Kids are going missing by the dozens, people are shooting each other in broad daylight in some parts of the city, housing costs are displacing District residents, slumlords are making the lives of many citizens hell, our essential transit infrastructure is in dire trouble, too many kids are being ill-served by the public schools, and the city will have to contend with enormous costs if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act.
Not to put too fine a point on it, D.C. has a lot of work to do. Which is why it’s baffling that Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration are digging in their heels over four ramshackle, city-owned houses in Anacostia that a succession of mayoral administrations have failed to address. In a too-scarce display of problem-solving in the face of an intractable predicament, the D.C. Council passed legislation last year authorizing the L’Enfant Trust, a nonprofit historic preservation group, to redevelop the properties into workforce housing—at no cost to taxpayers. Neighborhood residents, who have been awaiting intervention for more than two decades, rejoiced.
But nothing happened. Then, in a recent D.C. Council hearing, the director of the Department of Housing and Community Development refused to answer questions from councilmembers about why the agency hasn’t complied with the legislation and transferred the houses to the trust.
Now the Bowser administration’s intransigence has reached peak absurdity. By way of explaining its ongoing petulance, it’s breathlessly citing the Home Rule Act, saying it gives the mayor the responsibility to dispose of city property. The argument seems spurious at best, but let’s just concede the point for argument’s sake. So what? The administration has the opportunity to save taxpayer dollars and solve a persistent headache in a part of the city that desperately needs some good news. Why not simply do it?
It’s abundantly clear why. Because, in the parlance of salty truth-seekers, the administration wants to lift its leg at the Wilson Building and exert alpha status over the council. Instead of focusing on the most cost-effective and efficient way to move forward, it’s expending all its energy on playing power games. If it moves forward by accepting bids from other interested developers, the project will cost the city more. How much more? Up to $2.2 million.
The mayor’s office should acquiesce. As D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says, “It has nothing to do with home rule—it has to do with wasting money.” Score one for Mr. Magoo. Even a blind man can see what’s going on here.