2020 at-large Council candidates tackle questions on homelessness, DC’s budget & police reform (GGW)
As part of Greater Greater Washington’s endorsement process for the non-Democratic at-large seat, our elections committee emailed our questionnaire, addressing housing, transportation, and land use issues, to candidates running in the November 3 general election, for Councilmember David Grosso’s soon-to-be-former at-large seat.
Our questionnaire had a lot of prompts — 11! — and there are a lot of candidates in this race. Eleven of them — Markus Batchelor, Marcus Goodwin, Christina Henderson, Chander Jayaraman, Ed Lazere, Jeanné Lewis, Will Merrifield, Rick Murphree, Vincent Orange, Alex Padro, and Mónica Palacio — responded to our requests.
For readability, we are breaking the responses up into several posts. Today’s is the eighth through eleventh questions. The candidates’ responses are below.
1. Many developers in DC have gone through the Planned Unit Development process in order to add additional density to projects, beyond what is allowed by the zoning code. In exchange, PUDs must provide amenities like affordable housing or improved public space. But PUDs also take a long time and are subject to lawsuits, which ultimately makes the housing that they do deliver more expensive. How would you improve this process?
Markus Batchelor: As a lifelong Ward 8 resident as well as a ANC and Board of Education representative, I have watched the disinvestment that has plagued my community. Past and current PUD processes have elevated community-led input, which has propelled more equity in the city’s development approvals. Additionally, lawmakers should strengthen mandates to consult directly with impacted communities, including a community-led coordinated effort with the city agencies who provide reports during a PUD application. There has to be more
accountability for agencies like DCOP, DDOT, DOES and DOEE in the process, so that long ignored public safety and infrastructure needs are prioritized and met as part of the approval process.
Marcus Goodwin: I would create a clearer community engagement and approval process. Such a move would reduce the likelihood of appeals and lower the cost of creating denser development projects. I am the most prepared to tackle this issue given my work in commercial development and experience engaging community stakeholders to negotiate community benefits agreements.
Christina Henderson: I think there are a few ways that the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process can be improved to work again for both communities and developers. First, it is my hope that this year the Council will include language in the city’s Comprehensive Plan that makes it clear that the Zoning Commission has the power and flexibility to engage in discretionary review of land use categories when deciding whether to approve projects that have gone through the PUD process. This has been a point on contention in the various lawsuits brought by opposition groups. Additionally, that the final Plan and subsequent documentation by the Zoning Commission should emphasize that affordable housing and prevention of displacement of existing residents should be the primary community benefit in PUD deals. There have long been conversations about the need to put some guard rails on the community benefit possibilities to ensure that the community benefit is long-term and that the community writ large would broadly be impacted. As a Councilmember, I would also want to explore potential policies that could limit the legal challenges of PUDs brought by individuals who do not have a direct nexus to a project or neighborhood. Even with changes to the Comp Plan, I believe developers will still be hesitant to use the PUD process if there can be a legal challenge and delay at the 11th hour by someone who has not been engaged at all through the process either with the ANC or the Zoning Commission.
Chander Jayaraman: PUDs are one of the few opportunities for neighborhoods to negotiate with developers to get additional amenities in return for greater density. I have been involved in several PUD discussions over the past 4 years when I serveds a Chair and Vice-Chair of ANC 6B. These negotiations have resulted in producing new playgrounds for children, delivering neighborhood beautification and other benefits that improve the quality of life for neighbors around the project. This process has served our ANC well. However, benefits and amenities are decided and agreed upon during the concept and planning phases of the project. Careful negotiations by the ANC for the greater good of the community should not be undermined once plans are finalized. Developers should not be able to withdraw or renegotiate the terms of the proffer, especially any agreements related to providing larger quantities of affordable housing. A developer can always bow out during the negotiating process itself. As an ANC Commissioner, I strongly believe that community support is essential for any large development projects.
Ed Lazere: I’m eager to change our land-use policies, including PUDs, to better prioritize affordable housing. It should be easier to build affordable housing than it is now, and it should be better coordinated with building market-rate housing. For example, I support the proposed expansion of Inclusionary Zoning to require higher affordable housing set-asides and to keep prices within reach for lower-income households, as part of a better approach to rezonings and the proposed increased housing capacity in the Future Land Use Map under consideration. I would like to create an additional matter-of-right development process for affordable projects, since rezonings, like PUDs, carry high costs and significant risks that affordable housing developers are unlikely to be able to support.
I also support changes to the Comprehensive Plan to clarify the PUD process and address the lack of trust in the process right now. Done right, PUDs give communities more say over development — certainly more than over matter-of-right developments — to shape the kind of communities they want. I support changes that continue to give communities a say in development while also making zoning and other rules clear enough that community-appropriate developments move forward. I would work as a Council member to give communities information and tools to fight for the strongest community benefit agreements in PUDs.
Even with changes to the PUD process, they could still carry too much risk for affordable housing developments. The Comprehensive Plan should give greater priority to building affordable housing and mixed-income housing without requiring a PUD. It must balance the need to ensure a predictable review process that lets all neighbors know how new housing can be added to their neighborhoods, with assurance that affordable and mixed-income housing really can be added to each neighborhood.
Jeanné Lewis: Planned Unit Developments have the potential to yield high benefits in terms of affordable housing or infrastructure improvements for the community as well as bring in new business and employment opportunities for the area. For example, in 2017 alone, there were 2,350 affordable housing built as part of PUD, which is four times more than what the normal development process would have generated with Inclusionary Zoning. However, the process needs improvement in order to properly serve DC residents. There needs to be greater transparency throughout the process for residents to fully understand what is happening and how they can get involved. Additionally, the enforcement of the promised benefits must be stronger. In a similar policy of First Source Employment, which requires any business that receives more than $300,000 in city funding to come to agreement with the Department of Employment Services on a plan for prioritizing District residents in their hiring and operations, repeated data has shown the lack of enforcement. When the DC Auditor examined the program, they found that over three years 80 percent of provisions were not implemented or were not implemented effectively. However, DOES only fined one construction company. These fines could provide funding for some of the essential renovations of public housing that are needed.
Will Merrifield: Many PUD challenges occur because, too often, the Zoning Commission approves development projects that demolish affordable housing, displace communities, and drive up rents. For example, there is a PUD in Ward 5 that proposes to demolish all 535 units of deeply affordable housing that currently make up the Brookland Manor community. After demolition, the developer plans to build over 1,750 new units of housing. Although the plan calls for tripling density, (going from 535 current units to over 1,750 new units) the overall number of affordable and family-sized units would be dramatically reduced.
In order for the Zoning Commission to approve that plan, the developer had to prove that the project was a “community benefit”. According to the law, a community benefit has to be something that protects the health, safety and welfare of the community. Reducing the number of affordable units while tripling density and reducing units appropriately sized for families - all in the midst of an affordable housing crisis - does not promote the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Despite this, the Zoning Commission approved the PUD. The zoning decision was appealed in order to prevent the loss of affordable housing and family sized units.
In order to avoid these types of challenges, developers must engage in meaningful community dialogue when designing projects, the Zoning Commission must correctly interpret the law, and ANCs and councilmembers must make clear to developers that they will not support PUDs that are not in the public’s interest. If this happened, far fewer PUDs would be challenged.
Rick Murphree: We need more affordable homes, and homes in general. Our city needs to examine all of the tools in our box from zoning and regulations to new finance structures and incentives. Unfortunately, many parts of our city struggle with concentrated low-income housing. We need more mixed income homes for families and community members. It’s also an issue that developers and other receive abatement a and incentives and fail to meet affordable housing standards and ratios. The PUD process can be improved, and I am open to new ideas to bring more affordable housing online.
Vincent Orange: I have personally dealt with this dilemma through the comprehensive plan for the development of Union Market, McMillan Reservoir and the redevelopment of Brookland Manor. In fact, I wrote a guest comment viewpoint for the Washington Business Journal on June 28, 2018 entitled “Appeals harm crucial D.C. projects”. While protecting everyone’s rights, I would urge the DC Council and the Mayor to examine streamlining the PUD process further to eliminate frivolous claims and unreasonable delays.
Alex Padro: PUDs should be made mandatory for all developments where any changes in zoning are required beyond what can be granted by the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Developers should not be allowed to use rezoning as an alternative to PUDs in order to avoid the need to provide community benefits. PUD appeals should only be permitted when endorsed by affected Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Prior to my service, developers proposing PUDs in our ANC jurisdiction were not required to negotiate PUD amenities, but instead offered modest or insignificant commitments which were accepted uncontested. The amenities I have negotiated with developers in Shaw and Northwest One have resulted in affordable senior housing and support for programs and projects coordinated by neighborhood community nonprofit organizations, valued at many millions of dollars. I have shared these experiences with civic associations and ANCs in other parts of the city, resulting in upgraded community benefits agreements citywide.
Mónica Palacio: I understand the goals and benefits of the PUDs are “designed to encourage high quality developments that provide public benefits” and “to permit flexibility of development including increased height and density; provided that the project offers a commendable number or quality of public benefits,” however, I will lead efforts to address concerns about delays in completion of and delivery of these projects and the protracted appeals process that results when residents have grievances. Residents have also voiced concerns that these projects allow the displacement of long-time residents and I would advocate for further investigation into these concerns so that we can reduce these negative effects. I would propose greater oversight of the Office of Planning to ensure that the needs of residents are well documented and resolved in order to reduce the number of appeals.
