2020 Primary Voter Guide: 5 Questions on Poverty
by Eric Falquero // May 13, 2020
This guide was featured in the May 13 digital-only edition of Street Sense. Until it is safe to resume person-to-person sales, you’ll always be able to find the current digital-only edition at streetsensemedia.org/Digital Thank you for reading! Please continue to support our vendors through our mobile app (streetsensemedia.org/App).
e sent the same set of questions to each candidate seeking a seat on the D.C. Council who faces an opponent within their party. Candidates were contacted using the email address registered with the D.C. Board of Elections and provided one week in which to respond. Their answers were edited only to match our style or, in two instances, to shorten the content to fit on our pages. Street Sense Media is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit and an independent media company.
Candidate in the Republican, D.C. Statehood Green, and Libertarian parties are running unopposed in their primaries. All candidates will be contacted for our general election voters’ guide in the fall.
Candidates who are in contested races for the June 2 primary ballot and did not respond to our questions include:
- Ward 2 Councilmember (Democratic Primary): John Fanning
- Ward 4 Councilmember (Democratic Primary): Marlena D. Edwards and Janeese Lewis George
- Ward 7 Councilmember (Democratic Primary): Kelvin Brown, Anthony Lorenzo Green, James Leroy Jennings, Rebecca J. Morris, and Veda Rasheed
- Ward 8 Councilmember (Democratic Primary)*: Stuart Anderson and Mike Austin
Under each question, click the ward that is relevant to you to open all candidate answers side-by-side.
1) According to The D.C. Policy Center, single-family units make up only 30% of D.C.’s housing stock but occupy 80% of its residential buildings. How would you change our approach to housing, density, and development to make the city affordable for all residents?
The District has considerably increased its housing stock over the last 15 years. As cited, the new units have been, for the most part, been built in the areas beyond the zones identified or designated for single-family units.
Although, I have always supported and championed the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) and tax credits — believing that building, but more importantly preserving, affordable housing, is one of the key roles of the HPTF, I do understand that subsidies from the HPTF and other government supports, alone will not solve the affordability problem.
Ultimately, if we as legislative leaders of this city sincerely want to address and solve the economic and racial segregation in the city and increase the District’s overall housing stock, we will have to amend the zoning laws to be less restrictive.
Creating affordable housing and reversing practices that maintain racial inequities are social and moral imperatives that the Mayor and city Council should dedicate themselves to and finally reform the zoning code, focusing on the zoning for single-family units.
I believe it’s time to legalize “gentle density” throughout D.C.– meaning that we should allow rowhouses and two to four-unit apartments in areas that are currently restricted to single-family homes. Here in Ward 2, many of our neighborhoods – such as Logan Circle – already feature a mix of rowhouses, two- to four-family homes, and small-scale apartment or condominium buildings on the same street. Allowing small increases in density in areas of the District that are currently restricted to single-family zoning could have a major impact on our ability to meet our affordable housing goals. As the D.C. Policy Center has noted, rowhouses alone can provide thousands more housing units than single-family homes in just a single square mile.
Another key tool the Council should use to ensure development is better meeting the immediate needs of communities is the Comprehensive Plan, the “framework that guides future growth and development” in D.C. I strongly support the amendment proposed by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau to make affordable housing, prevention of displacement, and the right of existing residents to return to new on-site units the explicit top priority in the Plan. Current regulations do not set priorities with respect to the list of potential public benefits for development projects, which range from affordable housing to “superior landscaping,” and do not include prevention of displacement whatsoever. As Ward 2’s councilmember, I would fight for this amendment to send an explicit and enforceable message to developers, courts, and agencies like the Zoning Commission that affordable housing and preventing displacement should be the most important objective in guiding development decisions and priorities in D.C. in the years to come.
I believe we should ban single-family only zoning as has been done in other cities like Minneapolis. As job growth has outpaced housing growth for decades now, we must work to ensure greater housing production in D.C. This will make it easier to set aside additional housing for low- and middle-income residents and help prevent D.C. from growing increasingly unaffordable.
I think it’s really important that the District advance multi-family development all across the city, in line with the mayor’s objective of creating 36,000 new housing units by 2025. We know that while the COVID-19 pandemic might represent a short-term disruption in growth, the demand to live in the District will continue to grow over the long run. If we are going to meet that demand, we have to increase the supply of housing units available at all price points, and use the dividends from our growth to subsidize the creation of affordable units for those who aren’t and won’t be served by the market.
In the short-term, this year the D.C. Council will take up the Office of Planning’s proposed revisions to the Comprehensive Plan. I support OP’s push for greater density, particularly along major corridors and close to transit, and would like to see the Future Land Use Map and Comp Plan principles reflect that the provision of affordable housing is our number one priority policy as a city. Additionally, I think that we should follow the lead of the city of Minneapolis and legalize triplexes across the District.
Washington, D.C., is facing a housing crisis and has experienced the highest intensity of gentrification of any city in the country. Single-family zoning has prevented density increases, which has caused a shortage of housing and skyrocketing rent and real estate prices. However, one-size-fits-all zoning policies do not work. Our neighborhoods are all unique and therefore, face unique challenges. I strongly believe that density should be increased around public transportation and where infrastructure, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, already exists. This is the greenest solution and will not lead to increases in traffic and air pollution. I am also interested in zoning proposals that expand permitting for duplexes in residential neighborhoods, which already exist on a small scale. Duplexes increase density while preserving the cultural integrity of many of our historic neighborhoods. Affordable housing and historic and cultural value do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Housing is one of the most critical issues to consider when thinking about the affordability and inclusivity of a city. As such, it has a direct impact on issues of racial and economic equity. A recent study explains how D.C.’s lack of affordable housing exacerbates the displacement of longtime low-income residents of color. As the study explains, where we live affects many other aspects of our lives: our quality of life; where our children are able to attend school; and what jobs and other opportunities are available for us as adults, as well as our children.
The Urban Institute recommends 374,000 new units of housing region-wide by 2030. I support more money for the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) but want to provide stronger oversight to ensure it results in as much quality housing as possible.
Recent audits show that less qualified projects are getting funded over more qualified projects and that the government (DHCD) is not enforcing the requirement that at least 80% of the funds are spent on affordable housing. The result is that far fewer units have been built than should have been built — especially for the lowest-income residents. As your councilmember, I would work hard to increase transparency through more regular audits to ensure developers are upholding their commitments. I would also advocate for DHCD to engage in proper monitoring of HPTF projects. This includes making sure that site visits are executed and that sites are submitting their required annual certifications. I’ve conducted oversight as a commissioner on both sides of Ward 2 and have testified at over 20 agency oversight hearings at the D.C. Council! I care about agency oversight and I will be tough about pushing for the vital HPTF dollars to be used properly. I would also support many of Councilmember Silverman’s housing reform proposals — including a change to allow the Council to appoint two members of the D.C. Housing Authority’s board.
As a Ward 2 Council Member, I would take a holistic approach to any major changes in housing and the related community impacts—considering access to fresh food, affordable childcare, public transportation, and social services, to encourage diverse and accessible communities throughout Ward 2 and greater D.C.
D.C. must build sufficient affordable housing. The Mayor has committed to 36,000 housing units, with one-third as affordable housing units. In addition to affordable housing units at the 80 percent area median income (AMI), D.C. needs more deeply affordable units at less than 50 percent AMI. Additionally, we need to equitably distribute housing units of different sizes (e.g., studio, one-bedroom, two-bedrooms, three-bedrooms) across all of D.C.
In addition to affordable housing, we need to take a holistic approach and enhance access to public transportation, quality schools, affordable child care services, affordable grocery stores, hospitals and health care clinics, and diverse employment opportunities that pay a living wage near all homes in all neighborhoods.
I support the Planned Unit Density (PUD) process as it allows the community to play an important role in neighborhood developments. As with any process, there’s always room for improvement. I believe the work being done to update the Comprehensive Plan will be a critical step in helping to address barriers clogging the current PUD process.
There has been unprecedented public engagement to make substantive changes that bring the existing plan into alignment with current pressures facing the District. Last year, the Council approved the Framework element of the Plan that would help elevate the importance of affordable housing and prioritize PUDs that increase planned housing numbers.
More importantly, the amendments support a “right to return” for existing residents, which is hugely important in ensuring neighbors aren’t pushed out of housing and unable to return for one reason or another, I also support a build first model which doubles down on our commitment to ensuring neighbors have access to high-quality housing. I want to ensure that in addition to adding to our affordable housing stock, District residents are also able to remain in their communities, as well as take advantage of the benefits of new growth and opportunities throughout the city.
