Credit: AARON WIENER

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Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled her proposed fiscal year 2019 budget for D.C. on Wednesday afternoon, a plan that outlines her agency priorities and vision for the city.

While the affordable housing section didn’t include many apparent budget shake-ups—the mayor proposed level funding at $100 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund, a tool the city has long touted as its most robust mechanism for preserving and producing affordable housing in D.C.—the Department of Human Services budget proposal includes a surprising reimagining of the city’s short-term plan for its singles shelter system.

The plan as written and made public online suggests that DHS wants to close at least one emergency women’s shelter by the end of 2018 and rehabilitate a handful of other shelters—with no articulated proposal for where those residents will go in the interim. But DHS has already backpedaled from the plan.

Buried in the proposal is a plan to shut down the Harriet Tubman emergency women’s shelter, a 100-bed facility located on the campus of DC General, by the end of 2018. The closure is casually mentioned alongside a plan to build a roughly $28 million permanent supportive housing campus on DC General property.

“The Bureau of Zoning Adjustments limited the District’s use of this building as a shelter for five years from its 2013 occupancy. There is currently a shortage of emergency shelter for women and the closure of Harriet Tubman at the end of 2018 will exacerbate the problem, likely leading to an increase in women forced to sleep on the street,” the proposal reads.

The budget does not say where current Harriet Tubman residents are expected to stay in the interim, and it does not give a timeline for the closure, renovation, or reopening of the site.

Yet a look at the Zoning Commission’s order for Harriet Tubman shows that the D.C. Municipal Regulations code was updated in 2014, not 2013, to allow Tubman to operate for a five-year period, which will ostensibly expire in August 2019—not 2018, as stated in the budget.

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Dora Taylor-Lowe, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, says that “the justification in the budget book for permanent supportive housing for Senior Women inaccurately states the Harriet Tubman Emergency Shelter for Women will close in 2018,” and that “there is currently no plan to close the facility and no women who rely on the emergency shelter at this location will be displaced as a result of any closure. DHS will not pursue any relocation plans until it is certain that residents will be absorbed by other appropriate programming.”

Taylor-Lowe added that DHS “know[s] that the current facility—like other low barrier shelters in our system—is old and needs to be replaced.  Many women who experience chronic homelessness in the District qualify for permanent supportive housing, the proven solution to ending long-term homelessness.  This capital budget line item adds much needed PSH units to our system, and gives senior women a much better long term housing situation than shelter.” 

Elsewhere in the mayor’s DHS budget is a proposal to gut and renovate four separate men’s shelters. They include the 801 East Men’s Shelter, Emery Work Bed Program, Blair House, and the New York Avenue Low Barrier Shelter.

D.C. intends to use city-owned property on the campus of St. Elizabeth’s to “replace the 801 East Men’s Shelter,” the budget says, a decision “necessary due to the deteriorating conditions of the building. […] The facility has outlived its life cycle.” The project will cost a proposed $40 million. Though the budget does not make clear when or whether 801 East residents will have to move, Taylor says the shelter “will remain open as an emergency shelter for unaccompanied men experiencing homelessness until construction of the new site is complete.”

The city has concluded that the Emery and Blair shelters, meanwhile, are “in deplorable condition … and [are] unsafe for both residents and staff.” Proposed rehabilitation will include “replacing subfloors throughout the space, replacing existing door with fire-rated doors which comply with national fire codes, replacing damaged hand rails, replacing existing ramps to comply with the ADA code and renovating existing bathrooms, etc. There is urgency because each site is currently occupied.”

The DHS budget also recommends renovating the New York Avenue men’s shelter, which “desperately needs a renovation to transform it from a dilapidated facility that has outlived its life cycle into a clean, safe, inviting, state of the art facility.” The rehabilitated facility should serve 380 single men during hypothermia season. (Notably, the report asserts that the “poor shelter conditions are a key factor in the development of encampments throughout the District;” D.C. officials, meanwhile, continue to disband encampment sites across the city.) It concludes that there are “few alternatives in terms of sites to house displaced residents from the shelter.”

While, as with the other facilities, the budget does not indicate where residents of Emery, Blair, and the New York Avenue shelters will reside until renovations are complete, Taylor says “NY Ave, Blair and Emery will each remain operational during the renovation process while construction occurs. The renovation process is expected to begin in FY2019 and extend until FY2020. While the goal is to continue using these buildings as emergency shelter during the modernization process, residents may be shifted to different areas of these facilities to ensure their safety.”

The proposal comes as tenant advocates and policy experts have criticized the city for what they see as an unreasonable and expedited attempt to close DC General, the city’s largest homeless shelter, by the end of the year.

This post has been updated.