Monday, April 15, 2024

Council wants business plan on Eden Village ‘God pods’ despite staff and CoC opposition

The inside of a “God pod.” Tom Dalton, president of Eden Village, is proposing a pod-style campground to shelter the homeless overnight. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan)

WILMINGTON — There’s a disconnect between local leaders and their staff on how to move forward with a local philanthropist’s temporary housing solution for the homeless.

READ MORE: Eden Village identifies land for pod-style campground for homeless individuals

On Monday, City of Wilmington staff recommended denial of Revive Campground, the name of a proposal to provide pod-style overnight shelter for the unhoused living on the streets. The project comes from Tom Dalton, president of the tiny-home community for the unhoused called Eden Village. 

The dwellings would offer climate-controlled shelter from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. With enough room for a twin bed, bedside table, chair and small heater, homeless individuals would be able to rent a pod for $10 a night or utilize “gift coupons” given to them or Eden Village’s team to cover the cost. 

The current plan is to have up to 200 units —  an increase from the 50 units per acre Dalton reported to Port City Daily earlier this month — on the Marstellar Street property. Dalton is asking the city to donate a parcel of land between 16th and 17th streets, referred to as the Coleman Complex, for the development.  

The property is being used by the city for active supply and surplus storage, a salvage yard, and an impound lot for the Wilmington Police Department. 

According to the proposal presented Monday during the city council’s agenda review meeting, Dalton is suggesting the project’s implementation on a six-month trial basis at first. 

If all goes according to plan, Dalton would then move forward to build a a bathhouse facility fit for eight people at a time, modify the blue building on the property to be a check-in facility, gated cubical storage area and social worker office, and a dining pavilion with trash service for outside food delivery and volunteer opportunities.

Director of Housing and Neighborhood Services Rachel LaCoe ran down a list of complications Monday with locating the campground there.

First, the 2.38-acre property is zoned UMX, or urban mixed use, and it doesn’t allow for campground developments. LaCoe said undergoing a rezoning on the property would require a “significant change in the city’s land use policies.” 

The city would also be tasked with moving its current operations at the complex. According to LaCoe, there is no other available property for the WPD to store its seized vehicles. 

Lt. Greg Willett told Port City Daily Tuesday the WPD has 18 cars on the lot with free space there, though they have had times where space was very limited. He said there would have to be security standards implemented at another location if the impound lot were moved. 

City staff did discuss the option of co-locating the campground and impound lot, per council’s choice to proceed with the proposal.

Data from the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization show pedestrian safety being another concern, especially considering the pod residents will be coming and going from the property every day. Car crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists numbered three from 2017 to 2021.

Additionally, staff are concerned about the property’s location in a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development R/ECAP, or a racially or ethnically concentrated area of poverty. LaCoe pointed out the Hillcrest and Houston Moore communities, both Wilmington Housing Authority projects, were located within blocks of the property. 

It’s worth noting Eden Village was built at 2974 McClammy St. in the Creekwood neighborhood, also an area with Wilmington Housing Authority properties.

 LaCoe  brought up crime statistics in the area, noting the property was located in district 3, which has the highest violent crime rates in the city. Council member Kevin Spears questioned that addition; LaCoe said it was important to evaluate all of the potential uses for the site. 

The concerns presented by staff echo similar concerns made by the Cape Fear Continuum of Care at its Jan. 18 meeting. Both Wilmington, New Hanover County and Brunswick County have representatives on the board, which disperses federal funding to local homeless agencies. 

Per the meeting minutes, most people recommended the city sell the Marstellar property and look for a better location for Eden Village’s proposal; several board members thought it was more beneficial to use the money toward affordable housing instead.

Kyle Abrams, board chair and assistant director of the Good Shepherd Center, pointed out that the property is surrounded on three sides by a railroad and two busy streets, stating his worry over the danger people would face trying to get to the Marstellar Street location at night. 

Tufanna Bradley, assistant county manager of human services at New Hanover County, asked whether any of the residents in the proposed area had been consulted. The minutes state “she felt too often neighborhoods have too many services concentrated in them and it can cause issues for the neighbors.”

