City Paper is not for tourists
Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s plan to replace the D.C. General family shelter with smaller sites across the city won’t move through the D.C. Council this month as initially expected, according to a Council staffer.
Although Bowser’s administration this week released a series of documents further clarifying the plan’s costs, the staffer—who has direct knowledge of the legislative process involved in putting the mayor’s omnibus legislation up for vote—says the answers within “do not provide responses or the detail requested” in many areas. As a result, the Council will send the executive additional questions, the staffer said.
Bowser and officials in her administration have contended that it’s urgent for the Council to approve the plan as is: Delaying the vote, they have argued, will delay the closure of D.C. General. That closure is planned for the latter half of 2018, and the new family shelters are scheduled to open throughout that year.
City Desk has reached out to the mayor’s office for comment, and will update this post when we hear back.
The Council sent two letters to Bowser’s administration, dated March 21 and 28, respectively, asking about the annual funding sources for each of the proposed sites, the zoning relief sought, “a detailed schedule for completing” them, and the projected costs for programmatic services. Members also inquired about ward-specific details, including “a list of all sites considered in Ward 5 and a detailed analysis as to why each site was not chosen” (some believe the selected site, near a Metro bus garage and trash-transfer facility, to be unsafe for families) and “any special safety precautions” for the mixed-use Ward 6 site.
Asked about the total costs of developing, leasing, and operating the sites, the District provided this chart:
It shows that the estimated sum of developing the proposed shelters is a bit over $100 million. Meanwhile, the combined costs of the first-year leases for the sites in Wards 1 through 6 (not including 2; 7 and 8 are on District-owned land) are about $8.4 million. Notably, the lease costs will rise a few percentage points in subsequent years based on letters of intent between D.C. and developers.
According to the Department of Human Services, D.C. General currently costs more than $17 million per year to run. The yearly lease and service costs of the six facilities that the plan says will have private rooms—as opposed to apartment-style units—is estimated at almost $25 million. The Ward 1 shelter, which is set to replace the 28-unit Spring Road family facility, would cost more than $2.3 million to run per year; the Spring Road facility costs more than $1.15 million to run annually. An all-women’s shelter already exists in Ward 2.
The District has emphasized that the new facilities will have on-site wrap-around services for job placement, mental health, and housing.
While many residents—and practically all the city’s political leadership—agree that the deteriorating family shelter must shut down, Bowser’s administration has faced criticism for an alleged lack of transparency in rolling out the plan. The documents released this week, however, partly explain why the proposed shelters’ costs may appear overly expensive. A memo prepared by real estate advisor Savills Studley notes that the District’s “emergency housing requirement” has several “unique” features that are driving costs up: their intended use, markets, and risk.
“The unique District use (emergency housing) limits the number of developers and property owners willing to participate in this initiative,” the memo explains. “Many of these market participants do not fully understand the unique requirements and nuances of such a use and therefore decline to respond to the District’s solicitation. As a result, many potential participants are reluctant to invest capital and forgo the opportunity cost of another use. Emergency housing facilities are also particularly difficult to find good market comparisons.”
A second Council staffer with knowledge of the omnibus bill’s status says that in addition to the costs of the shelter plan, the mayor’s zoning-relief requests and planned timeframe for completion remain issues. The Committee of the Whole will not move it to mark-up this month; the earliest would be May, the person explained.
The release of the documents follows community meetings in the past couple weeks during which the administration presented design renderings of the proposed shelters to the public. Some were contentious.