I am eager to work with advocates, stakeholders, and residents to generate legislative solutions for the challenges to affordable housing faced in the District of Columbia. The lack of affordable housing continues to be a growing concern for the District. The attempt to find long term solutions to this concern is no easy task, however, there are some tools available to the District and its residents to help increase the supply of affordable housing through current legislation and policies. As Mayor, in FY 2014, we began an annual investment of $100 million for affordable housing, with $287 million invested in the second year. Also, as Mayor, I introduced legislation to require that after the District reached 60 days of cash-on-hand in its fund balance, 50% of additional surpluses would be dedicated annually to the Housing Production Trust Fund. As a result of this legislation, the Housing Production Trust Fund will receive an additional $161.8 million this year (this is prior to the losses incurred by the Coronavirus pandemic). This infusion of funds would go a long way towards increasing the production of affordable housing in the District. We must ensure that this historic level of investment in affordable housing is used effectively to create new units and to preserve the existing supply of affordable units through strategies such as the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.
Rent control is a long-standing affordable housing tool that has been the subject of significant recent discussion and research. I support and co-introduced the bill to extend rent control in the District for 10 years. And, I have advocated for and funded additional affordable housing as Council Chair, Mayor, and as Ward 7 Councilmember. I am also aware of recommendations for changing rent control. I look forward to receiving input from realtors, Ward 7 residents, and other stakeholders and interested parties on any proposals that are or will come before the Council.
I also support building more housing in D.C. and support the Mayor’s goal to add 36,000 units of housing by 2025. This may require the use of height to create more density. In that regard, we need to have greater control over zoning decisions. When I was Mayor, I was promised by a ranking member of the House of Representatives that he would work to have that authority given to the District of Columbia.
In addition, an advisory council that I assembled to help facilitate economic development in Ward 7 consistent with the desires of residents worked hard to put forth amendments to the Future Land Use Map of the Comprehensive Plan. The proposed amendments would help facilitate additional density in established corridors of Ward 7, creating more space for more affordable housing. Language included in the updated Framework Element of the Comprehensive Plan also prioritized the provision of affordable housing. While in its powers, the Council is not able to engage in zoning, I was happy to support affordable housing through the Comprehensive Plan.
Finally, we must safeguard that affordable housing funds are allocated to development projects through a fair and competitive process. As Ward 7 Councilmember, I would also support a more ambitious target than 36,000 new housing units, assuming the resources are available post COVID-19.
The D.C. Policy Center estimates that about 303,950 housing units are available to District residents. Of these, 93,470 are single-family homes that make up 30% of the housing stock but a whopping 80% of the residential buildings. The remaining 23,900 buildings hold about 120,600 rental apartment units, 64,300 condominiums, and 28,600 co-op units. The region needs 115,000 additional homes above current projections by 2045, or about 25,600 total new units per year, to meet residents’ needs. This is a tall order facing the District. In Ward 8 we can use blighted and vacant housing to create more housing, but I would revisit zoning restrictions and determine where we can place denser buildings to help keep housing affordable.
We are currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis in the district. The rising property taxes are threatening thousands of long-established families in the city with displacement. A 2019 report by the Urban institute found that 493,000 households in the region are at risk of displacement in coming years as rents and property taxes rise. Property tax hikes are a huge concern in the district, which is why I have been part of the council’s efforts to secure over 143 million to alleviate the housing crisis. In my ward and across the city I am committed to ensure community stability, and I have been introducing a legislative package of housing bills that safeguard Displacement Free Zones to ensure that taxes and rents do not skyrocket for the residents, and that equitable development is paramount to our growth.
2) Mayor Bowser has routinely invested more than $100 million in the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund. The District requires any multi-family housing development with 10 or more units to participate in the Inclusionary Zoning program, essentially enlisting the private market in helping to provide affordable housing. Yet there are approximately 40,000 people on the D.C. Housing Authority’s waiting list and more than 6,000 people experiencing homelessness. How would you bolster “housing first” programs and lower the cost of rent or homeownership tax burdens?
I have a long record of championing many tenant issues and have been endorsed numerous times by D.C. tenant organizations. In addition to enhancing existing programs, I have proposed legislation ensuring permanent supportive housing through Housing First.
D.C.’s rent control law needs to be renewed. We must not only improve but strengthen rent control, by closing loopholes and increasing the units covered by rent control.
I supported the “Permanent Rental Housing Act Protection Amendment,” which would have made rent control permanent throughout the District. I also supported the “Tenants Rights to Information Act,” which would force landlords to disclose the rent, rent ceiling, any pending or completed petitions; any rent surcharges and how often, if any, rent increases may be implemented.
I fully support legislation that would limit rent increases for hardship petitioners and co-introduced “Elderly and Disabled Tenant Rent Control Prevention Amendment Act” which supports rent control for seniors.
The preservation of affordable rental housing is critical. When that type of affordable housing goes offline, it is too rarely replaced. For this reason, support for the HPTF and tax credits is something I have championed at the Council. I believe both building, but more importantly preserving, affordable housing is one of the key roles of the HPTF. There are buildings in Ward 2 and the city which have used the Fund to assist in tenant ownership of the building. That is why I created the funding mechanism for the HPTF.
As the former Chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, I have a strong record of supporting tax incentives to create affordable housing throughout the District. I was instrumental in creating the Housing Strategy Task Force, which is designed to assess the quality and availability of housing for residents and workers at all income levels.
I also introduced legislation to create a “Community Impact Fund,” an offset program that provides support to the District’s social benefit programs and could be utilized by the District to provide new revenue sources for various projects such as affordable housing.
I have always said that our residents who have lived here during the bad times should be able to stay during the good times. As a result of the city’s success, many long-time residents of D.C. have been affected by the value of their home and taxes. I have consistently fought to keep the 10% cap on the assessment of primary residences so that D.C. residents can afford to stay in their home that they may have owned for many years.
There are a number of ways we can make major progress.
We need to dedicate particular attention to extremely low-income households – those who make about $32,000 or less a year for a family of four. The Council should press for substantially increased investments in the Local Rent Supplement Program and the Housing Production Trust Fund and enact more effective requirements for ensuring that units produced with Trust Fund dollars are affordable for low-income residents and families.
Moreover, preserving or rehabilitating existing affordable housing is one of the quickest and least expensive ways we can address our housing affordability crisis. We ought to enact reforms championed by the Reclaim Rent Control Coalition to close loopholes that exist in the current rent control law. Additionally, we should implement stronger oversight of all petitions for exemptions from rent control. In addition to rent control, I support strengthening the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) – and implementing the District Opportunity to Purchase Act (DOPA) where tenants are unable to exercise their TOPA rights – to help preserve D.C.’s deeply affordable housing stock.
We also must ensure that the strong tenant protection laws we have on the books are actually making a difference for tenants in their day-to-day lives. Specifically, the Council should invest in additional housing inspectors and demand stronger oversight (and conduct stronger oversight itself) to ensure tenants have safe and livable units and are not unjustly evicted. This is an especially important priority for long-time residents who are at risk of displacement from their homes and communities as housing and other costs continue to increase.
Additionally, I believe that remedying the deplorable state of our public housing that is literally making children, the elderly, and other residents sick should be our most urgent environmental justice priority in D.C.
Where residents cannot feasibly remain in public housing in light of conditions that are beyond repair, alternative plans must directly address “the barriers and discrimination that DCHA voucher holders face when trying to rent in the District, as well as the barriers former public housing residents face when trying to return to the mixed-finance properties currently in DCHA’s portfolio,” as noted by the advocates referenced above. This includes prioritizing a “build first” approach to minimize or avoid temporary displacement and emphasizing project-based vouchers or rental assistance that guarantees long-term affordability and stability. Moreover, such alternative plans must also recognize and accommodate not only “the years of harm endured by public housing residents who have been living in slum conditions,” but also the important support systems and communities that many public housing residents have developed over the years.
Finally, as discussed in more depth below, we must do more for the many Ward 2 residents experiencing homelessness – including by supporting a robust “housing first” approach with wraparound services, strengthening and expanding outreach teams and day services centers, and funding the Way Home Campaign’s proposals to end chronic homelessness once and for all.
This response was condensed to fit.
While the Housing Production Trust Fund is a great tool for the creation and preservation of affordable housing, it can’t keep up with the growing demand we have. In D.C., much of our new affordable housing historically has come from Planned Unit Developments. There have, unfortunately, been issues with that process lately that I would like to resolve. Much of that is tied into the current discussions around the Comprehensive Plan.
