A photo of Ward 5 Councilmember McDuffie and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson presenting information to Ward 5 residents as some lineup to make public comment to the group.
credit: Andrew Siddons

The site of a new family shelter in Ward 5 will almost certainly be at 1700 Rhode Island Avenue N.E., the councilman who represents those neighborhoods said at a community meeting on Friday night. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie told Ward 5 residents that Mayor Muriel Bowser had sent him a letter indicating her support for that site, which is currently a vacant police property.

Earlier this month, when the council offered its plan to replace the family shelter at DC General with smaller shelters throughout the city, they were considering two potential sites in Ward 5: the Rhode Island Avenue site and another city-owned building at 326 R St N.E. in Eckington.

The new Ward 5 shelter on Rhode Island Avenue would house up to 35 families and would be accessible to public transit, grocery stores and other retail and a library that is planned for the area. It’s a far cry from the mayor’s original plan for a Ward 5 shelter, a site off of Bladensburg road that would have been near a bus depot, industrial facilities and a strip club.

McDuffie spoke for many Ward 5 residents in opposition to that site, which was widely considered to be a bad choice for the health and wellbeing of homeless families. With McDuffie now behind the city’s plans to replace DC General, he joins other council members who are defending those plans to concerned citizens.

“I know that there are legitimate concerns about the fear of the unknown, what to expect when this happens right here at that site,” McDuffie said. “What you should know is, we’re going to be working hard to make sure that these families have all of the support and resources that they need.”

While many of the 150-or-so residents in attendance Friday’s meeting applauded when McDuffie announced that the Rhode Island Avenue site was all but a done deal, that was news to many Ward 5 neighbors, who told McDuffie and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson that they felt left out of the planning process.

Michael Morrison, the representative on the Area Neighborhood Commission for the district where the site is located, said that city officials had not reached out to notify him about the plans for Rhode Island Avenue. “I definitely want to ask that the city substantively engage the community in moving forward with this,” he said.

While there have been two previous meeting in Ward 5 and a city council hearing in March where the Rhode Island Avenue location was discussed, many other neighbors complained that they had only heard about the plan for the first time that day.

Other Ward 5 residents expressed concern that a homeless shelter along Rhode Island Avenue could discourage the area from becoming a lively main street with more businesses. But many residents who have felt the pressure of rising rents and home prices in the area had little sympathy for those arguments.

“Everybody is so concerned about having a vote on where the shelter is going to be placed at. We didn’t have a vote for gentrification,” one long-term resident said to applause.

And residents from Eckington and Ivy City, two Ward 5 neighborhoods that already have shelters, both pushed back at the idea that the facilities could depress home prices or discourage development.

“Everybody wants a house in Eckington,” said Sylvia Pinkney, an ANC representative from the neighborhood, which has four shelters and median home prices that rose to nearly $600,000 in 2015. “I’m sure everybody knows there are shelters there, but it does not stop people from purchasing homes at tremendous prices,” she said.

The new shelters throughout the city are being planned to include social workers on staff 24 hours a day to provide residents with support for physical and behavioral health needs, seeking employment and moving into permanent housing.

The mayor’s original plan would have required the city to purchase land for developers and then lease the facilities. That approach faced stiff public opposition, and earlier this month the council released a plan of its own that will use land already owned by the city and bring the cost of Bowser’s $660 million plan down closer to $500 million.

In addition to Ward 5, the council proposed new locations in Ward 3 and Ward 6. In Ward 6, the shelter location will change from a building in proximity to a night club and arts space to vacant land at 200 K St. N.W. In Ward 3, the site has been moved from Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park to the parking lot of a police station on of Idaho Avenue.

Ward 3 residents have been particularly vocal about their concerns with the plan. While many opposed it for its high cost, neighbors at a meeting last week circulated an anonymous letter in opposition to the Idaho Avenue location. “We fundamentally oppose Mayor’s plan of equal distribution of homeless population,” said the letter, which was filled with typos.

 

UPDATE — May 31, 2016: D.C. Council, with Mayor Bowser’s support, voted a second time to finalize passage of the overhauled version of the mayor’s initial D.C. General replacement plan, along with the 2017 budget. The final shelter locations are: Ward 1 (29 units), 2105-2107 10th Street NW | Ward 3 (50 units), 3320 Idaho Avenue NW | Ward 4 (49 units), 5505 5th Street NW | Ward 5 (50 units), 1700 Rhode Island Avenue NE | Ward 6 (50 units), 850 Delaware Avenue SW | Ward 7 (35 units), 5004 D Street SE | Ward 8 (50 units), 6th Street and Chesapeake Street SE