The D.C. Council gave preliminary approval yesterday to a measure that requires the city government to move homeless families out of expensive welfare hotels and into apartments.
Approved 11 to 2, the bill sponsored by council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) would provide homeless families apartments for at least six months and then housing subsidies. Under the bill, all housing must be "appropriate for family size" and must meet D.C. health and building code standards.
Those housed by the new program would be required to pay no more than 30 percent of monthly income, after deductions for work and child-care expenses. The standard is similar to that for the District's public housing, which has a waiting list of 13,000.
The average wait for D.C. public housing is eight years.
The bill, which was opposed by council members John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) and Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), contains some provisions similar to Mayor Marion Barry's existing comprehensive plan for homeless families. But the Crawford legislation goes beyond the Barry policy in several areas -- requiring the city to purchase or lease apartments for the homeless and, within a year of enactment, setting a 15-day limit on hotel stays.
Crawford said the bill is necessary to comply with the District's right-to-shelter initiative, approved by D.C. voters three years ago, and to cut back on the costly use of hotels to shelter homeless families.
In other action, the council rejected by a 7-to-6 vote a proposed food service contract for the Washington Convention Center, citing irregularities and apparent conflicts of interest.
The council, by a 7-to-5 vote, also rejected a bid by its lone Republican member, Carol Schwartz (At Large), to give subpoena power to D.C. Auditor Otis H. Troupe. Schwartz said Troupe needs the subpoena authority, which he has sought for several years, to enable the city government to take the lead in dealing with corruption charges instead of relying on the U.S. attorney's office, whose investigations have led to convictions of or guilty pleas by a dozen Barry administration officials.
Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who strongly opposed Schwartz's measure, said the council should conduct more investigations rather than relying on "anybody over whom we have very little control." Troupe recently was reappointed by the council to a six-year term.
About 500 homeless families are now living in motel rooms leased by the city, a figure that increased sixfold last winter and is expected to rise again this winter. Crawford said some families have remained in the motels for as long as two years at a cost to the city of about $50 per person per night, including meals.
He said he expected the cost would be cut substantially at the "transitional" apartment units owned or leased by the city, but provided no figures.
Under the bill, which will come up for a final vote in two weeks, money collected from families while they live in the transitional apartments would be refunded with interest when they move into other housing. During a stay in transitional housing, those receiving welfare benefits would have the benefit reduced by the amount of their monthly housing allowance.
When Crawford introduced the measure last spring, it limited a family's stay in transitional housing to 180 days. But the provision encountered sharp opposition from activists for the homeless and Crawford dropped it. The bill passed yesterday forbids the District government to turn a family out of a shelter apartment until suitable alternate housing is found -- except in cases where apartment rules are violated.