Public housing is critically important for those who aren’t being served by market-rate housing, or even those who can be plausibly subsidized in market-rate housing. That’s especially true for families, since an exceptionally small number of new housing units being built in this city are family-sized. That’s why it’s important that we make a commitment not just to overhaul the existing D.C. Housing Authority’s housing stock, most of which is in atrocious condition, but also increase the number of units in the overall public housing inventory.
Since the federal government has largely abandoned its traditional role in providing resources for public housing, we have to step up and do much of it on our own. That’s very difficult, but not impossible. I think that by providing a seed amount of local capital funding, we can leverage other sources and create more units via greater density on existing DCHA sites and opportunistically land-banking for future sites. We ought to embrace mixed-income models, and guarantee a meaningful right of return for existing tenants by following Build First principles.
Public housing has taken on a cultural stigma, but the fact of the matter is that it was created in the first place to address enormous urban housing shortages at various times in our country’s history. We are in such a crisis time now, and need to see investment in public housing as perhaps the only way we are going to meaningfully make a dent in housing affordability for those that are falling through the housing market at an accelerating rate.
Nonetheless, the vast majority of housing is and probably always will be privately provided, so much of our housing policy should be rooted in how we can constructively influence and balance market dynamics. Part of the solution is addressed in the preceding question, but beyond that I will say as a tenant in a rent-controlled building that I do believe very strongly in enhancing rent control protections so that long-term tenants can afford to say in their homes. We need to expand rent control on a rolling basis to buildings built after 1975, to arrest the decline in the number of units under rent control protection currently.
For homeowners, we have to provide relief so that the cost of property taxes is proportionate to people’s ability to pay. There are a lot of D.C. residents who purchased their homes decades ago for prices far less than what the homes would sell for today, and yet they or those in their family who inherited the properties are taxed as though they’re wealthy homeowners.
That’s why I support raising the maximum amount of the Schedule H property tax credit and increasing the income threshold beyond $55,000 to provide relief to those who spend more than a third of their income on housing costs (both homeowners and renters). This is a targeted way to provide property tax relief to those who need it most; it would also help prevent displacement and gentrification by reducing the financial pressure in many cases to sell.
There is a lot of room for improvement in our housing programs. Those struggling with housing insecurity should be given choice through the provision of housing vouchers.
This gives residents the power and freedom to decide where they want to live. The application and distribution process of vouchers must be streamlined so that recipients do not have to jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops to access financial assistance.
There also needs to be greater enforcement against source-of-income discrimination. This was an issue I worked on closely at the Office of the Attorney General. I understand that our laws are only as strong as their enforcement, so this will be an area I prioritize.
Finally, when residents are able to access safe housing, we must ensure that they also have wrap-around services to provide mental and physical health care, job assistance, and childcare. The Department of Behavioral Health should also receive additional funding so that there can be a greater focus on giving people the tools they need to continue to live independently. Housing insecurity is deeply tied to many other social issues. When people do not receive holistic care, they continue to fall through the cracks.
I think it is imperative that we take action to increase the housing supply–especially affordable housing–by building new units and transition towards “housing first” programs. A recent study by the Urban Institute recommends 374,000 new units of housing region-wide by 2030 to close the affordability gap and meet the market demands. So far, I’ve proposed the following solutions:
Allow individual homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their property. I have had experience and success advocating for ADUs in Ward 2. These ADUs, of course, have to pass inspection and be safe for tenants and would be subject to the rules/restrictions on short-term housing. But such changes could incentivize hundreds of homeowners to create affordable units.
Building more housing above retail spaces. There are several locations that could work. Just one example is the Safeway on Wisconsin Ave. It should have had housing built on it, and maybe it still can. Just a block away, another grocery store recently opened with housing above. Both are on a major transportation corridor. There are many other such opportunities in Ward 2. It is important that such developments have good access to existing transit or that more transportation options be made available to serve more people.
On D.C.-owned land in and near Ward 2, the District should consider building more affordable units.
As telecommuting, co-working, and gig-economy work rises, and traditional office space becomes underused, I would like to incentivize building affordable housing units in these spaces. Others have proposed using vacant office space in Ward 2 for affordable childcare. Both are important affordability priorities that can potentially both be served well and co-located in certain cases.
I would also support incrementally allowing more rowhouses and small apartment buildings near major transit corridors in Northwest D.C., while simultaneously beefing up transit options and availability and reliability, including dedicated bus lanes — something I’ve been pushing for almost a decade.
Addressing our homelessness crisis is my priority.
In my conversations with our residents experiencing homelessness, going to the shelters is a last resort. This may be for a number of reasons – do not feel safe, not clean (with bed bugs), cannot go with their partner if no children, and cannot go with their pets and service animals.
Housing first must be a priority. Residents experiencing homelessness should have timely access to stable housing, in addition to streamlined wraparound resources. This includes quality health care with mental and behavioral health services, substance abuse recovery resources, and job training and employment opportunities that offer appropriate working hours (for example, a single working mother will need to be able to afford and find child care if she does not have employment opportunities that offer working times during school hours). This is a long-term investment that requires continuous, coordinated case management. Each case is different, and case management support will be needed for different periods of time.
I consider myself one of the strongest advocates for a housing-first strategy, geared toward ensuring permanent, quality and safe housing for District residents. With my support on the D.C. Council, the District has made significant investments in affordable housing, but much of it is still in the pipeline. We have increased HPTF funds by $16 million for a total of $116 million in FY2020. Last year, Mayor Bowser put more of a focus on affordable housing than ever before and we are all supporting the efforts to expand not just a true expansion of housing options, but also permanent supportive housing.
I was happy to support efforts in the FY20 budget that made meaningful investments in Permanent Supportive Housing and Targeted Affordable Housing, street outreach and an expanded Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
I am a proponent of affordable housing production as well as preservation, and I have also been a vocal proponent of workforce housing so that our professional public servants (e.g., teachers, firefighters, law enforcement) and other workers can afford to live in the District. In January of 2019, I introduced Bill 23-59, the First Responder Income Tax Exclusion Amendment Act. This bill would provide a significant additional financial incentive to all our public safety first responders to voluntarily live in the District of Columbia. The legislation would offset the higher costs of living in the District by eliminating the requirement to pay local District of Columbia income taxes, for anyone employed by the District of Columbia as a member of the Fraternal Order of Police or IAFF Local 36. This legislation will ensure that more of our first responders will live in the communities they serve, and they will be living here to quickly help their neighbors in the event of a public safety emergency.
Acquisition assistance programs. There are potential gains to be realized by enhancing our existing home purchase assistance programs such as HPAP and EAHP.
Rights protection and enforcement. With the real estate crisis around 2008, we have the benefit of hindsight to see how some lending institutions used discriminatory and predatory lending tactics to either create barriers to homeownership or to lead to families having to forfeit homes they could not afford due to lopsided financing arrangements. Looking to how existing laws, regulations and enforcement could be enhanced will help ensure our real estate ecosystem is fair, reliable, and accessible.
Taxes. We can enhance tax-based incentives for homeownership, such as the first-time homebuyer tax credit, mortgage deductions, and recordation tax reduction/abatement.
Targeted Demographics. We have the opportunity to focus on homeownership assistance and new home production towards populations more prone to housing discrimination such as racial minorities, veterans, seniors, and LGBTQ+ community members.
Many residents who bought houses and stayed with the District during the city’s tough times are now retired and on fixed incomes. Repeatedly, I hear from senior residents who are most concerned about being able to afford housing in Ward 7 and are living on fixed incomes dealing with rising property taxes that make it difficult to afford other living expenses. I introduced the Senior Citizen Tax Cap Transfer Act of 2019 and the Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Relief Amendment Act of 2019 to provide tax relief to seniors. This crucial tax relief will allow Ward 7 seniors to continue to live independently in their own homes. It will ensure that those residents who endured the tough times the city faced aren’t forced to make tougher sacrifices on a fixed income and can remain in the District.
This response was condensed to fit.
First, I would strengthen rent control laws by voting to make voluntary agreements illegal. I would also support cap rent increases to match inflation. Ward 8 has no market-rate housing at this point but it will soon come. When it does, I will advocate for developers who stand to make a certain profit margin on a particular project to increase the share of affordable units within market-rate housing. I will also advocate for taking blighted and vacant housing to create more multi-family housing.
I will also work to increase the number of transitional housing units so families and individuals do not become homeless while waiting on permanent housing.
During my time on the council, I have advocated and rallied my colleagues around increasing housing for residents. I supported, co-sponsored and/or introduced the following legislation:
- Housing Production Trust Fund Affordability Levels of 2019 was passed in the FY20 budget to increase spending in the housing production trust fund for extremely low-income households who are at great risk for displacement. In Ward 8, the Median Family Income (MFI) is $ 31,954, which means that more than 50% of households have fixed income below what the rest of the city deems moderate-low income.
