DC Mayor’s Donors Stand To Profit From Hotly Contested Shelter Plan

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Major donors to the Washington, D.C. mayor’s administration stand to make huge financial gains from the city’s plan to put a homeless shelter in every ward of the District, despite fierce opposition from city residents.

Most of the sites chosen by Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration are owned or partially controlled by some of Bowser’s biggest financial contributors, reported The Washington Post. Her plan calls for paying anywhere from $266 million to $300 million over the next 30 years to five private corporations to develop the shelter sites. Three of the corporations involved are tied to three top donors to Bowser’s mayoral campaign — Douglas Jemal, Bryan Irving and Suman Sorg.

The Bowser administration denies claims the proposed sites were chosen to enrich the mayor’s political allies. She has declined to say how she picked the proposed locations.

Rashad Young, the city administrator who helped craft the plan, told The Washington Post much of the opposition to the shelters comes from residents who do not want their neighborhood invaded by the city’s homeless population.

“There is no facility that is currently constructed that meets the needs of short-term family housing,” he told The Washington Post. “There is a narrative that is building around motivation, around our motivation, that is grossly unfair because people don’t want these facilities,” he added. “We are not doing popular work here.”

Leases on the various locations will increase the property value of the shelter sites by as much as 10 times. Currently, the land is valued at roughly $14.5 million, but the government leases would spike market value of the sites to $147 million. And when the leases expire, the private corporations — not the D.C. government — would own the majority of the shelter facilities District taxpayers will pay for.

The cost of the program is drawing criticisms from all sides, particularly when broken down into monthly rent payments. For dormitory style rooms in the proposed shelters the District will pay the equivalent of $4,500 in monthly rental costs per apartment for the next 20 years. Local homeless shelter volunteers questioned the staggering price at Thursday’s Council hearing, suggesting the district revisit the matter to find better deals and hopefully drastically cut costs.

“For that 20 years, this lease costs just over $56 million, for a property that was on sale for $4 million,” Malia Brink, resident and shelter volunteer said at the hearing. “If by the way this is really the best the District can do, then that will prove it, and you will have answered all of us who are saying it’s too expensive.”

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