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Public restroom pilot programs get funded in 2020 D.C. budget

Two locations for stand-alone toilets will be recommended by a working group

A Portland Loo toilet in Portland, Oregon, considered a model for D.C.

A pair of freestanding public restrooms are set to be up and running in the District by mid-2021, owing to action D.C. lawmakers took in May in passing the latest government budget.

Under a law approved in 2018 and ultimately funded in that $15.5 billion budget, a working group made up of District officials and nonprofit workers will recommend two locations for the restrooms, which would be maintained by the city. The restrooms would be free to use, and D.C. would join other major cities, including San Francisco and New York, in operating public toilets. The city will also collect input on where to install the restrooms from advisory neighborhood commissions, business improvement districts, and community organizations.

The D.C. Council included in the budget $270,000 to build the two restrooms and roughly $65,000 for custodial services and maintenance, after Mayor Muriel Bowser declined to do so in her budget proposal. The restrooms are expected to benefit residents and visitors alike, and to be placed somewhere in or close to downtown. The 2018 law also sets up a new pilot program that seeks to encourage businesses to open their restrooms to the public—not just customers—with modest financial incentives. The budget includes about $65,000 for these.

A group of advocates led by the People for Fairness Coalition’s Downtown DC Public Restroom Initiative pressed for the legislation and the related funding. The Council’s committee of the whole recognized this group’s efforts in a May report on its budget recommendations for the District’s 2020 fiscal year, which starts on October 1, 2019:

“A nearly unprecedented advocacy effort has been undertaken by dedicated activists representing residents experiencing homelessness, senior citizens, residents with medical conditions, parents, tourists, and everyone who finds themselves in need of a restroom. ... A network of public restrooms will help the District catch up to peer cities around the world, provide all people in the District the opportunity to fulfill their basic human needs in a dignified, safe, and sanitary way, and repay the incredible advocacy of our residents in favor of this necessary public resource.”

The working group that will discuss the locations for the restrooms will have 14 members. D.C. advocates consider Portland Loos, from Oregon, as a model for the stand-alone sites.

This post has been updated to clarify the funding for the maintenance costs and incentives.