- East of the River High Risk Displacement Prevention Services and Fund Establishment Act of 2019 will establish a special fund to help ensure that long-term, low-income residents are able to maintain housing and remain in the community they call home as economic development grows up around them.
- Eviction with Dignity Act of 2018 amends the Rental Housing Act of 1985 and provides renters facing eviction with protections like prohibiting evictions during precipitation; establishes requirements that a housing provider shall meet before, during and immediately after a residential eviction; and requires landlords to store the property of tenants for 10 days upon an eviction.
- Housing Production Trust Fund Affordability Levels of 2019 was passed in the FY20 budget to increase spending in the housing production trust fund for extremely low-income households who are at great risk for displacement. In Ward 8, the Median Family Income (MFI) is $ 31,954, which means that more than 50% of households have fixed income below what the rest of the city deems moderate-low income.
I think that we must continue to work with advocates to create solutions that work and ensure funding for them. Beyond that, we must make sure that we are reaching the people who the legislation is intended to support. I am committed to working collaboratively to leverage our legislative power to help those who are most in need.
3) Chief Financial Officer Jeffery DeWitt projected a $722 million budget deficit due to the coronavirus response. How would you work to support people living in poverty in the FY2022 budget? What systemic challenges has the public health emergency highlighted and what are your short- and long-term ideas for solutions?
The District is facing a two-front crisis. At one front, a health crisis that has the potential to cripple the city’s health system with thousands of sick and hundreds dead. At the other front, a financial crisis that can set the city back decades.
The challenges facing the health system are immediate and enormous. The challenges threatening the District’s economic footing are equally immediate and enormous. Just as we want people to be healthy and safe, we also want people to have a job when this crisis is over where they can support themselves and their families. As a city, we will all face tough decisions over at least the next two to five years and the wellbeing of every person is at stake. To put this looming threat into perspective, we have to look at where the city collects funds, how it spends these funds, and when we replenish our reserves.
The Coronavirus crisis will create at least a $1 billion shortfall between now and the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. Of the taxes collected, the city will lose nearly $700 million in sales taxes this year alone. We will also lose another $300 million from property taxes and income taxes.
The District collected $8.2 billion in taxes last year. Of this, $2.9 billion was collected from income tax, $2.8 billion from property tax, and $1.7 billion from sales tax. Of the collected taxes, the city spends roughly 25% on human services ($2.2 billion), 25% on education ($2.3 billion), and 15% on public safety ($1.3 billion). Another 12% ($1.1 billion) is spent on debt service. All of this accounts for about 80% to the District’s budget.
City officials should start planning now. The FY2021 budget must be at least $1 billion less than our current budget, and that may be a best-case scenario. Any reductions in spending will be difficult, painful, and absolutely necessary to balance our budget.
District leaders need to go back to the drawing board on the FY 2021 budget and draft it like they are preparing for the worst to happen. They will need to start with the FY2020 as a baseline and reduce spending by approximately $1 billion.
Raising taxes to attempt to cover the $1 billion loss in this environment would be a real mistake and make life only more difficult for residents trying to make ends meet. We could be reeling from the effects of this pandemic for months instead of weeks and still not fully recover for years.
I recently joined with D.C. Council At-Large candidate Ed Lazere, Ward 4 candidate Janeese Lewis George, and Ward 7 candidate Anthony Lorenzo Green to call for prioritizing the basic needs of D.C. residents and small businesses and protecting our most vulnerable, including those living in poverty, in the next budget.
Our leaders have a choice: they can choose to impose an austerity budget that would hurt those already suffering the most under the coronavirus pandemic, or they can invest in working families and build a more equitable economy in the long run. They can choose to reject the fiction that D.C. can’t afford programs and services, that we cannot help our neighbors in need, or that the road to recovery runs through trickle down tax breaks for those with the most well-connected lobbyists. None of that is true. In fact, by ending ineffective corporate tax giveaways, utilizing a portion of the FY19 surplus and our rainy day reserves, and conducting vigorous oversight to pare back wasteful spending, we can close our budget shortfalls without making deep cuts to essential services and programs. I believe that what we truly can’t afford at this critical moment is to forgo investments in jobs, affordable housing, schools, child care, and more.
In the near term, we need to take further action to support: residents experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity; frontline health care personnel; restaurant, retail, and other workers who have lost their jobs; grocery and delivery workers who have always been the backbones of our communities and are essential personnel in this crisis; educators who are quickly becoming experts in distance learning and trying to address inequitable access to online tools among students; and families and small businesses who will struggle to make upcoming rent and mortgage payments.
We also must address the health, economic, and racial disparities that have existed since long before COVID-19 shined an even brighter light on them. I believe it is more important than ever to ensure every D.C. resident can afford a place to live; has access to paid family, medical, and sick leave and affordable health and child care; and benefits from real and proactive enforcement of wage and workplace protections. As Ward 2’s councilmember, those are the values and priorities that would guide my decisions when it comes to the District’s budget.
The District is at an inflection point. With Black and brown communities bearing the brunt of deaths and job loss from the coronavirus crisis, D.C.’s leaders must ensure the next budget reflects our D.C. values to lift up and protect those most in need. We must not hurt communities further through severe budget cuts to public services. Protecting D.C. residents is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the best path toward rebuilding our communities, making our economy stronger than ever, and addressing the inequities in housing, health care, education, and transportation that have only grown starker as a result of this crisis.
The crisis had laid bare how so many of the inadequacies in our system affect everyone, not just the low-income. Our system of health insurance and issues with paid leave mean people who are sick often feel obligated to come to work to provide for their families. The expenses of testing early on in the spread and the cost of treatment further exemplify how much is wrong with our healthcare system.
Addressing systemic inequality is too complicated to cover in detail here. However, as a part of addressing our housing crisis, we need to increase supports and availability of affordable housing to tackle housing insecurity. We need better job training and placement programs and partnerships. We also need to ensure our education system is adapting to changing workplaces and helps places students in the best place to succeed, providing greater vocational and trades opportunities.
You have to take the revenue that you have on-hand and work from there to prioritize services. Targeted revenue enhancements should be on the table, but can’t and won’t make up the full deficit – particularly since we are looking at a budget deficit over possibly several years. That being the case, we need to first prioritize spending in areas responsive to the ongoing public health emergency: the creation of a healthcare network east of the Anacostia River, the establishment of a strong testing & tracing program, etc.
We also need to prioritize our existing social safety net to the greatest extent possible, because the vulnerable are always the most at-risk whenever the economy experiences a downturn – and we haven’t experienced a downturn of anything like this in our history.
The other thing that we have to do is supplement the federal COVID-19 response, particularly in support of those who are either left out of federal relief altogether or those for whom federal programs are poorly designed to provide relief. We have to create the conditions necessary for small business recovery in the city, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Otherwise, we are looking at an enormous and possibly permanent loss in a large percentage of our tax revenue and tens of thousands of jobs that disproportionately are held by people of lower-income levels. If we let our businesses fail and tax revenues that support our safety net sag, those who can least afford it will be the ones who pay the price.
What I think the pandemic has clearly exposed is larger societal disparities that require significant resources and attention. A large number of poor residents and a disproportionate share of the District’s African-American population, for instance, have been both exposed to the virus. Three-quarters of the people who have died of COVID-19 in the District have been African-American, despite the fact that African-Americans make up less than half of the population.
That does not occur by accident. People of color and those with lower-paying jobs are significantly more likely to perhaps be “essential workers” and therefore more exposed to both the general public and transmission of the virus. Much of this can be traced to the original sin of racism in this country and the disparities that have been built upon and compounded over centuries. Therefore, investments in unraveling those disparities need to be centered as part of our government’s response. That’s why moving forward with the healthcare system I mentioned at the top is so important, as are other programs like Birth-to-Three and long-term investments in education that will help close our achievement gap and make upward mobility a possibility for more of our residents.
Systemic inequalities were already apparent in our city before the COVID-19 crisis. Now, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed and small businesses have shuttered. People of color and low-income families have felt the financial and health effects of this crisis most intensely. Our COVID-19 relief plan must have short and long-term actions to ensure we recover from this crisis and are more resilient in the future. I encourage you to read my entire COVID-19 plan that includes relief and resiliency details. I understand that supporting the most vulnerable members of our community and caring for the long-term financial health of our city do not have to be mutually exclusive. Budget cuts will inevitably have to be made, but instead of instituting uniform cuts across the board, we need to be more strategic. This means that essential services for struggling residents should be fully funded, and in some cases, additional funding should be applied. For other programs that are nice-to-haves and not needed to get our city back on track, funding will have to be delayed until we are on more solid footing. It is crucial that we deal with this crisis responsibly now so it does not turn into a 15 or 20-year problem. With that being said, I will prioritize investments in our vulnerable populations who have been disproportionately affected by this crisis. My COVID-19 plan puts people first.
My COVID-19 Relief and Resiliency plan includes providing hotel vouchers and wrap-around services for the homeless, increasing health care access, and supporting struggling small businesses. Poverty and inequality do not exist in silos. My plan recognizes that all of our agencies will need to work together to ensure no one is left behind.
I and my colleagues in D.C. have been talking about health disparities for over a decade.
I have over 15 years of public health experience and six years working for D.C. making President Obama’s health care law a success. I have helped D.C. Health Link implement Obamacare from the start and helped cut the uninsured rate in D.C. to the 2nd lowest in the nation (3.8%).
I am very proud to be endorsed by Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s U.S. Surgeon General, and a national public health leader. Dr. Murthy lives in Ward 2. “As a long-time Ward 2 resident, I am proud to endorse Kishan Putta to be our next councilmember. Kishan is a progressive leader who fights for the rights of the vulnerable in our city and gets things done. He doesn’t just talk about change — he makes it happen… Kishan and I share a passion for improving public health. As a community and small business liaison for D.C. Health Link, he helped thousands of residents and small businesses. Kishan cares so much about keeping D.C. healthy. He has the experience to help D.C. get through this health and economic crisis.”
NOTE: a new COVID-19 testing site just opened in my ANC district and I am working to ensure all data gets reported accurately. My campaign has also convened a Coronavirus Advisory Team of top medical and public health leaders in D.C. and Ward 2.
We need more testing and contact tracing ASAP and then once cases decline, we can reopen slowly and carefully.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to build a resilient infrastructure, with proactive policies and efficient processes. Our residents experiencing homelessness need timely access to stable housing in addition to streamlined wraparound services, our small business community needs timely financial relief without the burden of multiple application processes (even if the application is by itself not burdensome, small business owners are under incredible stress and may be working full-time while providing child care for their children), and all of our working residents should be paid a living wage and have access to paid sick leave. Every day, more unemployment claims are submitted, and we need an electronic system that can quickly process the claims so that residents can pay their rent and bills.
The reality is that there will be a long-term economic impact from COVID-19. With every passing day and month, it is becoming harder for residents and small business owners to pay their bills. D.C.has passed emergency legislation to support residents in paying their rent and mortgage, and now all rent is frozen and mortgage companies are required to offer payment deferrals up to 90 days. During this time, I believe we need to temporarily freeze rent and mortgage payments, especially for our most vulnerable residents, in conjunction with a relief fund for landlords, and assess and revise the real property tax for small businesses so that they can have financial relief.
D.C. was short changed $750 M in federal COVID-19 relief funding because it is not a state. This would have helped fund more test kits, hospital supplies, and relief for small businesses. We must continue to fight for D.C. Statehood, and we must provide fast relief so that we can work toward recovery.
I have helped drive the D.C. Council’s emergency relief COVID-19 efforts that have included measures to:
- Halt rent increases during the ongoing public health emergency and 30 days after it ends
- Require landlords to agree to rent repayment plans for eligible tenants facing financial hardship during the pandemic
- Require any property owner who gets a payment deferral to pass the savings to tenants
- Halt evictions and power shut-offs under earlier relief legislation
The long-term economic impact is still unknown but is expected to take several years for a full recovery. It will be more important than ever to make sure our social safety net is fully in place and funded to support our most vulnerable populations. Working families have been hit hardest because of so many businesses being shuttered. I am committed to making sure we get businesses reopened, people back to work, and the most hard hit populations do not fall through the cracks.
The public health emergency and the underlying coronavirus infections have laid bare the systemic and structural food access, health, health care system, and education opportunity disparities that have long existed in the District. The pandemic has also exposed how vulnerable our residents in congregate settings are, including those in shelters. Since before the pandemic, I have been very active trying to address these disparities, through increasing funding for education, funding affordable housing, and homeless services, proposing legislation to bring full-service grocery stores and healthy food to the East End of the District, and trying to bring a new hospital and a comprehensive health care system to the East End. Since the pandemic began, I have been advocating for testing for those who are in congregate settings and I have been engaged in formal discussions about reopening the District in ways that are equitable and inclusive as well as regularly solicited and received the feedback from the Ward 7 community. I will continue to advocate for the same in the upcoming budget process. Due to revenue losses, the District faces a situation, unlike anything we have faced in recent budget history wherein important priorities, such as providing support for people living in poverty, will likely have to compete with other worthwhile priorities. I will support funding of efforts to address disparities and vulnerabilities; I am also cognizant of how difficult it may be to fund those efforts at the desired and deserved levels.
COVID-19 has directed a spotlight on the economic and health disparities already facing Black D.C. residents. Wards 7 and 8 have the least grocery stores than any other Ward and neither has a full-service hospital although both wards have the highest cases of nutrition-related illnesses and diseases. Residents of Wards 7 and 8 also face social determinants of health that exacerbate our issues: lack of health food options; lack of access to green space, and economic instability to name a few.
The first thing we need to do is to create an emergency task force to support people in poverty. The primary focus areas will include:
- Housing: Increasing the number of temporary housing options, long-term housing options, affordable housing, and assisted living options for D.C. residents. We also must get people in housing as soon as possible. There have been major delays with people with housing vouchers and other programs. We must work to quickly reduce the wait time of programs.
- Food Security/Nutrition: For the short term, we must work in partnership with government and non-profit programs to make sure individuals, families, and children have access to quality nutritious food throughout the ward. Long-term goals include bringing more quality grocery stores to Ward 8 so that there is competition, which will drive costs down.
- Healthcare: D.C. healthcare for residents that need public assistance is better than many other states, but we need to continue to improve. In the short term, we must market D.C. Medicaid to families that are not insured or are losing insurance due to job loss. As a long-term goal, I would advocate for a full-service hospital to serve Wards 7 & 8.
The secondary areas for the task force will include:
- Job Security: Workforce development is key in the fight to break generational poverty. We must increase workforce development programs for returning citizens, single parents, and D.C. residents who lack opportunities.
- Transportation: Transportation is big issue in Ward 8. Councilmember Allen’s recent legislation of subsidizing SmartTrip cards is a great start and I would support his legislation if I were elected Ward 8 Councilmember.
- Childcare: D.C. ranks number one in the most expensive childcare cost. For infant childcare it costs $24,243 a year. We need to create more programs that support families in poverty, homeless families, and individuals facing financial uncertainty with professional childcare options at little to no cost.
People with mental health disabilities are vastly overrepresented in the population of people who experience homelessness. Nationally 1 in 5 homeless residents have a mental illness. The proportion of people experiencing chronic homelessness with mental health disabilities is high. More than ever during Covid19 we are seeing the deadly risks faced by people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cancers, and other obesity- and smoking-related diseases. These illnesses are worsened for homeless people by years of malnutrition, living out in the harsh elements, and limited access to preventive health care. Therefore, one way to decrease and address homelessness in a sustainable way is through advocating for equitable mental health services funding. We need to invest additional funding in the budget for mental health services. $6 million is not enough funding for mental health services. Throughout my term in council, I have been advocating for increased access to affordable mental and physical health care services throughout the district but especially in low-income neighborhoods.
We also need improved mental health resources coordination. One legislative solution that I’m studying is to establish a program designed to coordinate mental and behavioral health services for individuals in priority neighborhoods, especially those who are a part of the violence intervention programs. Throughout my term in council we had some success, we approved, $26 million in grants for domestic violence housing, sexual assault survivors’ services, healthy relationship education, and hospital-based violence prevention programming. We allocated $1.6 million for three new Place-Based Trauma-Informed Care Services Centers in neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime and trauma – these sites will link to existing violence prevention programming and provide trauma support.
4) Eighty percent of people experiencing homelessness in our region are people of color. The D.C. Commission on African American Affairs found that the median annual income in D.C. for white families is $120,000 while it is $41,000 for African American families. How would you push the city to apply an equity lens to all policy decisions, especially to strengthen education, wages, and housing?
All my life, I have pushed legislation aimed at combating discrimination and fighting for social justice.
That is why I voted for the “Immigration Detainer Compliance Act”, which ensures the protection of our residents from the Federal government’s Secure Communities program which mandates fingerprints and detainment regulations that unfairly target immigrants.
Accountability is essential. I will tackle these issues head-on by implementing strict and strenuous oversight and demand transparency of each D.C. government department and agency. It is imperative to have a government that is more effective and efficient.
I will work with all appropriate city agencies to ensure our schools are performing at their peak. I believe that our public schools represent our city’s commitment to helping all children dream their dreams and achieve them. A high-quality public education for all children is an economic necessity, an anchor of democracy, a moral imperative, and fundamental civil rights, without which none of our rights can be realized fully. As part of this commitment to our public schools, the government should uphold, enact, and fund policies that fulfill our collective obligations to help all children succeed.
I will ensure that all relevant D.C. government departments and agencies, such as the Department of Employment Services are using best practices to deliver resources efficiently and effectively. That includes ensuring the citizens and workforce of the District of Columbia receive and are informed immediately of all existing and approved legislation affecting their employee rights and benefits, job training, and If needed, their unemployment insurance benefits. Working families are residents of our city and members of our workforce.
Throughout my tenure on the Council, I have been proud to receive the endorsements of various labor unions and employee organizations. I have worked very closely with those groups to achieve the goals of working people: negotiated contracts with their employers to determine the terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health and safety policies, ways to balance work and family, and more.
While I have fixed many inequities within our tax system, I know there are many more challenges still needing to be addressed. That said, I also know our tax structure was recently recognized as one of the nation’s most progressive, so I take that as confirmation we are moving in the right direction but have more to be done.
As stated earlier, I have a long record of championing many tenant issues and have been endorsed numerous times by D.C. tenant organizations.
I strongly support the Racial Equity Achieves Results (REAR) Amendment Act, which would require the District to examine racial equity considerations in all budgeting decisions and performance metrics. As the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute has noted, “decades of systemic racism … are still evident today in our affordable housing challenges, income disparities, distressing educational differences, and health outcomes.” The Racial Equity Impact Assessments (REIAs) required by the REAR Act could be particularly helpful in addressing structural racial inequities that result from laws or policies that appear neutral on their face but actually disparately disadvantage people of color – especially at a time when the Supreme Court and the Trump Administration are seeking to undermine or destroy such race-conscious policy approaches at the federal level.
In particular, REIAs could be a key tool for providing support for pressing the Department of Housing and Community Development to prioritize compliance with the Fair Housing Act and the principles of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule—an Obama-era effort to address residential segregation and the inequitable distribution of housing that the Trump Administration has repeatedly attempted to undermine. REIAs could also provide support for setting specific and enforceable targets for each ward for affordable housing efforts, including requiring minimum ward-based thresholds for Housing Production Trust Fund dollars, to address the clearly inequitable distribution of affordable housing across the District. Moreover, REIAs could help us ensure that we produce urgently needed housing in D.C. in a way that prevents displacement of long-time residents, especially at a time when our city is experiencing “the greatest ‘intensity of gentrification’ of any in the country.”
REIAs should be used in a wide variety of areas beyond housing as well. For instance, D.C. implemented a rule in 2011 requiring participants in the Healthcare Alliance program, which primarily serves immigrants who cannot otherwise obtain health care coverage, “to visit a D.C. social service center every six months to maintain their eligibility, rather than an annual recertification process that most D.C. benefit programs have.” When I oversaw a division of the District’s Medicaid agency, I saw firsthand how this rule harms many Latinx residents in particular, as Alliance participants often must miss work and wait for hours on end to meet with a caseworker to avoid losing their health insurance. REIAs could provide further support for efforts to fund “legislation to eliminate this unequal treatment in the Alliance” program.
REIAs should also be considered in education decisions, including examining why “Black students in D.C. charters and traditional public schools are 11.7 times more likely than white students to be disciplined” and whether to reform the current enrollment-based formula that can result in inequitable school budgets. Additionally, “transportation policies have far-reaching impacts and yet historically have severely disadvantaged some groups of people in our city and region over others.” REIAs could help D.C. government identify and avoid transportation proposals that would “disproportionately hamper D.C.’s poorest and Blackest communities,” such as reductions in bus and rail service east of the Anacostia River or less frequent or reliable bus or rail service where it’s needed most.
I will be a strong advocate for these policies. While I’m doing well now, I was raised by a single mom with three kids with a dad who most of the time didn’t pay child support. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood and attended a primarily low-income school. I’m deeply familiar with the impact of these decisions and know what happens when we don’t invest in communities. That perspective will always be at the forefront for me on the council.
I think that legislation that Councilmember McDuffie introduced, the “Racial Equity Achieves Results Act,” is one important way to start because that will at least force a racial equity analysis to be provided as part of pending pieces of legislation and official actions.
The concept of “disparate impact” is not well understood; policies that have seemingly neutral or benign intent can, in practice, have significant and disproportionate negative impacts on racial minorities or other disadvantaged groups. Of course, the vast majority of people in this country (and certainly this city) are against policies that have explicit, racially discriminatory intent…but what we often need to be challenged on are the policies that have just as great a discriminatory impact, regardless of intent.
When I worked at the WMATA, I researched and conducted a survey of how transit agencies across the United States interpreted and compiled with Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act…in particular, how they designed public participation processes and analyzed proposed actions based on a test of whether they had a disparate impact or not. I think applying that same degree of analytical rigor across our government would be welcome.
It won’t be a panacea, but forcing the conversation and having people even just think about issues differently, with a more holistic perspective, can have a profound impact on where their sensitivities lie.
Yes, absolutely. I am proud to include this reform in my COVID-19 Relief and Recovery plan. You can read my full plan at brookepintoforward2.com/vision. Racial inequalities are tied to every issue in our city. If we are serious about addressing gentrification and racial inequity, the Council must be intentional when considering every piece of legislation. Laws with intended and unintended racial consequences have been passed in our city. The requirement of an equity and racial analysis for new legislation is a common sense and impactful reform.
I have a strong record of standing up and fighting for the rights of marginalized communities – racial, LGBTQ+, ethnic, religious, and others. For example, as part of the D.C. Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Affairs, I helped lead the charge for better cultural competency training and hate crimes awareness in the MPD and the city government. To that end, I support legislation that helps protect minorities from any further systemic discrimination, including the REAR Act.
Much like Environmental Impact Statements—tools that have been used to evaluate the environmental impact of proposed policies, and implemented pursuant to the passage of the National Environmental Protection Act in 1970— Racial Equity Impact Assessments (REIAs) are valuable tools that help examine how a proposed action may affect marginalized communities. REIAs can greatly aid the thinking and decisions of policymakers in understanding whether an action would further exacerbate or assuage the effects of institutional racism.
But to best implement REIAs, our city must learn from others who have already been successful in doing so. Seattle, for example, serves as a national model for using racial equity tools to interrupt entrenched systems of racial supremacy. As noted by the Racial Equity Alliance, in 2009, Seattle’s City Council passed a resolution directing all departments to use a “Racial Equity Toolkit,” a resolution further reaffirmed in 2014 by the city’s mayor. The toolkit requires participants to take six steps: set outcomes; involve stakeholders; determine benefits and burdens; develop strategies that advance opportunity or minimize harm; evaluate impacts on communities of color and continue to communicate with stakeholders; report back information learned to the relevant leadership authority. And in Seattle, implementing REIAs have led to concrete benefits: since their implementation, the city has tripled the share of its contracting dollars going towards women- and minority-owned businesses, and has mandated interpretation and translation services to help non-English-speaking residents meaningfully participate in civic life. D.C. must learn from cities like Seattle and become another national leader in actively using racial equity metrics like REIAs to carefully measure and think about the effect new policy measures can have on marginalized populations.
In D.C., REIAs can be used just as they were in Seattle, and even more expansively: to better think about how government contracting funds are apportioned; to think about where affordable housing is best suited to reach those who need it; and to understand how transportation can be expanded to make the city accessible to everyone. REIAs can also be used to help evaluate whether the city is adequately providing language access services to those who need them. In my six years at D.C. Health Link, we prioritized language access by making sure our call centers had interpreters available and made sure our important website marketplace was translated in several languages. Other agencies need to do that too, and REIAs are a great tool that would help them better understand how to do so.
The zip code one is born in should not be the primary factor in determining one’s ability to live a healthy life, and ability to succeed. I strongly believe everyone should have – and I will fight for — equitable access to opportunities.
This means prioritizing a holistic approach in all neighborhoods, and making sure all residents have access to affordable housing, and access to efficient public transportation, quality schools, affordable child care services, affordable grocery stores, hospitals and health care clinics, and diverse employment opportunities that pay a living wage within a reasonable distance of their homes. If we do not have this, we will not stop this cycle of closed opportunities to our most vulnerable communities, and we will continue to see disparities across the board.
Last year, I co-introduced the Racial Equity Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2019 and my committee held a hearing on the bill. Public testimony highlighted the need for dedicated efforts to ensure policy decisions are evaluated through an equity lens to create fair access to opportunity. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee was finalizing the bill and was prepared to move the bill out of Committee in March to be voted on by the full Council. I’m committed to pick this bill back up once the Council is working at full capacity again and will move the legislation forward.
The public health emergency and the underlying coronavirus infections have laid bare the systemic and structural food access, health, health care system and education opportunity disparities that have long existed in the District. The pandemic has also exposed how vulnerable our residents in congregate settings are, including those in shelters. Since before the pandemic, I have been very active trying to address these disparities, through increasing funding for education, funding affordable housing and homeless services, proposing legislation to bring full service grocery stores and healthy food to the East End of the District, and trying to bring a new hospital and a comprehensive health care system to the East End. Since the pandemic began, I have been advocating for testing for those who are in congregate settings and I have been engaged in formal discussions about reopening the District in ways that are equitable and inclusive as well as regularly solicited and received the feedback from the Ward 7 community. I will continue to advocate for the same in the upcoming budget process. Due to revenue losses, District faces a situation unlike anything we have faced in recent budget history wherein important priorities, such as providing support for people living in poverty, will likely have to compete with other worthwhile priorities. I will support funding of efforts to address disparities and vulnerabilities; I am also cognizant of how difficult it may be to fund those efforts at the desired and deserved levels.
The D.C. Council needs to use a racial equity metric when creating legislation and making budget decisions related to schools, jobs and housing so that it can examine the impact that certain legislation and budget decisions will have on Black residents and all residents of color.
Education: I believe that every child should have the same access to a high-quality education regardless as to where they live, the color of their skin, who their parents are, or how much money their parents make. I will advocate for equitable funding for education and infrastructure; for creating safe, nurturing and supportive school environments which ensure that our children have meals available in and out of school so they are not hungry; and fully supporting our educators with pay and trauma-informed tools they need in the classroom for success and creating a thriving learning environment.
Wages: Ward 8 needs workforce development programs that combine mental health/cognitive behavioral therapy with job training so that our residents can hold down the jobs once they get them. This will create sustainable streams of income that will allow them to break free from the enslavement of poverty.
Housing: Housing and especially affordable housing in D.C. is one of my top priorities. Ward 8 is the last frontier for economic development in the city and our residents are concerned about being displaced as the development evolves. It is equally problematic that we don’t have enough workforce housing so that our residents can focus on career development without the fear of being homeless. That said, D.C. government should increase the goal of 12,000 to 18,000 affordable housing units out of the 36,000 new units. In addition, I support:
- 18,000 new affordable housing units by 2022.
- Using vacant schools to create more workforce housing for our returning citizens.
- Developing a task force to develop solutions for economic displacement.
- Creating housing for target groups including seniors, artists, teachers and social workers who are serving our residents.
- Strengthening the Rental Housing Act by making voluntary agreements illegal.
Before becoming a Councilmember, I was a community organizer and advocate. I have bought those skills to my work as a legislator and I pride myself on being honest with my colleagues about the lack of equity in our city as it relates to racial equity and specifically as it impacts our ward. I believe that we need a two-pronged approach to ensuring an equity lens on policy decisions – both community mobilization around these issues and I must also rally my colleagues on the council as well.
5) An average of 50 homeless D.C. residents have died without a home each year since 2014, with at least 117 dying last year. Many have been identified as receiving a housing voucher but dying before they could use it. What specific steps would you take to house the most vulnerable people sooner, prevent people from ending up on the street in the first place, and deliver quality health care to people experiencing homelessness?
There is also much to be said about homelessness prevention. Emergency Assistance is part of that equation, as well as intervening as we can in preventing home foreclosures. As cited earlier, in addition to enhancing existing programs, I have proposed legislation ensuring permanent supportive housing through Housing First.
The “DC Homelessness Services Reform Act,” implements policies to help families in need of housing. I believe in its goal of preventing families from becoming homeless, moving families out of shelters and into housing as quickly as possible.
I’ve worked with stakeholders such as Washington Interfaith Network, DCAYA, The Way Home, and Good Faith Communities Coalition, to develop a fully funded platform to end chronic homelessness. I worked to establish the Interagency Council on homelessness to coordinate with organizations to identify, track, and offer solutions to end homelessness among populations hit hardest, including veterans.
I also passed the “Returning Veteran’s Tax Credit,” which encourages businesses to hire veterans and championed funding to local organizations housing homeless veterans through the “Southeast Veteran’s Access Housing.”
Although it is estimated roughly 10% of the population identifies as LGBTQIA, identifying members account for 30% of youth receiving homeless services. That is why I co-sponsored the “LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Act,” to develop policies to reduce the rate of homelessness within this community.
I believe we must do much more for the many Ward 2 residents experiencing homelessness – including treating them as our neighbors, not as a nuisance. Our current COVID-19 public health crisis makes it clearer than ever how vital it is for every single resident has a safe place to live. I support a robust “housing first” approach with wraparound services and strengthening and expanding outreach teams and day services centers in order to house the most vulnerable people as soon as possible. Moreover, as the Way Home Campaign has pointed out, it “costs less money for the District to end chronic homelessness than it does to manage it.” We ought to fund the Campaign’s proposals to end chronic homelessness once and for all.
Ultimately, the best solution to homelessness is affordable housing – and preventing residents from experiencing homelessness in the first place. I support the Fair Budget Coalition’s recommendations to increase funding for Project Reconnect and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, programs that help residents near or newly experiencing homelessness with family reunification or financial assistance for rent or security deposit costs. Additionally, the District has some of the strongest housing protections in the country on the books, but they are not a reality for many tenants in their day-to-day lives. For example, despite the fact that D.C. law prohibits discrimination against tenants who rely on housing vouchers, enforcement has been so sporadic that some landlords literally advertise in writing that they do just that. The recent tragic deaths of two D.C. residents, including a child, in a fire also make the urgency of stronger oversight and accountability regarding tenant protections heartbreakingly clear. According to a Washington Post investigation “of the city’s handling of the code violations at the property … virtually every relevant regulatory mechanism of the city government appears to have failed” these two victims, who lived in “life-threatening housing conditions.” This is absolutely unacceptable and, if elected, proactive and persistent oversight of these kinds of housing programs, laws, and protections will be one of my top priorities. Additionally, if voucher programs and similar laws are not being carried out as intended, I believe the Council should ask the D.C. Auditor or other reviewing bodies should provide specific recommendations to the Council for how to make sure they do. Passing these kinds of laws and protections is just the beginning: we must make sure they are actually helping people access and stay in safe and affordable housing.
For some of these residents, we not only need to provide a voucher, but we need to aid in securing a residence. Also, if we’re able to produce more housing in D.C., it will be easier to provide permanent supportive as well as transitional housing to help people get back on their feet and get any needed treatment.
We need more housing providers who are willing to accept vouchers, and who are willing to be constructive actors in terms of setting people up in environments where they can create a stable life and succeed. Many of the negative stories that have come out in the last year or two, in particular (e.g., Sedgwick Gardens) have come about because there are so few providers willing to rent to voucher recipients. To a degree, we need to do a better job of enforcing existing laws (particularly when providers are saying, explicitly and illegally, that they won’t accept voucher recipients). The practical reality is that some of this is difficult to enforce, and so I think the much quicker and more effective way to house people more quickly is for political and government leaders to work affirmatively and proactively to try and build relationships with those who can be part of the solution.
I think another thing that we have to do is vastly improve our shelter system. The mayor made a very commendable commitment and investment in closing the D.C. General shelter, and the Council’s action on her plan resulted in the establishment of eight new family shelters throughout the city. That has led to a steep (about 40%) reduction in family homelessness. We need to make a similar commitment to reducing homelessness among single and childless adults.
The most urgent need in that category is improving shelters. Talking to people experiencing homelessness on the streets, most are there because they perceive the District’s shelter system to be unsafe, inhospitable, or otherwise not suited to their needs. Many have barriers and rules that are difficult for someone trying to get their life back together to meet, most are quite large, and a number of shelters aren’t co-ed or pet-friendly.
By investing in our shelter system to create smaller facilities, ones that affirm individuals’ privacy and dignity, and more that don’t kick people out during the daytime…I think that we will find that many currently living on the streets will avail themselves of a better option. We also ought to triage resources especially to those with substance abuse or mental health challenges who might not be a good fit, either for themselves or others, in large, congregate shelter settings.
Finally, as health care is concerned, the District needs to build out a more robust network of community clinics and support health care providers who specialize in preventative care and treating the less fortunate. The District has attempted to “exit the hospital business” for the last 20 years since D.C. General closed, unsuccessfully.
The current plan to create a new medical center at St. Elizabeths and a network of community clinics in Wards 7 and 8 might finally give us a plausible way to do that, but we have to understand that the public does have an ongoing role to play in subsidizing healthcare through the Alliance, Medicaid, and just as much by investing in nutritional programs, treatment services, and other forms of care that serve the less fortunate.
D.C. has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in the country. This is shameful not only because it is morally wrong, but also because it is a public health crisis. I previously served as a fellow with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and saw that many of our city’s housing programs allowed people to slip through the cracks and did not provide people with crucial wrap around services. I am a strong supporter of Housing First policies and will work to ensure we provide those suffering from housing insecurity with physical and mental healthcare, job services, and childcare. In addition, our government housing programs and nonprofits do not always communicate effectively. This has caused the system to become difficult for residents to navigate and access services. When there is better communication, we can identify where there are duplicated efforts and how we can more effectively address housing challenges.
I support fully funding the plan to end homelessness and filling the funding gap from the previous four fiscal years. The Council and the Mayor need to increase investments in the Permanent Supportive Housing and Targeted Affordable Housing programs. Funding for the Mayor’s plan needs to come from a variety of sources in order for it to be a sustainable investment. First, I support funding programs to end homelessness with at least a $40 million investment in the city budget. To do this, I support using government revenue sources such as those from taxes on online purchases to help fund the plan. Finally, I would also explore how we can work with partners outside of the government to encourage private investment to end homelessness. However, we will only eliminate homelessness in D.C. if increased funding is paired with effective policy solutions.
We first need to increase the supply of affordable and supportive housing. I believe that Mayor Bowser’s Homeward D.C. program is a step in the right direction. However, there are still about 7,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in D.C.. I believe we need to continue moving forward with this plan in full force. At the same time, I would like organizations to follow the Housing First approach and have proudly supported organizations like Pathways to Housing. Our homeless neighbors need housing first AND supportive services so they have the support to slowly, steadily move forward — with steady support along the way. Getting people housed is only half the battle; staying in stable, long-term housing and gaining confidence to take control of one’s life is the other half.
Lastly, working together with other councilmembers is critical to long-term success. Homeslessness is not limited to Ward 2; it is pervasive across all wards of D.C. I will work with other council members across all eight wards to combat homelessness and make sure needs are being met in shelter and transitional housing settings. This also means working across public and private sector partners to ensure that individuals are getting mental and physical health support. Importantly, change won’t happen without proper outreach. Creating these services and channeling funding into transitional homes is important, but we also need to make sure these services are accessible to people who are homeless. Making sure our communication is targeted and coordinated will be critical to combating homelessness.
We need to take a housing-first policy, in addition to providing streamlined wraparound services. This includes quality health care with mental and behavioral health services, substance abuse recovery resources, and job training, and employment opportunities that offer appropriate working hours.
I would assess the current housing voucher-request process and review the identification and paperwork that is required. It’s already difficult enough for our residents experiencing homelessness to be able to access resources – they may not have their ID and other paperwork because their encampment was swept. A case manager should be available to coordinate continuous support. If and when a case manager leaves, their responsibilities – especially those currently in motion – should be comprehensively relayed to the new case manager. Additionally, we need to provide the appropriate resources to our case managers so that they have what is needed to support our residents experiencing homelessness.
Case management should also include making sure residents experiencing homelessness have efficient access to quality health care and a primary care provider and their care team, who can be the central point-of-contact in working with the case manager to coordinate specific specialty care and mental and behavioral health services. Ultimately, our residents experiencing homelessness should know who they can easily turn to and reach when they need support.
The tragedy of these deaths of our homeless neighbors is something that cannot be overlooked and is unacceptable. Chronic homelessness is a complex issue that the District has been dealing with for decades. Our efforts to offer supportive housing for this population is critical, which is why I’ve supported our Homeward D.C. policy platform. Housing alone is not the solution, but a huge part of the puzzle. Addressing mental health issues, especially for our veteran community is so important.
The District has decreased the number of homeless veterans by 27% in the last five years and I look forward to continuing taking steps to continue that trend.
I was honored to cut the ribbon at The Beacon Center, a mixed-use development in Ward Four’s Brightwood community that includes 99 affordable housing units for nearly 300 people, including veterans, seniors, and those transitioning from homelessness. In addition to housing, the project includes a broad array of health, employment, and other support services to support the District’s low- to moderate-income residents.
The project’s aim was not to serve as a “one-off” project, but rather as a model for how wrap-around affordable housing/health care/employment opportunity and related services ought to be provided across our Ward and District-wide.
As indicated earlier, the attempt to find long term solutions to the District’s affordable housing concerns is no easy task, however, there are some tools available to the District and its residents to help increase the supply of affordable housing through current legislation and policies. For instance, the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act can be an important tool for preserving affordable housing in the District. According to the Department of Housing and Community Development, since 2016 D.C. tenants have exercised their rights as part of two dozen deals to preserve affordable housing. In addition, investing in Opportunity Zones can provide preferential tax treatment to those that invest in geographic areas that have been identified as low-income census tracts.
The District should also increase funding for the emergency rental assistance program (ERAP) to help families avoid homelessness. By providing temporary assistance in times of need, the program is a lifeline to many vulnerable families and residents. Every year this program spends its entire budget, and it could benefit from additional funds. ERAP enables the District to provide short-term assistance to keep a person or family from falling into homelessness. With all too many families living paycheck-to-paycheck, even a two-week gap in employment can put a family at risk of not being able to pay the monthly rent. ERAP fills those small gaps that could otherwise force a self-sufficient family or individual into the District’s shelter system. Given the losses people will endure due to Coronavirus, many could face even greater challenges, particularly with increased joblessness.
As a civil rights attorney, this is a major issue for me and I have clients that have experienced issues related to homelessness after losing a job or returning home from prison. I am currently assisting a family who recently lost their loved one in a homeless shelter. Sadly, when they made contact with certain members of the Council, no progress was made. We must do better and as the Ward 8 Councilmember, I will make sure we do better. My priority is to decrease the deaths of the homeless population by doing the following:
- Make sure homeless shelters are safer and all deaths of residents are properly investigated.
- Advocate for D.C. communities to be more inclusive to transitional housing facilities being placed in their neighborhoods so that resources are fairly allocated throughout the city.
- Utilize vacant housing, dorms, and hotels to create temporary housing for homeless individuals/families, while they wait to use their housing voucher.
- Work with government agencies and community-based non-profits to better market their services that can prevent options before individuals/families become homeless and support families out of homelessness.
- Create more workforce housing.
A critical part of my job is to ensure oversight over our agencies. To specifically address this issue, I would look at the systems that our agencies have in place – their timelines, criteria, assessments, etc. to figure out where the gaps are and close them. The economic challenges that COVID19 has posed will exacerbate the existing housing and healthcare problems that we have. It’s my job to think of creative solutions, work with advocates, and hold agencies accountable for ensuring the successful execution of programs.
Registering to vote
To vote in a D.C. primary election, you must be registered as a member of either the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, or D.C. Statehood Green Party. The last day to register online was May 12. This was also the last day to change parties. However, same-day registration will be available at the 20 in-person voting centers that will be open from May 22 – June 2 (click for map), excluding the Memorial Day holiday.
Please request your mail-in ballots. Lines will be long. There will only be 10 voters allowed in the Vote Center at one time. We will be social distancing outside as well. Save yourself the time! The deadline is May 26th.
— DC Board of Elections (@Vote4DC) May 15, 2020
Requesting a ballot
There are five ways to request a mail-in ballot:
- The simplest is to use the Vote4DC app (iPhone | Android).Otherwise, you may download this digital form. (The requirement for a signature has been waived.) A print copy of that form was included in the DCBOE voter guide that was distributed earlier this month or one can be requested.
- Email [email protected]
- Call 202-741-5283
- Fax 202-347-2648
- Mailing address: DC Board of Elections, 1015 Half Street SE, Suite 750, Washington, DC 20003.
Once requested, you may track your mail-in ballot here. All requests for a mail-in ballot must be received by DCBOE no later than May 26. For all other questions, visit vote4dc.com, call (202) 727-2525, or email [email protected].
*Trayon White’s responses were received after our submission deadline but before publication. Because they were submitted before other respondents’ answers were available publicly, they have been included here.
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