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Yays and Nabes: Behind Ward 5’s calm exteriors, furious typing about future developments.

It’s always tricky to rail against a domestic violence shelter without coming off like an asshole.

So residents of Ward 5 have to watch out. Many really don’t want a proposed transitional housing project for women and children slated to open in the Eckington neighborhood next spring. The plan, as championed by the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), foresees partially subsidized apartment-style digs to help victims of domestic violence transition back into community life. If NIMBYs hate anything, it’s transitions. Though concerns about drug abuse and crime prevention overwhelm the debate, most residents are afraid that affordable housing for transitional types will make their own properties more “affordable,” as well.

But they don’t have to say that!

Homeowners in this part of town have fine-tuned their anti-social-services arguments, thanks to the area’s affordable-, transitional-, halfway-, shelter-housing past. DASH’s new home is already host to a glut of specialty projects, many catering to women: the 19-unit “Open Arms” apartment building for homeless women plans to open this month; “Hyacinth Place,” a Trinidad housing project for women who suffer from substance abuse and mental illness, is currently in the works—and also hotly contested.

DASH is quick to point out that its forthcoming housing project does not require the community’s support to move forward—but that it hopes to foster a positive relationship between Eckington neighbors and tenants anyhow. DASH addressed the conspiracy theories in an FAQ about the project [PDF]. One frequently asked question: “Do DASH and Councilmember Thomas have a ‘back-door-deal’ to force this shelter on the community?” Short answer: No. But residents wouldn’t be able to stop it if they did.

What those residents can do, however, is come up with ever-more-inventive rationales for opposing programs for women. Herewith the best of the bunch:

WARD 5 RESIDENTS ALREADY MARTYRS TO TOO MANY CAUSES. In a recent post on Why I Hate DC, blogger Anne razzed the ward by characterizing the next-door Bloomingdale neighborhood as “nothing but gang-bangers, former hippies and indie kids who need a good shave,” who are liable to “get a cap in your ass when you’re walking 10 blocks home from the metro.” An offended resident took the missive as an opportunity to play up the neighborhood’s altruism on the Bloomingdale Listserv. “I think this could be fairly and realistically interpreted as one more voice stating this area of town has more than its share of pathological life-support services. Maybe Friendship Heights would like to sign up to host the next drug rehab-clinic or homeless-shelter or battered women’s support facility?” The resident then mediated the response with the admission that opposing “battered women” is an unpopular position: “See you in hell (sigh).”

WARD 5 NOT MARYLAND’S BITCH. Community backlash to the Hyacinth’s Place proposal cites a drain on police resources, an already healthy drug problem in the area—and external pressures. “We will not be dumped on and burdened with a project that individuals who reside in Maryland are promoting here,” Ward 5 resident Kathy Henderson wrote for the opposition, on the Bloomingdale neighborhood Listserv. Ward 5 residents, Henderson wrote, are tired of “serving as a repository for undesirable projects that no one wants, except persons that reside
in Maryland.”

HOMELESS WOMEN’S SHELTER OR SEX CLUB? Henderson then rallied the troops by drawing parallels between shutting down the homeless housing and the great Ward 5 gay club blockage of 2007. “First, we battled the threat of sex clubs operating in our midst, now this,” Henderson wrote. “We have come too far as a community to allow this type of project to erode our public safety gains. The battle lines
are drawn!”

SLIPPERY SLOPE. The pushback against housing projects for women inevitably inspires a “slippery slope” argument. If we allow people to build houses, it won’t be long before people begin building other types of structures—unspeakable ones. Debbie Smith wrote the following to the Eckington Listserv, in response to DASH’s plans: “We also should remember that we all have said in numerous meetings that we did not want the South and West sides of Ward 5 to be dumping grounds again. Let’s think about where we want to go and how to get here together. Also, how are we as residents going to deal with the possibility of Gun Store’s locating in our community? I understand that there is an interest to move into our Ward 5. Do we want this?”

When local real estate blog DCMud covered a recent addition to the ward’s affordable housing glut, a reader weighed in with a counterintuitive argument: Housing for women is bad because it draws more men to the area. “I live near this crap shoot,” the neighbor wrote. “I honestly believe this is going to lower my property values. We just succeeded in getting rid of boarding home on the corner of our block. It was a place meant for pregnant teens, but it attracted boys/men from all over the hood and all kinds of illegal activity.”

THINK OF THE CHILDREN. DASH detractors are quick to point to the danger that a housing project meant to protect women and children could pose to…other children. The project is located close to McKinley Technology High School—and right across the street from a schoolbus stop. “As long as we’re so unconcerned about the environment DC schoolchildren have to wade through every day, why not go all the way?” wrote one commenter on the Eckington Listserv. “There’s got to be someone out there who’d like to legalize slots and prostitution—maybe we can open THOSE adjacent to some Ward 5 schools too!”

PROTECTING WOMEN A SUSPICIOUSLY POSITIVE CAUSE. Not all vocal Ward 5 members oppose DASH’s housing project. “[I]t is an honor to support any effort to combat domestic violence,” Eckington resident Joel Dubenitz wrote in to the neighborhood Listserv. “I don’t see how anyone could be against providing shelter to women who may be severely injured or killed in a violent relationship.” What is this guy trying to prove, anyway?

TELLIN’ IT LIKE IT IS. Eckington resident Steve Rynecki, at least, offered a refreshingly transparent excuse for refusing to support housing projects. “My question is why does housing need to be affordable exactly?” he wrote on the Listserv. “Why should taxpayers pay for section 8 vouchers? Honestly, I can’t live just any old place I want to. I have to live here in Eckington and make the best of it, since this is what I could afford.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery