- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ward 1 residents are split over whether a proposed shelter at a renovated church will benefit both the community and the homeless families set to live there.

The issue has colored several recent community meetings, with some residents offering full support for the plan, others accusing objectors of having a NIMBY (not in my back yard) mentality and a vocal group citing a lack of public input in the shelter’s site-selection process and its high costs.

“There’s a whole range of opinions,” says D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Democrat. “I believe this was the right site. Now I’m focused on getting the right feel for the neighborhood and hearing from residents.”

Shai Segall, who lives near the proposed shelter, said those who oppose the site are careful to say they support Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to close the homeless facility at the former D.C. General Hospital and open shelters across the city — they just don’t think the process was transparent.

“We’re very sensitive to the NIMBY charge,” Mr. Segall said. “But there is a vocal opposition.”

Mr. Segall said if the process were slowed and people were given time to investigate on their own, the community could offer sites better suited for a shelter.

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“The mayor can have a win here,” he said. “Everyone wants to close D.C. General. Residents in Ward 1 just want the best place.”

The proposed shelter, at 2105-2107 10th St. NW, would house up to 30 families in the refurbished Morning Bright Church. The site will be developed by Suman Sorg through 2101 Morning Bright LLC, and cost taxpayers about $38 million over a 30-year lease.

It is part of a $22 million-a-year initiative developed by Ms. Bowser to close the ramshackle 285-room facility at D.C. General and transfer families into new shelters in seven of the District’s eight wards.

But the Bowser administration has encountered resistance to and criticism of the plan, which has been presented to residents as a done deal without public input or information about how the sites were chosen and why. The Washington Times is examining each of the proposed sites.

“People still have a lot of questions about financing, but that’s always true about any land purchases or property deals,” Ms. Nadeau said.

Ms. Bowser repeatedly has said that community engagement was a priority in the process, and has pointed to requests for proposals for sites that had been open more than a year before the selections were made, saying that the site in Ward 1 was the best choice.

And Ms. Nadeau backed the mayor on the decision.

“The council and committees were able to suggest sites,” she said. “There weren’t that many available in Ward 1.”

Three other sites were considered, according to documents related to the homeless plan. Two of those sites were deemed not large enough, and the third failed amid unsuccessful negotiations.

Borderstan, a website dedicated to Ward 1 news, reported that members of a protest group interrupted an April meeting on the site plans at the Reeves Center, unveiling a sign that showed cash raining down on a rendering of the proposed shelter site. Several residents expressed consternation about a lack of public engagement in the process.

“That is something I think pretty much everyone agrees on regardless of how they feel about the shelters,” Ward 1 resident Debby Prigal said. “It is unconscionable to announce major decisions, and say that they are final, without giving the community input.”

Ms. Prigal also questioned why Ms. Bowser is paying so much to lease buildings the city won’t own in 20 or 30 years.

“This is inexcusable. It is the job of city officials and elected representatives to use the taxpayers’ money wisely,” Ms. Prigal said. “If someone is trying to gouge the taxpayer the D.C. government should refuse to overpay and walk.”

Mr. Segall agreed.

“I see a poorly planned shelter and we will have to live with the aftermath for decades,” he said. “We’ll be here after the people who make the decisions are gone.”

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