300 feet of one another. The proposal also may restrict the maximum number of residents in a facility to 15.
The apparent intent of the proposal would be to disperse group homes throughout the city, which some observers say will merely increase the number of complaints.
"You've got to find some place to put them," said Fred Freeman, houseparent at the group home for girls at 2539 13th St. NW.
"I don't think the Gold Coast would accept a house like this -- not that these kids are bad."
Regardless of the zoning commission's decision next week, none of the cluster of homes near the 2500 block of 13th Street will be forced to relocate.
Thus, the 2500 block might serve as permanent testimony to the ticklish problem of placing rehabilitative facilities in residential neighborhoods. For the most part, the residents take a negative view.
"This is a nice neighborhood. I don't understand stuffing all these places here," said Mark Moser, who is renovating a rowhouse across the street from another group home for girls at 1117 Euclid St. NW. a
Moser and his neighbor, longtime resident William McKinley, complained that the two group homes at 1117 and 1211 Euclid St. -- around the corner from the others on 13th -- are noisy and the residents often rowdy.
In the past, neighbors say, they have called the police to complain about group home residents but the incidents were over before the police arrived.
Other residents say the charges are over-blown A. Michelle Washington lives across the street from one of the Euclid Street houses.
"I don't think there's a problem at all," she said. "They don't go around busting out street lights, they don't make a lot of noise." Washington said she attributed some of her neighbors' hostilities to fears that residents harbored criminal tendencies.
"They think, 'Oh my gosh, thieves, they're going to steal all my s---.' That hasn't happened, to my knowledge."
Statistics collected by the Metropolitan Police Department support Washington's view. The area containing the six group houses falls within one statistical reporting unit, and the number of reported crimes for that area is significantly below the average for the entire Third Police District. During 1979, for example, the 29 units in the Third Distict averaged 495.5 crimes per unit. However, the number of reported crimes in the 13th Street area was only 397. One unit reported a high of 1,270 crimes.Police noted that not all crimes are reported, and in some areas are reported with greater frequency than in others.
It is difficult to determine whether residents' opposition arises from the nature of the facilities near 13th Street or from their lack of participation in the decision to place them there.
Of the six houses, two on 13th Street and two at 1117 and 1211 Euclid St. are for minors who are wards of the state. A house at 1241 Euclid, at the corner of 13th Street, houses two outpatients from St. Elizabeth's. The latest addition is the halfway house at 1301 Clifton St. for 20 adults released from federal prisons. It opened in May despite residents' protests.
James Andrews, a former D.C. policeman who is restoring a large Victorian house at 13th and Euclid, learned through his wife, a parole officer, that a rambling, former home for the blind at 13th and Clifton streets was under consideration for use as a halfway house.
Andrews canvassed his neighbors and found that they share his opposition to the plan. Twenty-five residents sent a letter to the Bureau of Prisons protesting the plan but were told, "The U.S. Bureau of Prisons is not involved in site selection of halfway houses but leaves that decision to private contractors that run the houses."
A similar letter to Mayor Marion Barry brought the reply that the city has no control over a federal facility. Neighbors also petitioned the D.C. Zoning Commission, asking for a moratorium on group homes in the area but were told they would have to await a citywide decision.
Some of the Columbia Heights residents fear that some group homes are stalking horses for speculators.
"It's a good way to carry a house," Andrews theorized. "You don't want to get into the rental business because you can't get rid of renters. But if you rent it to a contractor for a group home, you can practically get them to pay for the house. Then, when the neighborhood's changed enough, you sell it."