A new resident moved into an unofficial group home for sex offenders in Chehalis days before the city was set to “red-tag” the house, declaring it uninhabitable because of zoning and code violations, according to the Chehalis Police Department and neighborhood residents.
“This is just absolutely ridiculous,” said resident Emily Ponyah, who recently addressed the Chehalis City Council about the houseful of men convicted of sex crimes against children. The house is on her block.
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 Franklin Avenue home, owned by Washington State Affordable Housing LLC. 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 neighbors and The Chronicle, city of Chehalis staff investigated and determined 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 or leave the house.
Scott Albert, supervisor of the state Department of Corrections 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 also had not received a notice of his new address.
Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer said he learned from the DOC 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 that 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 to six. All six offenders approved by the DOC to live in the neighborhood committed crimes against children.
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 also was stopped recently, Albert said.