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A newly built family homeless shelter on Delaware Ave. SW, in Ward 6, won’t begin accepting families until “late July” after failing at least one building inspection, a person with direct knowledge of the news tellsCity Paper—despite the fact that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally “open” the facility on Feb. 21.
The shelter, which will house 50 families at full capacity, was originally slated to open last year, according to plans D.C. human services officials shared with the public. Called “The Aya,” the shelter is one of seven small, temporary sites built in wards across the city in the wake of the 2018 closure of the troubled D.C. General shelter.
City Papersubmitted a list of questions about the failed inspection to a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services on Wednesday morning, including what kind of inspection the building failed, when it failed that inspection, and what steps both DHS and the Department of General Services had taken to rectify the identified problems. The spokesperson declined to answer those questions, and instead sent City Paperan emailed statement.
“Over the past several months, DHS, DGS, and [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs] have been working together to ensure the Aya is prepared to safely welcome families. The inspection process is a normal part of any building opening, and as items and issues have been identified, they have been addressed by the general contractor,” the statement says.
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The statement continues: “Improvements range from ensuring fire alarms are loud enough in all areas of the building to ensuring secure elevator access. Our collective priority is ensuring that when the building opens, it is safe for families and ready to support their needs […] we look forward to welcoming families to the Aya later this month.”
DHS officials alerted homeless service providers to the shelter’s new opening timeline in a call on June 26, which included DHS Director Laura Zeilinger. On that call, DHS officials did not specify what in particular had failed inspection, but instead told listeners that the agency now has “the necessary equipment to correct the problem in the next couple of weeks,” according to a description of the call by a person who participated.
Others who live in the neighborhood around The Aya have written this reporter to comment on the conspicuous lack of activity in and around the building. One tipster noted that there is ongoing construction on the shelter’s ground floor medical clinic.
Blue Skye Construction, which has received tens of millions of dollars from the D.C. government in development deals, received a $10 million contract in 2017 to manage construction of the building. Bryan “Scottie” Irving, Blue Skye’s founder and principal, also sits on the board of D.C.’s Housing Finance Agency.
The news comes as DHS plans to permanently terminate its contract in mid-July with the Quality Inn on New York Ave. NE, which serves as emergency overflow shelter space. City Paper reported last month that the contract termination will displace the dozens of homeless families who currently live at the motel.
In response to City Paper’s question about whether the city’s other family homeless shelters have reached capacity, the DHS spokesperson wrote in an email, “we continue to have capacity at our other short-term family housing sites and we are still on schedule to discontinue use of the Quality Inn as emergency family shelter later this month.”