I Believe In Providing Shelter But Mayor Bowser Seems To Have Turned This Into Graft

Despite my many criticisms of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, I thought one of her redeeming qualities is her commitment to housing the homeless. And when she recently unveiled her plan, I thought it was pretty good. While the housing would have efficiency apartments (that is, shared bathrooms*), I thought that would be an acceptable tradeoff in light of spreading the housing around the city and moving quickly by choosing locations without a lot of hearings.

But it’s Bowser, and that means it will be corrupted (boldface mine):

But records show that most of the private properties proposed as shelter sites are owned or at least partly controlled by major donors to the mayor. And experts have calculated that the city leases­ would increase the assessed value of those properties by as much as 10 times for that small group of landowners and developers….

Her plan calls for spending at least $266 million — and perhaps closer to $300 million — to lease land and buildings over the next three decades, records indicate. Those payments would go to five private corporations, including three tied to political supporters Douglas Jemal, Bryan “Scottie” Irving and Suman Sorg.

The trio, along with their companies and family members, have given a combined $67,000 to Bowser’s mayoral and council campaigns and to a PAC working on her behalf.

That includes more than $22,000 given by Jemal and associates, with $10,000 donated to Bowser’s inaugural party. Irving’s family and company have given over $38,000, including over $15,000 to a political action committee that friends of Bowser created last year but later abandoned. The Sorg family gave the least, at $6,750.

Even in a city with an overheated housing market, the amount the city would pay — mostly for dormitory-style shelter rooms — is eye-popping for anyone familiar with a mortgage.

The District would pay at least $4,500 on average per apartment, per month, each year for at least the next 20 years under Bowser’s plan.

…And when the terms expire, the city would not own most of the facilities it paid to construct.

That’s $54,000 per year for an efficiency apartment–not a studio, but an efficiency.

This is utterly insane, when you look at housing rentals. A 900 sq. ft 1 bedroom apartment with a den, in a building with a gym and concierge service two minutes away from the Dupont Circle Metro goes for around $3,100/month. Very nice two bedroom apartments in the same neighborhood rent at $3,500/month. Prices at the Mission Apartments on 14th Street NW are comparable.

To be clear, I’m not arguing people shouldn’t be allowed to have nice things. Regular readers will know we’re not big on the whole poor shaming thing around here. But there are three options, any of which would be better than Bowser’s plan:

1. Rent apartments for the homeless in well-to-do areas. If we’re truly serious about integrating D.C., then do this–and it would be cheaper than Bowser’s plan. Some families would get educational and transportation opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have.

2. Buy individual apartments in well-to-do areas and turn them in public housing. Again, if we’re serious about integration we could do this, and it would be cheaper over the long-term.

3. Own the damn buildings we’re paying to build. At least, we’re not flushing money down the toilet after twenty years.

What’s astonishing, though not surprising, is how cheaply Bowser can be bought. I’m not naive about these things: I lived in the Northeast for a long time, and ‘beloved idiot nephew’ is an official job category there. Paying more is, unfortunately, sometimes the cost of getting things done.

But this is a level of incompetence that supersedes any typical notions of corruption. And the worst part is that the most needy among us will take the hardest hit.

Shame on Mayor Bowser.

*Not a trivial concern for women or parents with small children.

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1 Response to I Believe In Providing Shelter But Mayor Bowser Seems To Have Turned This Into Graft

  1. jrkrideau says:

    I was thinking the same thing, that’s a cheap price for a mayor but it’s often amazing how cheaply one can buy a politician. You might want to check the US Senate and House of Representatives.

    I will say, proudly as a former Québecer, that Québec politicians often seem to have a better sense of self-worth—the the Charbonneau Commission for more details.

    And on another matter

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