Suitland

Diego Aleman, Rebecca Jacobs, and Sara Phillips



Community Spotlight on Suitland Community Action Team (SCAT)

The Suitland Community Action Team (SCAT) has, according the their website, “promoted a crime-free community through crime vigils and marches.” SCAT is a “community-based organization whose mission is to combat crime and maximize resources amongst individuals with low income by partnering with the Prince George's County Government and nonprofit agencies.” Elsie Jacobs is the president of SCAT, which formed in 1995. Jacobs worked in Suitland High School until 2005, but has been volunteering in Suitland for over thirty years. She founded SCAT in response to growing crime rates in the area, and mentions streets like Homer Avenue, Huron, Hudson, and Lewis as streets that experienced concentration of crime.

“Homer Avenue was up and running,” Jacobs said in an interview. “So many people got killed over there. Kids, their families...I just got involved, saying, ok, what can I do to help the situation?” Jacobs described Homer Avenue, and why it was such a center of crime in 2005. “There were a lot of apartments around there, a lot of people who had low income rentals, a lot of drugs, a lot of prostitution...I didn’t see the police. That’s what started me to put the SCAT team together. ”

By 2005, Huron, Hudson, and Homer Avenues were latent with crime, so much so that Prince George’s county designed a plan that involved “buying and demolishing all of the run-down apartments in a 33-acre area that includes Homer, Hudson and Huron avenues” (Klein, Washington Post) This was a huge endeavor that cost the city millions of dollars, but crime was reduced significantly. The demolition of Suitland Manor, on the corner of Suitland and Silver Hill roads, displaced about 800 families. Community organizers worked with these families and residents to help them relocate, sometimes outside of the neighborhood. There were mixed feelings about the demolition - some residents like then 13 year old Jasmine Hutcherson were glad to see it go, and happy that "they're tearing down the troubled part," as she told the Suitland Gazette in 2003. Older residents who relocated to senior communities were less than thrilled. Though the development was intended to be complete by 2008, it is an ongoing process. County Executive Rushern Baker, in 2016, told the Washington Business Journal that he envisioned Suitland as being the new Downtown Silver Spring, and urged businesses to “invest in Suitland.”

In 1995, when SCAT was founded, Suitland was experiencing an economic downturn in their business district. In an interview with the Washington Post, Suitland Business Association President Darlene Grey attributed it to loitering and pandering in and around the businesses (Pierre). The community’s business success seems to be tied to its reduction in crime. Jacobs emphasized how focusing on the business district was on the backburner while Suitland residents and officials struggled to tackle their crime problem. “As things progressed and things got better.... then I could look more into the business side,” she says. She mentions Kevin Seals, who she describes as owning “most of Suitland,” becoming more involved in the community, which she says has been “very beneficial.”

One problem that Jacobs says Suitland has is its lack of homeownership, and how this affects the community. “We have about 15/20 apartments in Suitland, and the apartments don’t buy into homeownership,” she says. “They (residents) don’t feel like they’re a part of the community.” HUD put a plan in place for helping residents purchase homes, called ‘Down Payment on Your Dreams.’ In 2011, when the plan was implemented, Suitland was facing home foreclosures on as much as 20% of their residences.  Jacobs says that, as a result of this program, “quite a few of them (residents) bought homes.

As a result of better business and increased community efforts and activism, Jacobs says, “Crime is really down in Suitland. And when we find little pockets, our police majors, officers, the stores... we get together and come up with a plan. And we try to weed out whatever it is.” Despite the enormous problems that Suitland has had with violent and property crime in the past, Jacobs believes that “Suitland is not a bad place to live. It’s a growing community, a lot of development is going to take place in the community...it’s a good place to live, really.”

Elsie Jacobs stands in a room full of Christmas presents, products of an annual Christmas drive that the neighborhood has been doing for 12 years...bikes, coats, soccer balls, and toys, which she explains are for the children at Suitland Elementary, located on the once questionable Homer Avenue. “Changes are coming,” she says hopefully, recalling the violence that she witnessed on that very street, violence that she herself helped decrease dramatically. “It’s growing, and it’s going to be beautiful. ”