Since Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her District-wide plan to shutter the D.C. General shelter for homeless families last week, some residents have said they would file public-information requests to better understand how the administration chose the seven replacement sites it’s proposed, in what those residents claim was an obscure process.
As of today, at least one such request has been filed through the Freedom of Information Act. The board of the Capitol Park IV Condominium Association, located at 741 Delaware Ave. SW in Ward 6, on Thursday filed a brief but detailed FOIA request for information about the city’s site-selection process for closing D.C. General. The board represents 243 condo townhouses across 15 acres of land near the site for the proposed family shelter in Ward 6, at 700 Delaware Ave. SW. In a letter to Bowser, the board’s president, Robert Hall, writes that opposition to the shelter was “unanimous.”
“Without much more definitive information on its design, operation, and why the Historic Friendship Church site was deemed appropriate, we cannot in good conscience support this proposal,” the letter reads. “We seriously question any plan that combines a residential facility for needy and unstable families with children in a location where alcohol is consumed in conjunction with its activities (Blind Whino). We believe that there are more suitable, nearby sites, with far better access to public transportation, shopping and schools, as well as excellent access to health care.”
The letter echoes concerns over transparency by Bowser’s administration for its D.C. General plan that residents in other areas have also voiced. In Ward 5, for example, some residents and even D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie have said the chosen site at 2266 25th Place NE, within walking distance of night clubs, a Metrobus depot, and a trash transfer facility, would not be appropriate for families experiencing homelessness.
The mayor and executive agencies have said that the site-selection process carefully relied on several criteria—such as availability, access, and cost—and was necessary to ensure D.C. could shelter families equitably across all eight wards. It “was not an endeavor to keep something away from you,” Bowser said at the Ward 1 community meeting regarding the shelter proposed for 2105-2107 10th St. NW. D.C. General is anticipated to close, and the shelters to open, in 2018.
In Ward 6 specifically, residents who attended last week’s community meeting expressed worry about the extant men’s shelter at the former Randall School as well as public housing projects in their neighborhoods. “There’s a trust barrier,” Councilmember Charles Allen, who represents Southwest, told City Paper. Nevertheless, “I think that Southwest is an incredibly great and welcoming community,” he explained. “More neighbors are interested in this being successful.”
In their FOIA request, the Capitol Park IV condo board is asking to see “all electronic and paper records created and/or held by the District of Columbia, its employees, and its contractors, related to the selection of the Friendship Church/Blind Whine site…as the location of the a homeless shelter,” including “information related to the ownership and address of all potential locations that were analyzed.” They’re also requesting all costs related to considered sites, such as financial comparisons, to help them “understand the city’s compliance with its own procurement regulations.”
Complex FOIA requests can take weeks, or even months, to complete. (Results can also be appealed.) Still, the condo board says it wants to meet with the administration after it’s “digested available documentation” to discuss next steps.
“We do not understand how [this site] could have been chosen,” Hall writes in the letter that the board sent to Bowser.
You can read the letter and FOIA request below:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery