District leaders have finally set in motion the closure of the city’s biggest family homeless shelter, but they continue to disagree to some extent on when D.C. General will actually shut its doors.
After the D.C. Council in May overhauled Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s plan to shutter the facility and replace it with smaller sites across the District, the administration argued the changes would set back the anticipated shutdown from fall 2018 to late 2019 or even early 2020.
But in a committee report released earlier this week, Wilson Building staffers countered that the administration’s newly estimated timeline “is unlikely to be achieved and gives the wrong impression.” They charge that the agency tasked with securing two of the sites—in Wards 1 and 4—through real-estate negotiations, and with beginning horizontal construction on all the sites, has “been unreliable in its assessments throughout the Council’s consideration of the Mayor’s proposed plan.”
“The delays that [the Department of General Services] claims will result from the Council’s changes lack credibility,” the supplemental report says. “For instance, the Council’s changes to the Ward 1 site require no changes related to zoning or site design. Yet, the amended timeline indicates that the start of construction will be delayed by approximately nine months.” In its revision of Bowser’s plan, the Council shifted some of the sites so each would be on District-owned land.
In a recent interview, DGS Director Christopher Weaver said his agency had already begun scoping the zoning and design requirements for the shelter sites in Wards 7 and 8, which stayed the same throughout the debate over the plan. But the pivot to District-owned sites in Wards 3, 5, and 6 has necessitated brand new designs for the shelters, after DGS did initial “test-fits” or feasibility studies on them. Buying negotiations over the sites in Wards 1 and 4 remained underway. Under the legislation the Council passed and Bowser signed, D.C. can use eminent domain if the owners decline to sell.
“Overall, we have a wonderful confluence of agreement between the elements of the Council, the community, and the mayor, but if there’s a downside, we’ll probably be well into 2019 when we finish [readying] all the units,” Weaver said. (The revised plan calls for roughly 270 units total, a number that preserves the housing capacity at D.C. General today.)
Asked to comment on the Council committee’s report, DGS said negotiations over the Ward 1 and 4 sites are ongoing. It added that Board of Zoning Adjustment hearings for the sites in Wards 7 and 8 are scheduled to take place on June 28.
In that document, committee staffers contend that the revised plan will allow executive agencies to “move more rapidly” on the projects than they would have under the original bill because there will be less zoning opposition to D.C.-owned sites. They also express skepticism that, as DGS estimates, the ownership changes required for the Ward 1 and 4 sites will significantly delay construction. The District’s power to use eminent domain, the report says, mean “site acquisition should not add nearly a year to the process.”
“The Council has worked collaboratively with the Executive to achieve the shared goal of closing D.C. General as quickly as possible, while maintaining good stewardship of the District’s resources,” the report concludes, alluding to previous controversy surrounding the plan’s final cost. “The Council expects that the Executive will, in the spirit of collaboration and with an eye toward the critical needs of those families residing at D.C. General, proceed with all due haste to construct these new family shelters and close D.C. General once and for all.”
The landlords of the sites in Wards 1 and 4 declined to comment this month, citing confidential real-estate discussions.