Aug. 28, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Local Politics Complicate Hill East Development

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
People line up for a bus outside the old D.C. General Hospital, which has been converted into a homeless shelter. Located in Hill East in the middle of the Reservation 13 complex, development at the site has been politically embattled for more than a decade.

Berns said the District is not on track to hit Gray’s target right now. The demand for shelter has increased “considerably more, and faster this year than what we had anticipated,” he said.

“It would be overly optimistic at this time to think that we would be able to get it down to that by the end of [fiscal] ’14,” Berns said. “I think more realistic is probably sometime in fiscal year ’15, just because we’ve had hundreds more families come into our system than what we anticipated — a 30 percent increase this year over where we were last year.”

Each Ward 6 council candidate has a plan for confronting the homelessness epidemic.

“I think we can all agree that trying to round up homeless folks and put them in a corner of the District, in a facility that should have been torn down a long time ago, is not fair and not just in any way, shape or form,” Thompson said.

He believes the city needs to take a “comprehensive approach” and suggests working with nonprofits to find the best options available.

Allen criticizes the Gray administration’s approach, saying the city should focus on putting a roof over the heads of homeless residents, “not a shelter, not a cot, not an abandoned hospital.” He emphasized that only in a housing unit can social service providers begin to deal with addictions, mental health issues and child care. “This mayor stepped back from that commitment to permanent supportive housing, and we’re seeing the results,” he said. “We’ve got families that are being put up in hotels ... [that’s] really bad for the family, and for the bottom line.”

Preliminary designs from Donatelli and Blue Skye would bring 354 residential units, including 106 designated as affordable housing, to the parcels of Hill East pegged for development.

Thompson said the inclusion of below-market-rate housing would help add to the diversity of the Capitol Hill community. “This is an opportunity, at a macro level, to have development where we’re not just squeezing in a handful of units into a market rate building,” he said.

According to Berns, the Gray administration has placed a high priority on making sure the city’s newest residential developments incorporate affordable housing. It’s all part of the long-term plan that will eventually result in more permanent options for the families living at D.C. General.

Meanwhile, closure of the makeshift shelter is likely years away.

“The space that we occupy would not stop some of the redevelopment,” Berns said. “We’re not under a severe ... mandate to get out, but certainly we’re looking at another replacement facility within the next several years. We’re negotiating when that would be.”

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