By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 18, 2005; DZ03
Lawyers for the District were directed this week to begin legal action against the operator of a Northeast Washington halfway house that lost its certificate of occupancy earlier this year but has continued to operate, a city official said.

Notified on July 1 that the certificate was being revoked, the operators of the facility were given 45 days to shut down the halfway house, said Neil Stanley, deputy director of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

But the deadline passed on Monday with no sign that it would be closing its doors. Early Tuesday, all appeared normal at the facility, located in a converted warehouse at 2210 Adams Pl. NE, in an industrial pocket off Queens Chapel Road.

Operated for the federal Bureau of Prisons by Bannum Inc., a Florida company, the halfway house opened in 2003 to the concern and consternation of many people in the surrounding Langdon and Woodbridge neighborhoods.

A killing several weeks ago inside the halfway house, which has about 80 residents, has only heightened the fears of the facility’s opponents. Cleveland McKinney Jr., a 33-year-old resident of the house, was shot and fatally wounded on June 29, prompting renewed calls to close the facility.

Halfway houses like the one in Northeast are typically way stations for people returning from prison, offering them a soft landing back into their communities and a period of time to find a job and a place to live.

Law enforcement officials say that well-run halfway houses can serve an important function, particularly in a city like the District, where thousands of men and women return from prison every year.

Finding acceptable sites, however, is often a challenge for authorities, who want locations that allow the residents reasonably good access to public transportation and other basic services but frequently face neighborhoods objections.

The halfway house on Adams Place NE opened in May 2003 and was slated to house as many 150 men. It sits across from a D.C. Public Schools bus depot and an auto body supply company and down the block from a waste transfer station. A number of group homes, though, including one for troubled girls, are located in the largely industrial area, near New York Avenue NE.

In September 2003, the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment overturned the decision awarding Bannum a building permit. The board ruled that the city should have, among other steps, held public hearings before allowing the company to set up such a facility.

In its application, Bannum had called the facility a “community corrections” center, avoiding the more familiar term “halfway house.” It has maintained that opening the facility on the site in Northeast did not require any public hearings and has appealed the ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals. A hearing on the matter is expected in October or November.

Shawn C. Whittaker, a lawyer who has been representing Bannum in proceedings in the District, was on vacation and not available for comment, his office said. A receptionist at Bannum’s headquarters in Florida also said no one was available to comment.

Despite the ongoing appeal, the District’s decision to revoke the occupancy permit stands, Stanley said, and the matter is being sent to the office of the D.C. attorney general for enforcement actions.

“We do have every intent to enforce the order that was issued,” Stanley said. Donald M. Temple, the lawyer who has represented the community activists opposed to the halfway house, said he is mystified by the city’s efforts so far and said he has “no confidence” in the city’s pledges of imminent action.

“For some reason, the District won’t enforce its own laws and won’t close the facility,” Temple said. “I think there is some political needle in a haystack stopping the city from doing what’s supposed to be done.”

On another front in its battle with Bannum, though, the neighborhood scored a victory earlier this month. A federal judge last week rejected the company’s claims that it was libeled by a community organization’s flier accusing Bannum of having tried to buy local support by flying two community leaders to its Florida headquarters.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company