By Glynis Kazanjian
Montgomery County government may soon be paying close to $1 million a year in rent — above the market rate according to one expert — for a domestic abuse center in downtown Rockville that on average sees less than four clients a day. The innovative center celebrates its fourth anniversary Thursday (see sidebar below).
County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed fiscal 2014 budget includes new lease payments for an expansion to the Family Justice Center, a nationally recognized “one-stop-shop” domestic abuse center that houses public and private agencies in the same location. The county is moving ahead with that funding plan even though it’s possible the county’s payment could be reduced if it renegotiated an existing 12-year lease approved in 2008.
In the fiscal 2014 proposed budget, the county will be paying about $960,000 for the existing 23,907 square feet and another 5,500 square feet Leggett is requesting. The 2014 lease rate for the existing Justice Center space is about $31 per square foot, but it will go as high as $40.58 per square foot by 2020 because of a built-in annual escalation.
While the county is currently negotiating terms for its expansion, it’s not planning to renegotiate the full lease, said Cynthia Brenneman, director of the Montgomery County office of real estate. The County Council is expected to vote on Leggett’s $4.8 billion budget proposal May 23.
The landlord for the building, Washington Real Estate Investment Trust, is currently advertising additional space in the building for $26.50 to $27.50 a square foot — a third less than the amount the county will be paying in 2020 and $3.50 per square foot less than the 2014 lease rate. According to Rory Coakley, a leading commercial real estate broker in Montgomery County, the county should renegotiate its lease terms.
“The county is the true custodian of our tax dollars,” said Coakley, president of Coakley Realty, Inc. “It’s a tenant’s market right now. If a worthy, qualified tenant is in an above market lease, it would not be uncommon for that tenant to go back and ask for rent relief. It happens all the time. I have a management company. In many cases, I’m either keeping rents flat or I’m rolling them back to keep a good tenant, like Montgomery County.”Under Leggett’s proposal, the lease payments will increase from their current cost of about $777,900 in fiscal 2013, according to Brenneman. Current rent includes 78 parking spaces valued at $90 each per month.
Spokesman: expansion will allow more people served, better service
The new base rent for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1, will be approximately $828,000, plus an additional estimated $132,000 the county executive’s office is requesting for the expansion. With an annual rent escalation built into the contract, and the addition of the new office space, rent would be around $960,000 in fiscal 2014 and likely surpass $1 million in fiscal 2015.
“We are looking to renew and expand in [our] current location,” said Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield. “The Family Justice Center delivers valuable one-stop assistance to folks in need. This expansion will enable them to serve more people and serve them better.”
The additional space would be used to offer career counseling, career training and enhance volunteer and internship programs for abuse victims. Since their doors opened in May 2009, the center has seen 5,000 victims and uses a “one-stop-shop” model where clients can obtain restraining orders, receive free legal counsel, obtain emergency immigration visas, if needed, and see counselors.
Non-profits, businesses help fund center
Non-profit groups like Catholic Charities and House of Ruth and businesses such as Verizon, Geico and Kaiser Permanente have been community partners since the center opened in May 2009. Some additional salaries for FJC-based staff are funded by federal and state grants through the Violence Against Women Act, totaling approximately $625,000 per year.
In April, Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Maryland officials used the center as a backdrop to announce $2.3 million in grants for 12 jurisdictions across the country who demonstrate the coordinated team effort approach to reduce domestic violence.
Family Justice Center: One-stop aid for victims of domestic violence
The Montgomery County Family Justice Center, a comprehensive “one-stop-shop” for victims of domestic violence, will celebrate its fourth anniversary in downtown Rockville Thursday.
The Family Justice Center (FJC) is a multi-agency domestic abuse facility, funded publicly and privately, that facilitates an array of services for abuse victims under one roof. To date, the center has seen approximately 5,000 victims of domestic abuse; approximately 55% are foreign born.
The entire domestic violence section of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department — about two dozen people — is based at the Family Justice Center, according to Family Justice Center Director Hannah Sassoon. Staff from the county’s State Attorney’s Office, Montgomery County Police Department and the Department of Health and Human Services also have offices at the center.
“There are about 96 staff assigned to the FJC from various departments and private agencies who collaborate with us on the project,” Sassoon stated.
In 2012, there were 1,893 protective orders served in Montgomery County and five “intimate-partner” homicides as a result of domestic violence, according to Sassoon.
At the center, clients can seek emergency protective orders, receive legal counsel, learn about immigration protections under the Violence Against Women Act and get counseling. Through the use of pro-bono attorneys provided by Catholic Charities, the center has qualified 71 clients for emergency immigration visas. There is also a children’s waiting room and a fully equipped kitchen with daily breakfast baked goods provided by Panera Bread.
Funding: federal, state and county, plus private
Federal and state grants, county funds and money raised through the center’s nonprofit Family Justice Center Foundation are used to fund and operate the center. Some of the sponsors include Catholic Charities, House of Ruth, Verizon Wireless, Geico Philanthropic Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.
The center is located across the street from Richard Montgomery High School, on the fifth floor of the office building at 600 Jefferson Street, also known as the “Eagle Building.” The Rockville Metro is two blocks away, and cab fare is provided if victims need assistance getting to the center.
The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:00pm. To reach the The Family Justice Center call 240-773-0444 or go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/fjc. For 24-hour assistance, call the center or the crisis hotline at 240-777-4000.