Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union have asked the District of Columbia government not to favor a Christian group over secular entities in a bidding process for a homeless shelter.
The D.C. City Council plans to lease the Gales School building – a facility estimated to be worth $8.93 million – to the group that submits the best proposal for renovating and running it as a shelter but originally opened the bidding process for only 27 days.
In a Feb. 8 letter to several D.C. officials, including Mayor Adrian Fenty, AU and the ACLU assert that 27 days is not enough time for bidders to compete with Central Union Mission, a Christian ministry that is “in the business of converting people to Christ” and has already spent the last few years working with the District to obtain the Gales School.
In 2008, a planned land swap between the District and the Mission stalled after Americans United and the ACLU filed a lawsuit to block it. The swap would have resulted in a net financial gain to the Mission of more than $12 million, including ownership of the Gales School.
Since the land swap failed, the Mission has sought other ways to acquire the facility. The Mission, the letter asserts, has an advantage over other bidders, having had “years to visit and review Gales, design plans to renovate it, line up financing, and make contacts with the local community. As a result, the Mission had the ability to prepare most, if not all, of its proposal even before” the bidding began.
D.C. Assistant Attorney General Jacques P. Lerner denied that the Mission has an advantage but said that the bidding process would be extended by 30 days after receiving the AU/ACLU letter.
Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s Senior Litigation Counsel, said that is not enough.
“We’re still concerned that this extension is not sufficient to allow other bidders to fairly compete.” he said. “All groups – not just one religious organization that has a sweetheart relationship with District officials – should be provided a level playing field for this contract.”