Two years and three months after Relisha Rudd disappeared, sparking a fierce discussion about the safety of the D.C. General homeless shelter, District lawmakers on Tuesday approved a revised plan to close the facility for good.
The biggest change to the overhauled package, passed initially by the D.C. Council a couple weeks ago, is the Ward 6 shelter site. Now, after a proposed location that currently features a parking deck at Second and K streets NW fell through—owing to bureaucratic complications—the Ward 6 family shelter will go up at 850 Delaware Ave. SW. The District-owned land contains an aging Unity Health Care clinic and had been suggested by neighbors as appropriate.
“After lengthy conversations about the feasibility of constructing an emergency housing facility at 200 K St. NW, I have been convinced that despite its attractive location, the legal and regulatory reviews required prevent this site from allowing D.C. General to be closed within the desired timeline” of fall 2018, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen noted. “…This location has more favorable zoning and is large enough to accommodate up to 50 units of housing.”
“I believe today’s vote represents a better deal for D.C. taxpayers, a better deal for the Southwest community, and most importantly, a better deal for those families experiencing homelessness,” the councilmember added on the dais.
Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson echoed that sense of optimism after the unanimous vote took place. In a statement, Bowser declared the “debate [over D.C. General] now behind us,” calling the revised plan “a milestone in our shared commitment to provide homeless families clean, safe, and dignified housing.” Under a trio of amendments the Council moved forward today, the Ward 3 and 5 sites will have “up to 50 units” each. The latter will be fixed at 1700 Rhode Island Ave. NE—D.C. police’s former Youth Services Division—instead of at 326 R St. NE.
One amendment authorizes the Office of the City Administrator to include the costs of construction in seeking to buy the shelter sites in Wards 1 and 4, as outlined in the Council’s most recent round of tweaks to the plan. The executive hopes this provision will make the current owners more amenable to parting with their land. The administration could also use eminent domain to acquire the sites under the legislation, if those parties prove unwilling. (Suman Sorg and Bruce Finland, of Morning Bright LLC and Fifth Street Partners, respectively, declined to comment after the first vote.)
“These amendments reflect discussions that have taken place between the executive, my office, and the ward members for the appropriate sites,” Mendelson said from the dais. “So this does represent a collaborative process.”
In a brief interview after the vote, the chairman added that he’s glad to see Bowser supporting the refined plan, which will save the District an estimated $165 million by taking advantage of public land—without lease sunsets. Some sites still need designs and zoning approval, he explained, but at least now the executive can charge ahead on the efforts.
“There were folks saying behind the scenes that 2018 was unlikely” as a target date for closing D.C. General through the Council’s plan, Mendelson said. “I think that with determination, it’s possible that the replacement shelters can be all up and running by the end of 2018… I’m hopeful that because the mayor has claimed this as a top priority, that the city administration will be on top of the costs to catch [any construction or development] overruns before they occur.”
More than 250 families live at D.C. General.