The Wash
The Aston, which had been slated to open this fall, would be a one-of-a-kind project in the city, operating as bridge housing with a medical facility for those experiencing homelessness.

Contentious West End housing project faces litigation and high maintenance fees, likely delaying its opening

Lawsuits and financial concerns continue to plague D.C.’s proposed West End bridge housing project, the Aston, as construction reports reveal that the facility is estimated to cost the city about $8 million in repairs within the next nine years.

The District initially bought the building for $27.5 million from George Washington University over the summer. The Aston, which had been slated to open this fall, would be a one-of-a-kind project in the city, operating as bridge housing with a medical facility for those experiencing homelessness. 

A building condition assessment performed by the D.C. Department of General Services over the summer and published in July revealed that substantial work is needed for the building to remain up to code within the next few years. The assessment was released as part of a lawsuit filed Oct. 27 by the West End DC Community Association.

This is the second lawsuit pursued by the group, and it focuses on zoning and permit violation concerns, as well as concerns regarding the building condition assessment. The association includes residents and businesses in the West End, according to Scott Morrison, the attorney representing the group in this lawsuit. 

The Aston, D.C.'s proposed bridge housing with a medical facility for those experiencing homelessness.
Caption: The Aston is slated to open this fall but the city has remained silent regarding its plans for the project. (Katherine Hapgood/The Wash)

The group previously filed a lawsuit this past summer regarding the process the city used to approve the facility, but the association voluntarily withdrew that lawsuit. 

Morrison, a partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, said the Aston is not on track to open this year if the District follows its own laws.

“If the District carries out its intent to provide long-term medical care to the residents in the shelter, then it’s a clear violation of zoning regulations,” he said.

Morrison also said the association believes the facility will lead to an increase in crime in the area and that tourists will take their business elsewhere if it opens. 

Additionally, Morrison said he believes that Georgetown or somewhere else in the District would be much better suited for the facility the Aston is intended to be.

 “You’re not only going to have all those residents but you’re also going to have all the homeless people that congregate around homeless shelters,” Morrison said. “It’s a very affluent area.” 

Commissioners for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A, which covers Foggy Bottom and the West End, were caught off-guard and unaware of the second lawsuit. Trupti Patel, a Foggy Bottom commissioner, said she had been wondering if a pending lawsuit was the reason the city had not responded to questions or inquiries regarding the Aston over the past few months.

With no sign of when the building will open and no answers from the city’s executive branch, Patel said the impending winter is worrying.

“My concern is that we should have bridge housing that is fully operational and functional so that our unhoused neighbors are in shelter and are able to with dignity be able to survive this winter,” Patel said. “I think it would be incredibly negligent and irresponsible for the city to not come up with a contingency plan.”

Jim Malec, the ANC 2A chairperson, said the facility is an opportunity the community should embrace and has the potential to do a large amount of good.

“I view this proposal as a matter of equity, not just efficacy,” Malec said during the ANC special meeting last week. “We have an opportunity to demonstrate that any community, no matter its demographic or socioeconomic profile, can play a role in ending homelessness.”

The city has remained quiet on its newest real estate acquisition. The Department of General Services declined to comment due to the pending lawsuit, and the Office of the Attorney General did not respond to requests for comment. 

Patel said the lack of transparency and answers from the city is leading to increased frustrations.

“The fact that no one seems to be wanting to address the questions or respond to inquiries is fostering a sense of frustration. It’s starting to breed hostility now with stakeholders,” she said.

Additionally, Patel said her constituents were not only frustrated with the evasiveness from the executive branch of the city government but also with Councilmember Brooke Pinto, who represents the area. 

“I feel many members of the public are quite shocked and feel quite surprised that Councilwoman Pinto has not seemed to want to answer questions and inquiries around the Aston,” she said.

ANC 2A last week selected two members for the mandated Community Advisory Team, which will work with the community and members of the ANC to oversee the Aston. However, it still remains unclear what the city’s timeline is.

Courtney Cooperman, one of the elected CAT members, said she wants the Aston to be well-integrated into the community and not stigmatized. 

“I’m eager to see its doors open,” she said during a Nov. 6 special ANC meeting.

Katherine Hapgood

I am a fellow at the Center for Public Integrity and a graduate student at American University studying investigative journalism and public affairs. This semester, I am covering the neighborhoods of Foggy Bottom and the West End. I primarily cover government access, accountability, and report on equity.

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