The Mayor’s Shelters Plan: Transparency, Please
When Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced her comprehensive plan to tackle the city’s burgeoning homeless problem by closing the woefully problematic Washington General Hospital, constructing or renovating shelters in each of the city’s eight wards to replace it, most people agreed that such a plan — particularly the closing of D.C. General — was necessary and overdue.
At the time, not everybody agreed on the details, especially the locations, and some objected to a perceived lack of transparency in the city’s planning process. Town hall meetings after the announcement produced some arguments regarding the locations, notably a Ward 5 location in an iffy neighborhood. Concern was also expressed about the potential for a decline in real estate values in certain wards.
Turns out there have been other problems. Transparency was mentioned again at a recent Council meeting that looked more closely at the proposal. The District (that is, taxpayers) would be footing the bill, which seems pretty exorbitant to some Council members and residents.
Here’s a bit of the fine print: The cost of leasing the land and buildings over three decades is estimated at around $300 million. In one proposal, as reported by the Washington Post, the city would pay $56 million to lease 38 units — more than $6,000 per unit in an upscale neighborhood where the average cost is closer to $3,000.
In addition, there have been questions about the fact that some of the designated properties are owned or controlled by individuals and groups that were major donors to the mayor’s campaign.
Council chair Phil Mendelsohn has said he wants to bring the issue to a vote, possibly in early or mid-April.
Some ministers and advocates for the homeless have urged quick approval so that action can be taken to provide the homeless population with shelters that are safe and dignified, as opposed to the conditions that exist at D.C. General.
Still, given the questions that have come up about cost, transparency and, at least in one case, location, it seems a wiser choice to publicly answer these questions and air more details about the selection process. We doubt that that the bulk of the opposition is due to unwillingness on the part of individual neighborhoods to share in making the plan a success, the so-called NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) objection.
We think the mayor’s plan might proceed more smoothly if everyone involved knew more, and had enough confidence in it to lend their support. The District and the participants in the plan need to make sure that it is about helping the homeless, not only to be housed safely but to be put on a path to independent living — and, certainly, not about individuals or groups making profits.