Twenty-five residents of Ward 3 are challenging the dismissal of a lawsuit to halt construction of a planned homeless shelter in their ward, a project that has drawn ire from neighbors who claim they were not properly consulted.
The residents and a group called the Neighbors for Responsive Government initially sued Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the D.C. Council in August 2016 over the Homeless Shelter Replacement Act of 2016, which aimed to open short-term family housing units across the District, including at a location in Ward 3 that would house 50 apartment-style units.
The project is part of an effort to close and replace the homeless shelter currently located at the former D.C. General Hospital. The D.C. General shelter houses up to 270 homeless families and was scrutinized in 2014 when 8-year-old Relisha Rudd went missing from the shelter and was never found. Bowser pledged in her 2014 mayoral campaign to shut down the shelter.
Construction on the shelter remains on hold, though another new shelter in Ward 4 is under construction after groundbreaking in July.
Local residents filed the lawsuit in August 2016 to halt construction on the shelter, claiming the council “failed to obtain relevant community input with respect to the proposed change in the use of the Site as required by law” in their initial lawsuit.
That lawsuit was dismissed in a February decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals, as Judge Jennifer Di Toro ruled that Bowser’s plan had been publicly discussed since its introduction in February to its passage by the D.C. Council in May, long enough to allow for community input. The plaintiffs filed a petition for review of the dismissal Sept. 15.
Set to begin in November, the shelter’s construction was planned for 3320 Idaho Ave., in the parking lot of the Second District Station of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
A location at 2619 Wisconsin Ave. was initially slated to be leased as the site of the Ward 3 shelter, but a publicly owned location on Idaho Avenue was chosen instead, following criticism of Bowser’s plan to construct new facilities on private property owned or controlled to some degree by major donors to her campaign.
Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) expressed her support for the Idaho Avenue location over the Wisconsin Avenue location in April.
“The 2nd District location rose to favor in the face of the enormous cost to lease the Wisconsin Avenue shelter site over 15-25 years,” Cheh wrote in a letter published on her website. “The site is located adjacent to a police station, providing safety to both residents of the shelter and the neighborhood, and it adheres to the recommendations in the comprehensive plan to co-locate government services on a single site.”
To prepare for the shelter’s construction in the parking lot of the Idaho Avenue police station, the Ward 3 Advisory Team on Short-Term Family Housing has created a temporary parking plan for police, construction plans for updating the parking garage on the site and a relocation plan for the community garden on site.
Ward 3 is located in the upper northwest quadrant of the District and is largely residential, with nearly 39,000 housing units with a median value of $738,600, according to the D.C. Office of Planning 2012 census.
D.C. has the highest rate of homelessness among cities in the United States, with 124.2 homeless people for every 10,000 residents, according to the 2016 Hunger and Homelessness survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In the same year, a federal estimate showed homeless parents and their children outnumbered homeless single adults.
In 2016, Bowser and the D.C. Council announced that $107 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund would be put toward housing projects for homeless families — including a homeless shelter in each ward of the District — with the goal to close the D.C. General shelter by 2020.
Bowser announced Oct. 2 that $138 million more in investments from the HPTF would support 23 affordable housing projects in D.C.
“As our city continues to grow and prosper, my Administration will remain laser-focused on ensuring residents of all backgrounds and income levels have access to safe and affordable places to live in all wards,” Bowser said in a news release.