New Bethel Baptist Church Continues Fight for Affordable Housing

Shaw Streets

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Rev. Dexter Nutall announces formation of the New Bethel Baptist Church Legal Defense Fund in January 2022. Photo: Pleasant Mann

New Bethel Baptist Church held a press conference the afternoon of Dec. 8 to announce the creation of the New Bethel Legal Defense Fund. The fund was formed in direct response to a series of actions by the District’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to block the church’s efforts to revitalize the affordable housing it owns in Shaw.

Rev. Dexter Nutall, pastor of New Bethel, outlined the effort by the OAG to characterize the church as a slumlord in its management of Foster House apartments and frustrate the process under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act that would allow the redevelopment of the property to proceed. Nutall said that this harassment seemed to be part of a pattern where church-directed development was subject to greater scrutiny than commercial, profit-making projects. As a result, the church had to form a fund to cover the legal expenses generated by the actions of the OAG.

Nutall’s points were supported by fellow pastors Rev. Lionel Edmonds of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, Rev. Edwin Jones, Living Faith Baptist Church and Ministries International, and Rev. Bill Lamar, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as Terry Lynch of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. Alexander Padro, executive director of Shaw Main Streets and former Shaw ANC commissioner, argued that “this is not a development opportunity for some private developer to take away a black church’s legacy.”

To accuse New Bethel Baptist of being a slumlord is a particular insult. The church has been serving the Shaw community since 1902. Its previous pastor, the Reverend Walter Fauntroy, led the community through the redevelopment of the neighborhood during the years of the Shaw Urban Renewal Plan in the 1960s and 1970s. The church built Foster House in answer to the call of the District for black churches to fill riot-damaged lots with affordable housing. As Nutall put it, “It was the Black church that wanted to be here, when no one else wanted to be here.”

Although the Defense Fund was established by New Bethel Baptist Church, the vision is to also provide support to other black churches encountering similar abuses by local and state government officials. The fund is intended to combat widespread efforts across the District and region to take over valuable real estate and assets owned by the area’s black churches. The Defense Fund will also partner with former elected officials and policy experts to bring awareness to these issues and develop strategies to ensure local black churches are protected.

Shaw parent picks up gifts from Events DC Winter Wonderland Reimagined. Photo: Events DC

Events DC Holds Winter Wonderland for Children
On Saturday morning, Dec. 18, Events DC hosted its 23rd annual Winter Wonderland holiday celebration for nearly 200 children from communities surrounding the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

In previous years, Winter Wonderland was a holiday party for neighborhood children and their parents, with family activities along with gift giving. The start of the pandemic last year required that Events DC restrict the tradition to the distribution of toys. This year’s Winter Wonderland Reimagined event, just as in 2020, was a gift distribution where adults from nearby households picked up gift bags for children preregistered by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 2F and 6E, as well as Shaw Main Streets. Due to COVID-19, guests were assigned to specific one-hour time slots, required to wear face coverings and temperature-screened upon entering the center.

As a special treat, attendees could take complimentary photos at a contactless digital booth supplied by DC vendor Eagle Eye Photos. Events DC staff volunteers and friends got in on the action, making it a festive time for all. Events DC looks forward to welcoming Shaw’s youth to the Convention Center for next year’s Winter Wonderland.

Shaw Sees Progress in Housing
While development in Shaw has slowed a bit over the past two years, a couple of new projects will add to its housing stock. A big milestone was the application by developer Dantes Partners for vertical building permits to build on the city-owned Parcel 42. A vacant lot at the corner of Seventh and R streets NW, Parcel 42 has most notably been known as the home of the Art Market during Shaw’s annual Art All Night events. The District has tried to find a site developer three times in the past decade and a half before giving Dantes Partners a chance. Current plans call for a 110-unit building with 108 of the apartments having some form of affordability. The ground floor will have 8,500 square feet devoted to retail, community and art uses.

The Mid City Development Corporation has announced plans to redevelop properties on the east side of the 1700 block of Eighth Street NW, currently garden apartments, by constructing a high-rise apartment building on the site. The developer will spend the next month showing plans to neighborhood organizations in Shaw to gather input.