An initiative to open eight new homeless shelters in every area of Washington, D.C., is drawing intense backlash from angered citizens questioning the mayor’s unilateral action on the planned reform.
“Democracy is messy, but we decided on it for a reason and the Mayor is flouting the democratic process,” Anita Crabtree, a corporate attorney and Ward 3 resident told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It is up to the legislative branch – the Council – to hold her accountable and District residents are relying on the Council to do that.”
Roughly 90 people representing community interests spoke during an almost 15-hour Council meeting Thursday, criticizing the immense and largely unexplained costs of the new shelter sites. It currently costs the city $53,895 per unit per year for emergency shelter, and costs for temporary shelter are projected at roughly the same amount, according to the Homeward DC Strategic Plan. Some speculate the costs will be much higher for the new facilities proposed in the mayor’s plan.
“Given that number it is shocking that all of the proposed sites will far exceed that cost per unit per year,” Crabtree, who testified at Thursday’s hearing, told TheDCNF. “The cost for the Ward 3 site for 15 to 20 years in rent alone will be $69,000 to $74,000 and including wraparound services, which are estimated by DHS [D.C. Department of Human Services] to be $2.1 million for the first year, the total cost for the Ward 3 site will be over $110,000 per unit per year.”
While the mayor’s office disagrees with many of the cost estimates, Council members at the hearing voiced their concerns with the plan. Many on the Democrat-dominated Council signed their support to the mayor’s proposal before being made aware of the specific costs it entailed. Council President Phil Mendelson made the funding issue a central theme of the hearing, criticizing the plan which he argues gives developers of the land a much better deal than the District, reports The Washington Post.
“Often times, the District does not negotiate in its best interest,” Mendelson said at Thursday’s hearing. “The District brings its B team, while the developer brings its A team. We’re being asked to pay a lot of money for sites that we will not own and will go away in 20 years.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposal would spend between $266 and $300 million to lease new homeless shelter sites to developers over the next 30 years. The money will go to five corporations who stand to make big profits from the deal. Three of the corporations benefiting from the plan are tied to Douglas Jemal, Bryan Irving and Suman Sorg, top donors to Bowser’s mayoral campaign, igniting allegations of a conflict of interest. The total value of the sites is currently estimated at $14.5 million, however the proposal could spike their value by as much as 10 times to roughly $147 million. (RELATED: DC Mayor’s Donors Stand To Profit From Hotly Contested Shelter Plan)
The cost to the city will average roughly $4,500 per unit per month for dormitory style apartments that have no kitchen or additional amenities, however estimates vary. The $300 million price tag estimated by the mayor’s office does not take into account additional costs for various services the homeless shelters will provide. Some frustrated Council members said they could find little logic in the proposed reform.
“Normally, when you build something, you own it,” Council member David Grosso said. “You don’t pay rent for it later. It would be like me building a house and then paying rent for living there. This just doesn’t make sense.”
In an example of this confusion, Rock Creek Property Group sold a property valued at $6 million just three years ago for $28.5 million in a deal leasing the property to the city for a shelter site. In ward 5 the chosen shelter location sits in a non-residential area with the only nearby amenities being a strip club and waste treatment facility, reports The Washington Times.
The sites were chosen by the District government, however while they claim to have searched for the best deals in the city, developers largely seem unaware of the city’s efforts.
“I have heard that developers would have submitted offers and proposals for Ward 3 sites had there been an RFP [request for proposal] or had they known that the Mayor was looking for properties for short-term family shelters in Ward 3,” Crabtree told TheDCNF.It remains unclear how exactly the sites were chosen and the mayor’s office refuses to entertain proposed alternatives that may save the city money and make more sense for each ward. Bowser argues the proposal must move forward as a package, or risk endless squabbling over shelter locations. Bowser is attempting to move the bill forward as emergency legislation, exempting it from regular oversight. The proposed site in Ward 3, for example, currently sits on a plot of land zoned for a maximum of three single-family homes.
“The Mayor is proposing to put a 38 unit structure, with dorm rooms and mostly shared bathrooms, on the proposed site in complete violation of the plot’s zoning,” said Crabtree. “It would be challenging at best, if not impossible for such a small plot and neighborhood to absorb such a large facility.”
Mendelson is expected to bring the proposal up for a vote sometime in April.