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During her State of the District address, Mayor Muriel Bowser urged D.C. residents not to “be distracted by arguments based on fear” surrounding the sites proposed to replace the city’s largest family homeless shelter.

The mayor’s administration has proposed closing D.C. General by late 2018 and replacing it with seven smaller shelters in each ward except Ward 2. Both residents and councilmembers have voiced concerns over elements of the plan, including the cost of the replacements and the industrial nature of the selected location of the Ward 5 facility. The D.C. Council is expected to vote on a legislative package that puts in motion the lease finalization and construction of the sites this spring.

“I urge us not to be distracted by arguments based on fear or convenience or apples and oranges comparisons that falsely represent the cost of lifting families out of homelessness,” Bowser said Tuesday at Arena Stage. Her statement echoed that of City Administrator Rashad Young, who told the Council at a hearing last week that looking at the per-unit cost of the replacement facilities was not appropriate.  

Instead, Young said, it would be more accurate to measure the costs of the shelters on a square-foot basis given that they include facilities like cafeterias and playgrounds. These average around $50, he explained, not unheard of among the city’s commercial leases for government offices.

But Young and testimony of other Bowser administration officials did little to quell concerns about the plan’s costs, especially among Chairman Phil Mendelson.

“If we fail to act—or if we do not move forward with one of the sites—we will not be able to close D.C. General,” Bowser continued, likely referencing the push to consider an alternate Ward 5 site or vote on the proposed sites one by one, as opposed to a package. “Not now, not any time soon, and maybe never.”

Bowser took an even more direct approach to criticizing members of the Council who oppose parts of the plan. “People have said vicious things,” she said. “They clouded the mission and they have threatened those trying to carry it out, because sadly sometimes people fight from a place of fear. And sadly, sometimes leaders retreat to that place, too.”

Andrew Giambrone contributed

Photo by Darrow Montgomery