By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
A new resident moved into an unofficial group home for sex offenders in Chehalis days before the June 1 deadline set by the city for the house to be “red-tagged,” or declared uninhabitable, due to zoning and code violations, according to the Chehalis Police Department and neighborhood residents.
“This is just absolutely ridiculous,” said resident Emily Ponyah, who last week addressed the Chehalis City Council on her concerns about having a houseful of men convicted of sex crimes against children in a block full of families.
The council assured her that the house would be vacated, as long as it continued to violate city code.
As of Wednesday, several offenders were still living in the home, owned by Washington State Affordable Housing LLC, a private company, in the 600 block of Franklin Avenue. Property manager Heath McGee earlier told The Chronicle the residence was a “pilot project” being used to exclusively house sex offenders for the past few months.
After receiving inquiries from neighborhood residents and The Chronicle, city of Chehalis staff investigated and revealed last week that the home had additions built without permits and needed a conditional use permit as a “congregate residence.” Staff sent the owners and residents a letter advising them to take action to rectify the problems by May 31 or be out of the house.
City staff said Wednesday they had not yet received any formal communication from the LLC, and told The Chronicle if people were still living there the following day, they would be escorted off the premises by law enforcement.
“If they’re still living in the house … there’s not only the use violation of an unlicensed congregate residence, there’s also unpermitted construction work that occurred that will need to be cleared (before) the house can be inhabited again,” said Celeste Wilder, development review specialist and building inspector for the city of Chehalis.
Scott Albert, supervisor of the DOC’s local office, said DOC staff members were working to relocate the men as soon as possible. He transported one of the home’s residents to new housing in Vancouver on Wednesday.
“We’re working on it,” he said. “There’s not a lot out there.”
Meanwhile, McGee said his employers had hired an attorney.
“We’re not giving up,” he said.
The newest resident of the house, Marc A. Johnson, 30, is required to register as a level 2 sex offender due to a 2005 conviction for first-degree rape of a child.
Ponyah said Wednesday the neighborhood had not received notification. The Chronicle has also not received a notice of his new address.
Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer said he learned from the state Department of Corrections late last week that the new offender would be moving into the home, despite the city’s process to red-tag the house.
“I said … ‘this is unacceptable,’” he told The Chronicle, recounting his reaction to local DOC staff.
Schaffer said he learned from the DOC that Johnson was allowed to move in because he was approved to live in the residence in April, a month before the city became aware the house was being used as an unofficial group home.
According to information from Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, this brings the number of Level 2 and 3 sex offenders registered in the 600 block of Franklin Avenue recently to six.
Not counting Johnson, they include Michael Gonzales-Fox, Steven Hooper and Rodney Matlock, who are Level 3 sex offenders. The remaining two, Kenneth Howard and Sheldon Moran, are Level 2 sex offenders. All six offenders approved by the DOC to live in the neighborhood committed crimes against children.
McGee said one of those sex offenders lives in a house down the block. Matlock has moved out, he said.
Albert previously told The Chronicle the community is at more risk from homeless sex offenders than those with a stable address who are being monitored by law enforcement.
On Wednesday, he reiterated that none of the men had been accused of violating the terms of their supervision as sex offenders.
“The things we look at are trying to mitigate risk,” he said. “The biggest risk is the people that haven’t been identified.”
An attempt by a different property owner to create a similar group home in Centralia has also been stopped recently, Albert said.
That property is located in the 600 block of West Main Street. After a meeting with DOC and city of Centralia staff, it was determined that the property is not an appropriate location for a group home, Albert said.
“We’re in the process of trying to get those guys out of there,” he said. “I only know of the one that’s there right now.”