Council passes 2017 budget and updated plan to replace DC General shelter
The D.C. Council initially approved a $13.4 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2017 Tuesday, as well as a bill overhauling Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to replace the crumbling D.C. General homeless shelter.
The budget would allocate an additional $13 million toward homeless services, for a total of $173 million, along with a $10 million extension to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
The Council voted unanimously to initially approve the “Homeless Shelter Replacement Act of 2016,” Bowser’s plan to close D.C. General by 2018 and replace it with seven smaller facilities throughout the District by the end of that year.
However, the Council’s approved plan departs from Bowser’s in several significant ways. It moves the proposed shelters from private to city-owned land and gives the city the authority to obtain any additional land through eminent domain.
Councilmembers argued that their plan, by avoiding expensive leases, will reduce long-term costs of the project by $165 million and improve the locations of the shelters, which became a major concern during public hearings on Bowser’s plan.
“This legislation will prevent kids from living next to strip clubs or spots not safe or dignified for families,” Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie said.
Frustration between the Council and Bowser was evident. Council chairman Phil Mendelson said the Council’s work to amend the plan “was hampered by obfuscation and misinformation” by Bowser’s office.
Bowser told reporters after the vote that she is worried zoning and other issues stemming from the changed plan could delay the sites from opening by 2018.
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) May 17, 2016
Housing advocates said they were generally pleased with the budget, but that it was not enough to achieve the D.C. government’s Strategic Plan to end chronic homelessness in the District by 2020.
“We are happy that there is an increase in funding for permanent supportive housing and targeted affordable housing,” said Kurt Runge, advocacy director for Miriam’s Kitchen and co-chair of The Way Home, a grassroots campaign to end chronic homelessness by 2017. “When it comes to permanent supportive housing, we are seeing one of the biggest increases ever for that program, but that said, there’s still such a huge need, and D.C.’s not on track to reach its goal, so a lot more work is needed.”
The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that the extra funding will create permanent supportive housing for up to 300 individuals, but would still leave 230 families and 780 single adults in need.
Tuesday’s vote was also the first time in the history of the District that the Council passed a local budget with no intent to submit it to Congress for approval — the result of a 2013 ballot referendum to strengthen D.C. budget autonomy. A D.C. Superior Court judge upheld the legality of the referendum in March.
Over on Capitol Hill, the GOP-led House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved legislation by a party-line vote that would essentially repeal the referendum.
The Council recessed Tuesday afternoon for a press conference, where Bowser, the Council and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton condemned Republicans’ attempts to stymie D.C. budget autonomy.
The budget and D.C. General plan now face a second vote before they are finally approved.