Protests Persist as D.C. Moves Forward With Ward 1 Shelter Plan

by Tim Regan April 12, 2016 at 10:45 am 26 Comments

The activists up in arms over the District’s plan to place up to 30 families in transitional housing at 2105-2107 10th St. NW are not getting any quieter.

Members of a protest group in opposition to the shelter spoke out during a design overview meeting at the Reeves Center at 14th and U streets last night. Among the group’s chief concerns were claims that city officials entered into an above-market-rate bid specifically to benefit developer Sorg Architects.

Clutching a banner depicting wads of cash raining down on renderings of the shelter, members of the group shouted down D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development Director Polly Donaldson as she gave a presentation on the shelter design’s current status.

“It appears as if the Mayor’s plan is using the homeless as a vehicle to deliver profits to just certain developers,” one activist said, interrupting Donaldson.

“I would like to ask that you allow the presentation to continue,” Donaldson responded, adding that her remarks would be followed by a presentation from architect Ralph Cunningham and small group discussions where attendees could submit questions on index cards.

But activists responded they wanted a live Q&A session, not the opportunity to write questions down.

“You never give us time to ask questions,” a protestor shouted at Donaldson. “You talk nonstop for two hours and there’s never any time.”

Other activists, who chose to remain anonymous when speaking to the press, said they felt like the meeting failed to adequately address the group’s concerns or take them seriously. Other concerns activists had included a purported lack of transparency in the process, issues with the height and setback of the shelter building and that the city’s call for community input is “just a facade.”

One of the activists, Rich Schiff, said that although some members of his group have been accused of NIMBYism in the past, the term is a “crafted, bogus” label. “The truth is, there are no NIMBYs in our group,” Schiff said.

Schiff added that the group supports the closing of D.C. General and supports, at least in theory, the idea of having a homeless shelter in the neighborhood. Just not this one.

“Our ANC councilwoman suggests that because of government premium, they’re willing to pay almost double the market rate for this property,” Schiff said. “It’s outrageous. 50 percent more folks could have been housed had we not been overpaying.”

Schiff said the group has identified several sites near 10th and V — including 1111 W St. NW and 1410-12 Euclid St. NW — that could have been used to house the shelter at a lower cost than the $23 million the city expects to pay to lease the site over 30 years.

In other words, Schiff said his group’s largest concern is that taxpayers who live nearby are getting a raw deal.

“If you were to come back to us and say we’ve decided to give the landowner architect half the price on the same property, which is what would be around market price for the property, the neighborhood would say fine, put it there,” Schiff said. “But don’t put it there at a premium where the price is doubled.”

After the meeting had ended, a small group of activists walked the banner to the front of the room.

“We are for closing D.C. General,” they said. “Just not like this.”

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