In your May 2023 issue, you quote Mayor Bowser as “quipping that in Southwest ‘people fought [her] tooth and nail’ over emergency, or bridge, housing that eventually became The Aya along I (Eye) Street SW.” I was the ANC Commissioner for the Single-Member district that includes the Aya, and would like to provide a different perspective.
The Mayor’s original proposal was to lease Culture House DC (at the time known as Blind Whino) and build a shelter adjoining it. ANC 6D welcomed a shelter but opposed this location. The historic building would have been difficult to redevelop because of its landmark status and the asbestos and lead paint that was likely on the premises, and it had no parking. Most importantly, building on a privately-owned site that was only subject to a 15-year lease would not have been a good use of District funds. By now, we would be approximately halfway through the lease, and the need for emergency family housing shows little sign of abating. The ANC suggested several parcels in Southwest where we believed a family shelter would be more appropriate. We welcomed the Aya at its current location, which had the added benefit of allowing a beautiful renovation of Unity Health Care’s Southwest clinic.
I served on the committee that advised the architects and the Department of Human Services as the Aya was being designed, and our two major aims were to make the building fit with its surroundings and to ensure it served the families who would live there. I believe we succeeded on the first goal. We did fairly well on the second: had the Bowser Administration allowed the architects to design private bathrooms for each family as we requested, the Aya’s residents would have an even healthier, safer, and more dignified experience than they currently do.
The Mayor may perceive these positions as fighting “tooth and nail,” but I contend these were fights worth having–for the District’s taxpayers, the families living at the Aya, and the Southwest community of which they have become a part.