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Neighborhood association owes DCPS $10,000

(Published July 3, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

The president of a neighborhood association in Southwest Washington said he will convene an emergency meeting of its members in order to resolve an issue that involves a $10,000 check that it owes to D.C. Public Schools.

The Southwest Neighborhood Assembly became involved in 1995 in an effort to turn the closed Syphax Elementary School into affordable housing. According to former assembly president Marc Weiss, the association worked to acquire the turn-of-the-century building from DCPS with Habitat for Humanity, a partnership between the Enterprise Foundation and Second Baptist Church, and then the Enterprise Foundation alone.

In September 1997, a deal was reached with the Enterprise Foundation to sell the building to them for $120,000 to develop into housing. The foundation had 90 days to secure financing and complete the purchase of the building. But on Dec. 14 – the day before the deadline – the foundation pulled out of the deal. Weiss said that’s when he approached Manna – another non-profit organization that helps develop affordable housing – and got them interested in taking on the project. Weiss said he then convinced school officials to accept a $10,000 good-faith deposit to hold the deal for 60 days until Manna could secure financing.

Weiss said he then approached the Fannie Mae Foundation and convinced them to write the neighborhood assembly a check for the deposit that would be paid to the schools. Manna would then only pay the remaining $110,000 for the property. Weiss said the only purpose the money could be used for was to help Manna buy the school.

Weiss said he found out something wasn’t right with the deal when current members of the assembly began to ask him what they should do with the money for Fannie Mae. He said he became concerned and contacted the schools’ then-chief financial officer Donald Rickford. He said Rickford pulled the file on the deal and found the check from the neighborhood association that had never been deposited.

Weiss said that when he told the current president and treasurer that they had to write a new check to the school system, they told him that the board of directors would have to decide what to do with the money.

Weiss then had Rickford write a letter to the association’s current president, the Rev. George Holmes, dated March 8, requesting a replacement check. Weiss also contacted Fannie Mae and had senior program officer Olive I. Akhigbe write a letter March 20 explaining that the purpose of the money was to help Manna purchase the property.

"If these funds will not be used for the purposes intended, please refund immediately the full amount of $10,000 to the Fannie Mae Foundation," Akhigbe wrote. "Otherwise, send a copy of the check…payable to the D.C. Public Schools and transmittal correspondence to my attention no later than April 7, 2000."

But by June 30, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly still had not paid the money to either the school system or Fannie Mae.

Weiss also said Rickford had talked to the schools’ general counsel about taking legal action against the assembly to recover the money. Rickford resigned as the schools’ CFO last month and could not be reached for comment. The general counsel for DCPS did not return calls seeking comment.

"We want clarification if the money is ours, or if we can use it for our projects that we deem appropriate," Holmes said in an interview. He reiterated that the board of directors would have to make any decision concerning the money. "I have no problems giving it to DCPS but I’m just one voice."

Holmes said he was not aware of Fannie Mae’s letter that was addressed to him until it was read to him by a reporter. He said that based on that letter, he would call an emergency meeting of the SWNA directors to discuss the matter.

Homes insisted SWNA had not spent any of the money on other projects.

"We do have the money, the money hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s in a C.D. (certificate of deposit)," Holmes said. "We want to resolve this as well."

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator