Photo banner featuring Mario Cristaldo, Marcus Goodwin, Ed Lazere, Will Merrefieldd, Monica Palacio, and Robert White
Photos courtesy of each candidate's respective campaign.

This article is part of our 2020 contribution to the DC Homeless Crisis Reporting Project in collaboration with other local newsrooms. The collective works will be published throughout the day at DCHomelessCrisis.press

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W

e sent the following questionnaire to candidates for the D.C. Council’s two At-large seats who included specific plans relating to housing and homelessness on their websites. Candidates were contacted using the information registered with the D.C. Board of Elections and provided with a limited timeframe and word count in which to respond. Their answers were edited only to match Street Sense Media style and for fact-checking as needed. Street Sense Media is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan news outlet that does not support or oppose any candidate. 

Under each question, click on a candidate’s name to read their response.

1) Affordable Housing

Access to affordable housing in the District is based on the Area Median Income (AMI). The Inclusionary Zoning and Home Purchase Assistance Programs are only available to individuals and families who earn a minimum of 50% of the AMI, or $44,100 for an individual and $63,000 for a family of four. Forty percent of units supported by the Housing Production Trust Fund are set aside for people who earn 30-50% of the AMI, a minimum of $26,450 for individuals and $37,800 for a family of four.

However, as of January, 62,000 households earned less than $25,000 per year. And a report released in March found there were only 41 housing units that are both available and affordable for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. How will you work to ensure all DC residents have access to safe housing?

Mario CristaldoMarcus GoodwinEd LazereWill MerrifieldMónica PalacioRobert White
Photo of Mario Cristaldo

Mario Cristaldo

  • Decent and adequate housing is a basic human right therefore the D.C.government must provide affordable housing to every single resident of the District of Columbia.
  • We are in desperate need of reassessing our housing policies in D.C., including our Inclusionary Zoning (IZ). We need to increase the percentage of dedicated to affordable housing from 8% to 30% and reduce the percentage needed to qualify for the IZ program to 30% of the AMI.
  • D.C. needs its own AMI instead of the one that is assigned to D.C. by the federal government; D.C. AMI currently is a regional one that does not reflect the reality of the D.C. residents.
Photo of Marcus Goodwin

Marcus Goodwin

On the Council, I will focus on ensuring that residents of all income levels have programs available to become homeowners. We will expand the District’s Home Purchase Assistance Program, support the production of workforce housing units through the Housing Production Trust Fund, and incentivize the creation of more rent-to-ownership programs. We must also create a larger supply of rent-controlled and affordable units for that lowest AMI bracket. We can convert some of the newly vacant commercial properties into affordable housing units.

Photo of Ed Lazere

Ed Lazere

Preserving and expanding affordable housing is central to preserving D.C.’s racial and ethnic diversity, ending homelessness, and ensuring D.C. stops being the worst city in the nation in the displacement of Black residents.

As a Council member, I would push to ensure that new affordable housing is targeted on D.C.’s lowest-income families, under 30% of Area Median Income. Unfortunately, in Mayor Bowser’s first term, only 3,000 units were developed for the poorest households, a pace at which it would take 40 years to meet the need.

D.C. spends 3% of its budget on housing, yet housing is far more than 3% of D.C.’s problems. On the Council, I would push for a resolution to a) identify the need for housing for households below 30% AMI and b) make a commitment to meet that need over 10 years. I would then hold us accountable to fully funding that plan.

Photo of Will Merrifield

Will Merrifield

Working as an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, I have experienced firsthand how the Mayor’s and Council’s plans put band-aids on a problem that needs to be completely reimagined. It’s already bad — and will only get worse: a recent study found that 374,000 new affordable housing units will be needed region-wide in the next decade. The Mayor’s plan of building 36,000 in the next five years doesn’t even come close to addressing the current situation, much less accounting for the future of the District. My plan for housing — social housing — will allow for more housing to be built through limiting the profits of developers and creating a financial system where the building pays for itself. Renters pay 30% of their income, which goes toward maintenance of the building and paying down construction costs, instead of becoming profit for politically well-connected companies.

Photo of Mónica Palacio

Mónica Palacio

I will introduce legislation so new affordable projects must include at least 20% of units to be designated for the 30% to 50% of AMI. Housing is a human right and our government, our city and communities need to begin to categorize it as such.

I believe that building more affordable housing in the next 10 years is crucial. I support and want to expand on the Mayor’s plan of building 12,000 units in 10 years. I believe we can expand to 50,000 to 75,000 more units in the next 10 years that are not only affordable, but also adaptable. Adequate spaces and safety should be required when offering affordable housing to families. As the Director of the Office of Human Rights, I investigated endless claims of discrimination in housing and I know that there is also a lot of work to do right now with the housing that already available but not accessible to many District residents, and I am the most qualified candidate to do this work.

Photo of Robert White

Robert White

One of the toughest parts about addressing our housing crisis is that the local government does not set our AMI levels; it is set by the federal government. So each budget cycle since I have been in office, I have fought to fund local programs that help our residents access housing and prevent residents from losing their housing.

In the Fiscal Year 2020 budget cycle, which was the first year that I oversaw a committee budget, I transferred funds out of my committee to the housing and human services committees: over $901,684 to fund 30 Permanent Supportive Housing and Target Affordable Housing vouchers, $400,000 for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. In our most recent budget cycle, despite the budget shortfall, I fought to find $936,018 to fund 36 housing vouchers, $200,000 for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

2) Eviction crisis

D.C. has set aside some money for rent relief, paused evictions until 60 days after the health crisis is declared over, and prohibited rent increases during the health crisis. Has it been enough? In a preliminary estimate, the Brookings Institute found it would cost $2-5 million to cover a single month of rent for those most likely to experience displacement.

How will you work to prevent the District from experiencing an eviction crisis and rise in homelessness in the wake of the pandemic?
Mario CristaldoMarcus GoodwinEd LazereWill MerrifieldMónica PalacioRobert White
Photo of Mario Cristaldo

Mario Cristaldo

  • Housing stability is crucial for all of us during this pandemic. Currently, the federal government has an eviction moratorium imposed until the end of this year. At the same time the D.C. government, early this year, passed an eviction moratorium in effect until Oct 8. I am proposing to extend this eviction moratorium for at least another year. We need to revise our D.C. budget and secure enough funding to mitigate any eviction and displacement issues.
  • Technically, nobody can be evicted until the end of the wintertime next year, so, in the meantime, D.C. government has the opportunity to proactively look into new sources for rental assistance including funding from the federal government. If necessary, we need to look into our rainy-day fund, which is around 1,4 billion dollars currently; this fund is a reserve fund that comes from past surplus revenues that can be used for unexpected budget deficits.
Photo of Marcus Goodwin

Marcus Goodwin

We have a moral and economic obligation to keep families impacted by the pandemic in their homes. If elected, I will fight to expand the eviction moratorium for all residents who lost their livelihoods from this COVID crisis. We must also do a better job educating renters on the rent relief resources that the District has made available. I support the recent legislation passed in the Council that bans landlords from posting improper and intimidating eviction notices to renters that violate the moratorium.

Photo of Ed Lazere

Ed Lazere

It would be a moral and policy failure if even one family lost their home because their job disappeared in the pandemic. A crush of evictions would be devastating to the D.C. economy — especially to Black and brown communities — and make our community’s pandemic recovery even longer.

We can’t let that happen. Instead, we must adopt policies to keep everyone in their homes.

  •  A permanent ban on evictions or foreclosures for people who got behind during the pandemic. This means that even when the moratorium ends, a landlord could not evict someone who got behind on rent during the pandemic due to job loss.
  • An increase in eviction prevention assistance: we must expand D.C.’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program
  • Help for small landlords who face hardship: I would create a landlord relief fund, using D.C.’s still substantial rainy day fund, for landlords who can document serious hardship.
Photo of Will Merrifield

Will Merrifield

The steps the District has taken are absolutely not enough. In the short-term, we must cancel rent, and we must create an avenue for renters to work with their landlords. As it stands right now, private developers hold the future of so many residents in their hands — and their only goal is to increase their bottom line, not make sure people have safe and stable homes. We have to completely reimagine how we approach affordable housing not only in order to take us out of the current crises but to alleviate pressure in future ones. My social housing plan takes into account a renter’s current situation, but also gives them a stable place to call home while they go to work and school. That stable home helps people succeed long-term, and is a part of the answer to solving the systemic societal issue of housing.

Photo of Mónica Palacio

Mónica Palacio

I believe we need more aggressive rent control laws and we must fully fund the District’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program and work with landlords to establish a moratorium on evictions. Until the COVID public health emergency began, the District had seen a consistent decrease in the homeless population over the last 5 years. However, given the current economic crisis we know that in the coming months, thousands of tenants will no longer be able to afford their rent. There is consensus that unless we act swiftly, the District will soon see a spike in its homeless population.

Photo of Robert White

Robert White

The D.C. Council recently voted to extend the public health emergency order, but with each month, it is becoming harder for residents to make rent payments. I have been publicly vocal about the need to tap into our emergency reserve funds to avoid mass evictions and rise in homelessness. We need to expand rental assistance programs to prevent any residents from becoming homeless and give additional assistance to our small and local businesses, so that they can continue to employ residents. D.C. government also has to use every piece of leverage the law allows to force lenders to give landlords a break, and for landlords to give tenants a break as we work our way through this unprecedented crisis.

3) Housing alternatives

The District has the fourth-highest cost of living in the United States, the increasing cost of which displaced 20,000 Black residents between 2000 and 2013. More than 100,000 residents live in poverty, half of D.C. households are considered rent-burdened, and we have the highest rate of homelessness in the U.S.

How will you work to provide safe housing for residents of all income-ranges, many of whom increasingly cannot afford the local housing market?

Mario CristaldoMarcus GoodwinEd LazereWill MerrifieldMónica PalacioRobert White
Photo of Mario Cristaldo

Mario Cristaldo

Here is a list of obtainable public policy measures necessary to improve overall housing conditions of District of Columbia residents:

  • Reclaim rent control and amend our current act to increase the number of units under rent control. The law should apply to buildings constructed before 2011 and to landlords who own up to four units or more
  • Amend the D.C. Inclusionary Zoning Law to require 30% of the units of any housing development project in D.C. – At minimum 2/3 of IZ units to be dedicated for low- and moderate-income individuals and families
  • Set the goal of 36,000 new affordable housing units for 2030. This is to cover the broad spectrum of affordable housing needed in the city including temporary housing, rental housing and homeownership.
  • Update and amend the District Comprehensive Plan to reflect the new impact due to the COVID-19 Pandemic – Increase the number of public housing developments to 20,000 in total to include renovated and new construction units. – Increase by 10,000 units affordable housing exclusively designated to seniors for independent and assisted living.
Photo of Marcus Goodwin

Marcus Goodwin

As I mentioned earlier I would expand the District’s Home Purchase Assistance program to provide affordable homeownership opportunities for residents. I also want to create a larger supply of rent-controlled and affordable units for that lowest AMI bracket. We can convert some of the newly vacant commercial properties into affordable housing units and ease the height limits for buildings in some parts of town to make the buildings more unit and cost-effective. Lastly, we should modernize our zoning laws so more affordable units can be built across the city.

Photo of Ed Lazere

Ed Lazere

The District must take advantage of all tools to develop affordable housing throughout D.C.. We need increased investment in the Housing Production Trust Fund, the Local Rent Supplement Program, Housing Preservation and more. The District should invest in community land trusts to create permanently affordable rental and homeownership opportunities. The District should expand support for the First Right Purchase Program to help low-income renters buy their buildings through the TOPA process.

We must also take steps to increase the income of D.C. residents to help them afford housing. This includes raising the tipped minimum wage, enacting fair scheduling requirements for retail stores and restaurants, requiring developers of D.C.-funded projects to pay their workers living wages with benefits, and creating better connections between training programs and job opportunities. D.C. also should increase disability benefits for residents unable to work.

Photo of Will Merrifield

Will Merrifield

I’m promoting a plan called social housing, which strictly limits the profit motive for developers, instead reinvesting rent money back into the maintenance of the building and paying down construction costs. It is non-means tested and is open to anyone; each household pays 30% of their income. This creates a mixed-income, inclusionary form of housing that pays for itself while also not overburdening renters with extortionary housing costs, allowing money to recirculate into the economy instead of lining the pockets of big developers.

Photo of Mónica Palacio

Mónica Palacio

I propose that the District take the position that housing is a human right. There is an ongoing crisis in affordable housing development in the district and the region. This crisis threatens the safety net for many people in poverty or who are at risk of being pushed into poverty because of the current economic crisis. Housing must include human rights standards. Standards that adopt and incorporate human rights standards would require that housing be affordable, accessible, and habitable. Affordability means that housing costs should not force people to choose between paying rent or paying for food, Accessibility means that housing is both accessible for individuals with disabilities as much as to historically marginalized groups. Habitability means that housing includes adequate space and safety.

Photo of Robert White

Robert White

We have to tackle the housing crisis by accelerating the building of more housing for people with lower incomes. I have been working on how we can create new types of housing that we can control the affordability levels for. I have been pushing for us to get serious about working with office building owners who own older, vacant office buildings to convert them into affordable housing, and for D.C. to transfer unused government properties to organizations that can develop affordable housing.

We also have to work on this massive problem as a region since we’re all facing the same issue. As Chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government, I worked with officials from Maryland and Virginia to pass a historic resolution committing the region to build 320,000 new housing units over the next ten years to relieve the pressure for people with low and moderate incomes.

4) Systemic racism

As recent acts of police brutality have called attention to the issue of systemic racism and prompted a nationwide protest movement, activists are increasingly highlighting the connection between racism and homelessness. While Black Americans make up 46% of the District’s overall population, 86% of homeless adults are Black.
To what extent, if any, do you see housing and homelessness policy as a tool to fight systemic racism, and what specific measures do you support?
Mario CristaldoMarcus GoodwinEd LazereWill MerrifieldMónica PalacioRobert White
Photo of Mario Cristaldo

Mario Cristaldo

We need to mobilize every single one of us against police brutality, showing up and being counted as part of the black lives matter movement. Creating more housing units for affordable housing will get more low- and moderate-income individuals and families into affordable rental and even homeownership opportunities. Adequate housing is a human right and nobody should be left behind by any reason.

Photo of Marcus Goodwin

Marcus Goodwin

Both policies, but especially housing, are essential to fight systemic racism. D.C. has the largest racial wealth gap in the country — the median white family owns 81 times more wealth than the median black family. The best way to address that inequality is to enable more black families to own a home. Homeownership is the best vehicle for generating wealth accumulation. Past practices such as redlining have prevented many black and Latino families from getting those opportunities. Furthermore, we must expand affordable housing units and provide better tax relief for longtime residents to prevent further gentrification and displacement.

Photo of Ed Lazere

Ed Lazere

Systemic racism has resulted in enormous inequities in income and wealth between Black and white D.C. residents. Racism in housing policy and the private housing market kept many Black families out of homeownership opportunities and left them subject to the challenges of the rental market. The combination of denied wealth and denied access to homeownership has left Black D.C. families most affected by gentrification and rising rents. Most people experiencing homelessness in D.C. are Black or brown, and D.C. ranks as the worst city for the displacement of Black residents.

This means that addressing D.C.’s housing and homeless challenges is a matter of racial justice. Creating more affordable housing throughout D.C. will support family stability and opportunity. The District also should expand and strengthen first-time homebuyer programs as a tool to build wealth among Black residents.

Photo of Will Merrifield

Will Merrifield

The racism in housing policy is not a new problem at all, but I’m glad to see it gaining national attention and bringing problem-solvers forward to help end it. I do believe progressive, inclusionary housing policy can help combat systemic racism, and I know my social housing plan which creates mixed-income communities can do that. Diversifying neighborhoods and helping people learn about their neighbors is a good step toward creating communities of inclusivity and understanding, instead of prejudices of hate and suspicion.

Photo of Mónica Palacio

Mónica Palacio

Yes, I believe that lack of affordable housing, inequitable education and lack of health care are central to systemic racism. If we are serious about ending homelessness and achieving equity, we must center racial justice. I want to close gaps that will in return reduce homelessness in the District. This is why these are my top priorities as a Council Member:

    1. Funding for residents to pay their rent and mortgages during this economic crisis.
    2. Invest in an equitable school system where all students needs are being met
    3. Invest in high-quality health care for all District residents in every ward
    4. End police brutality and ensure that all District residents feel safe in the hands of the government.
Photo of Robert White

Robert White

We haven’t done enough to close the gap between those who are benefiting from the District’s economic resurgence and those who are being left behind, and it has caused instability for Black residents. When I ran four years ago, I promised I would be a bridge for those being left behind and seek racial justice by focusing on the foundations of economic progress: education, affordable housing, and employment. These are the three policy areas that I believe will help us address the wide disparities and inequalities between our Black and white residents. During my first term, I have introduced over 40 bills that are centered around improving the education system by providing additional support to students of color, leading the fight to create new units of affordable housing, and creating long-term careers through our workforce program, not temporary jobs. If re-elected, I will continue to prioritize racial justice work.

5) Permanent Housing

In 2019, 42% of families who left D.C.’s homeless services system but returned again for help were those who had used time-limited rapid rehousing vouchers. And during a count in January, 29% of homeless adults were chronically homeless, meaning they have experienced homelessness for at least a year—or repeatedly—while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability. 

What, specifically, will you do to move more people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing in the District?
Mario CristaldoMarcus GoodwinEd LazereWill MerrifieldMónica PalacioRobert White
Photo of Mario Cristaldo

Mario Cristaldo

The D.C. government is building up some transitional housing as part of the Short-term Family Housing Program. We need to enhance this program as well as allocating more units to temporary housing in D.C.. Housing is the first step to stabilize any person experiencing mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability.

Photo of Marcus Goodwin

Marcus Goodwin

As I have mentioned before, I will expand rapid rehousing programs and create more job opportunities, especially in light of the recent pandemic. Moreover, I want the Council to double down on its commitment to preserve and create affordable rental housing units. We will invest in Permanent Supportive Housing and the Local Rent Supplement Programs to address the growing housing demands of the District. Aside from youth homelessness, I want to protect the elderly from being evicted from their long-time residences. With a growing senior population that is living longer, it is essential that we expand programs that allow seniors to use the equity in their homes to finance projects to make their homes safe to age in place. I will also fight for expanding mental health resources for all residents.

Photo of Ed Lazere

Ed Lazere

It’s a shame that the District’s rising prosperity has come at the cost of rising homelessness and a growing number of people who have only a tent for a home, nearly all of them people of color.  As an advocate at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, I was part of The Way Home Coalition and supported its call to end chronic homelessness. As a Council member, I would push the Council to commit to ending chronic homelessness — by funding and implementing the targets set by The Way Home Campaign — over 4 years. This will create clear markers to hold the Council accountable.

For families with children, the main obstacle is the gap between earnings from minimum wage work and the cost of family-sized apartments. The long-term solution to family homelessness is creating more affordable housing, as described in previous answers.

Photo of Will Merrifield

Will Merrifield

Rapid rehousing is a failed program that subsidizes a broken system. Time-limited subsidies will not work in this housing market because rents are too expensive and wages are too low. We must create truly affordable housing options for people by building housing units that are outside the private market in order to achieve a human right to housing. My housing proposal, social housing, is based on a proven model that can actually get us to where we need to be by eliminating the profit motive and taking developers out of the equation. It is time to put people over profits- that is what my campaign is about.

Photo of Mónica Palacio

Mónica Palacio

I will invest in permanent supportive housing programs and long-term rental assistance for individuals who are experiencing homelessness. This will include services for families with individuals who are experiencing chronic illnesses, disabilities, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and who have experienced homelessness more than once. While I believe that voucher programs are important to provide low-income households to assist them with housing payments, I believe that with those vouched, we also must invest in providing these families with the support and services they need to reduce the risk of homelessness.

Photo of Robert White

Robert White

The last two budget cycles, in addition to the $1.8 million to fund permanent supportive housing vouchers, I have transferred $100,000 each year to the human services committee to fund outreach to residents experiencing homelessness. This year’s $100,000 is especially important because it restored funds that were cut in the mayor’s proposed budget. I felt strongly that this was not an acceptable cut, especially during a year where we are trying to get more critical information and resources out to those experiencing homelessness. I will keep fighting for longer housing for residents who are able to get on their feet with time, and more wrap-around services for residents who need a little more than housing to stabilize.


How much of each candidate’s platform is devoted to housing and homelessness?

No mention:
Broad, aspirational goals: 
1-3 sentences: 
Some specific steps provided: 
In-depth plans with measurable milestones (targeted for this questionnaire):

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