UPDATE: At 4:30PM today, Councilmember Jack Evans sent the following message to the community: "In light of the community opposition to the legislation regarding the Shiloh Baptist Church’s properties, I have withdrawn the legislation and contacted Rev. Wallace Smith, Pastor of Shiloh, of such." Our thanks to Councilmember Evans for listening and taking appropriate action.
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Yesterday, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans explained his proposal, discussed on this blog, to provide a substantial tax abatement to Shiloh Baptist Church, which owns many blighted properties in the Shaw neighborhood that have been a source of frustration to residents for decades. Evans explained:
Brian - thank you for writing about Bill 18-1045, the “Shiloh Baptist Church Property Redevelopment Act of 2010.” Shiloh Baptist Church, (Shiloh), owns Lots 820, 821, 822, 824, and 825 in Squares 365, Lot 20 in Square 396; Lot 31 in Square 397 and Lot 46 in Square 421 in Shaw. These properties have been classified at Class 3, Vacant Properties. Currently, Shiloh owes $57,222 (Lot 820); $55,963 (Lot 821); $66,372 (Lot 822); $43,302 (Lot 824); and $58,306 (Lot 825), a total of $281,165 in property taxes on these properties.Evans' e-mail did little to ease opposition from Shaw residents.
The purpose of the legislation is to explore the idea of having monies owed by Shiloh put into escrow and used to renovate the properties rather than paying the money to the District Government. If Shiloh does not renovate the properties in a time period to be determined, the monies would go to the District.
I was approached by the leadership of Shiloh about this issue last year. I asked Commissioner Alex Padro to convene some neighbors for discussions with representatives of Shiloh. I want to thank them for the many hours they gave to these discussions. Several good ideas came out of these meetings. The legislation has been assigned to my Committee and I intend to hold hearings to solicit further neighborhood input. At that point, I will decide which direction to take.
Brian Smith, to whose email Evans responded, had tried to keep an open mind, but "drastically changed [his] feelings on this scheme," stating that he "100 percent oppose[s] any legislation or proposal that would give Shiloh any escrow agreement, break or "deal" on taxes that they owe and have owed for years." "Currently the District government is roughly 180 million in the hole...correct?" Smith wrote. "DCRA has been "unable" to collect over $180 million in delinquent property taxes . . . . How would some sort of "escrow" be administered? Considering the track record of DCRA and the Government as a whole I just do not see that this could be done in any way, shape or form giving Shiloh yet again another gift on a property that the District has ALREADY GIVEN THEM MONEY TO DEVELOP!!!"
"Let me see if I got this right," said David Smith, who serves as an officer of the Convention Center Community Association. "I own multiple properties--mostly adjacent to each other--which for decades I have kept vacant and allowed to deteriorate into derelict magnets for vagrants and vermin," said Smith in an e-mail to Evans. Smith continued, "Over the years I make various promises to renovate the buildings, but never deliver on any of them. I accumulate a very large property tax bill because the District government finally applies the appropriate classification to these blighted properties. But instead of making me pay the taxes, the District Government then offers to reward my bad stewardship by letting me keep the tax money I owe them if I promise to do some renovations on the properties which will remain in my hands. And then, since I'm a church--assuming I actually do the renovations--I can claim that the properties are being used for religious purposes, which means I may never have to pay property taxes on them again. Wow--I'd say that's a pretty good gift to the worst slumlord in Shaw."
"Jack, This seems like another plan to keep running out the clock on Shiloh's part.. .your email says they approached you last year so that's at least ten months and now you're going to explore this proposal with the community?" questioned Bob Carroll. "I can save you some time....enforce the laws we all allegedly live under and tell Silo to pay their tax bills. From what I understand DC could use the cash."
"This is ridiculous!" exclaimed Carmen Gilotte in an e-mail to Evans. "Good ideas? Reward Shiloh's irresponsible behavior YET AGAIN? Why should this church get any more tax breaks? Why? They are slumlords, they have held the community hostage, and they keep getting help from our leaders to thwart their responsibilities to the law, the community and the city. Stop the insanity! Make them pay what they owe!"
CCCA President Martin Moulton has also chimed in, noting other Shaw churches, such as First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church and Asbury United Methodist Church, have substantial property holdings and have completed major projects without imposing a burden on the community or seeking special tax abatements. "These churches -- unlike Shiloh -- have creatively made dreams a reality and with hard work and commitment shrewdly found ways to make the impossible possible," said Moulton. "Once Shiloh pays its appropriate taxes, I believe the District government should do everything reasonable to to assist Shiloh in making the 1500 b/o 9th Street a dynamic part of a critical area in the heart of the nation's capital."