At Monday’s meeting, council member Clifford Barnett made a similar, albeit more blunt comment, stating his concern over putting “all the poor people in one part of the city.” Council member Luke Waddell was in favor of moving forward with the proposed property. 

“I have been advocating for years for a need for short-term emergency shelter and that we have basically, in my opinion, been ignoring this to push more money into housing first initiatives via permanent supportive housing,” Waddell said. 

He said Dalton has a proven track record and highlighted the opportunity for the city to help fix a problem; he then asked staff when it could be put on an agenda for a council vote.

City manager Tony Caudle said he would begin drafting a business and site plan for the proposal to bring back to council another day. 

Mayor Bill Saffo imagined city council and the New Hanover County commissioners would be asked to contribute funds to the budget. Eden Village has already received over $500,000 from both entities. 

The mayor said more homeless people are coming to Wilmington due to the concentration of services in the city, but they shouldn’t be the only ones “on the hook.” 

“They’re an extension of state government, and they get most of the funding for this type of stuff and I think they have an important role to play here,” Saffo said. 

Waddell agreed, saying he thought the county commissioners had every intention of helping but “shame on them” if not.

At the same Jan. 18 meeting, the Cape Fear Continuum of Care also had some opinions on how the two municipalities should fund homeless initiatives. The board passed a resolution imploring the city, New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties to make it a standard practice for recipients of funds, both monetary and in-kind, to be required to participate in the federal Homeless Management Information System and coordinated entry. The former is a data collection system each CoC is responsible for using; the latter is centralized scoring to triage homeless individuals and connect them with the right resources. 

Eden Village does not participate in either, excluding it from HUD funding and, if the CoC’s resolution was adopted, local funding as well. 

Hayes told PCD Eden Village has been providing names of its residents to the CoC to be taken off the organization’s list. He went on to explain that no Eden Village project, among several in the country, uses the HMIS system, as it doesn’t align with their month-to-month leasing options. He said their application system has been able to help people that score low in coordinated entry, yet have been on the streets for a while.

Another complication of coordinated entry was that it puts the people in most need first, regardless of whether they will be a good citizen for the community Eden Village is trying to create.

At a joint meeting on Feb. 7, council members and commissioners questioned why there was a “breakdown” between the two agencies and admonished a perceived “tribal mindset” when it comes to homelessness outreach.

“What I don’t want to do is create another level of bureaucracy and have one group that says we’re the clearinghouse for who gets what in our community, when again, they may not have all the best practices — someone else could come here and do something very innovative,” Commissioners Jonathan Barfield said at the Feb. 7 meeting. 

However, according to another letter obtained by PCD this week, CoC board chair Abrams believed its first letter had unintended consequences.

“Please understand that the CFHCoC is not directing or demanding the City and County to do anything they do not wish,” he wrote. “We are simply asking that you take this request into consideration.”

Abrams maintains the narrative that the resolution was created to exclude non-partner agencies was “patently false.” He touted the good relationship with Eden Village, whose representatives attend CoC meetings, and reported he and another board member, Andrea Stough, met with Dalton on Feb. 14 and feels they are “coming to good compromises.” 

One local leader took issue with the Abrams’ approach to correct the record. 

“You would be better served by having a conversation as opposed to writing a letter,” Commissioner Barfield wrote in an email reply to the board chair. “For me I’m now even more bothered by the tone of this letter as I read it. Feel free to contact me to set up an in-person meeting.”

On Tuesday, Hayes told PCD though Eden Village’s relationship with the CoC has been strained in the past, his collaboration with Abrams and Stough is “very good.” 

Abrams addressed this in his letter:

“In the past the CHFCoC has been called a ‘silo’ or that we ‘bully; people who think differently. We have spent the last year working to shake those labels, and I believe we are making good on our word to do so,” he wrote.

To show its support for Dalton and Hayes’ pod project, Abrams said he would be bringing forth a memo at the CoC’s March 21 meeting backing a rezoning that would allow the pods to be placed on land adjacent to the current Eden Village property.

PCD asked Hayes what property Abrams, who didn’t respond to PCD’s questions by press, was referring to and if the Eden Village team consented to that proposal. Hayes said no agreement had been made.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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