2. Before COVID-19, DC’s homeless population had been decreasing, mainly due to decreases in family homelessness following Mayor Bowser’s closure of DC General and opening of smaller family shelters in each ward. However, local and federal reopening and recovery plans aren’t likely to protect renters to the extent necessary to prevent an expected explosion of evictions, which could cause even more people to experience homelessness. What will you do to protect renters and continue to decrease homelessness?
Markus Batchelor: Even before the coronavirus pandemic, 25% of renters had housing costs greater than half of their income. Families already living on the margin are now facing increased economic vulnerability due to COVID-19. Experts are warning that ending the moratorium now could lead to “an avalanche of evictions” as Americans continue to face high unemployment rates - which are as high as 16.8% for black Americans and 17.6% for Latinx Americans, and 13.3% overall. The latest U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey finds that 30% of renters have no or little confidence they can make their next housing payment. For this reason, I think that evictions should be stayed for, at minimum, a year following the end of the public health emergency and that all mortgage holders who qualify for deferment pass the benefit on to their tenants.
In addition, the city must invest boldly in ending chronic homelessness in the city. Apart from bolstering housing production and connecting economically insecure residents with affordable options, we must invest in ensuring family and singles shelters provide the security, safety and supports our neighbors need to move into permanent supportive housing. We also know that during this pandemic, housing security is also tied to a living wage, worker protections, and quality healthcare access and I’ll be a champion for ensuring all residents are supported through this crisis.
Marcus Goodwin: We must make sure that homeless shelters have the resources to operate safely. That means an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for staff and residents, an ability to clean the facilities regularly, and proper access to testing. We also need to continue addressing the underlying causes of homeless. That means a more equitable housing policy, a quality education, and a good-paying job.
With regard to renters we need evictions banned AT LEAST through 2020. That would be a bold move to allow people to get themselves situated economically as the city slowly re-opens.
Christina Henderson: Given our current system, I believe the best way to protect renters who are experiencing financial challenges due to the impacts of COVID-19, and to continue to decrease homelessness will be to provide direct emergency rental assistance and medium-term housing support, such as a year of partial payments. The Department of Housing and Community Development has recently launched the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program which provides up to three months of overdue rent. As a Councilmember I would look to invest local dollars to expand this program and our programs to provide medium-term housing support. There are a lot of workers in DC, particularly in the hospitality and retail industry, who will be facing an uphill battle for longer than three months. The longer we can help those individuals stay in their current housing as opposed to moving to a shelter, the better it is for everyone. As a Councilmember, I would look to build on the work of the community to reform the homeless service system, especially for families and youth. I believe our vision for ending homelessness needs to better align with the policies put forward in terms of affordable housing. For example, right now, we enroll people in the rapid rehousing program knowing that when the 12-month subsidy runs out the majority of the program participants cannot afford to take over the full market rent. And yet, we haven’t added any additional investments for permanent vouchers, and much of our affordable housing stock is either not deeply affordable. The Council must do better in pushing this conversation forward.
Chander Jayaraman: The best way to prevent an explosion is to defuse the bomb, and to do that, we need to continue to support workers who are not able to return to work thus making rental payments nearly impossible. Our whole housing policy and social safety net should be geared toward keeping people in their homes, creating stronger communities. We must not allow the bomb to explode. The situation is critical enough as it is.
Ed Lazere: While evictions have been put on hold during the pandemic, the moratorium will end when the pandemic emergency ends. Many people who got behind in rent during the pandemic will have no way to make up for it even if their jobs return. We must not allow even one person to lose their home because their job disappeared in the pandemic. It would be devastating for our community and our economy.
To address this, I support a permanent ban on eviction for people who got behind on rent during the pandemic, if they could show they had experienced a loss of income. This means that if the only time someone got behind on rent was during the pandemic, they could not be evicted once the pandemic is over. This would require all landlords to negotiate to waive or reduce the pandemic-period rents for affected renters.
I would pair this with an expansion of emergency rental assistance and creation of a fund to assist small landlords who can show hardship due to having a large share of their tenants getting rent reductions.
Beyond that, we need to make a real and meaningful commitment to ending homelessness. Mayor Bowser and the DC Council have made significant investments to address homelessness, including new short-term family housing, expansion of permanent supportive housing, and improvements in shelters. I’m proud of my prior work at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute to advocate for and support this work, as an organizational member of the Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness, leadership in The Way Home campaign, partnership with People for Fairness Coalition, and more. That work has directly led to better services, such as our effort in the FY 2020 budget to close corporate tax loopholes and use the savings in part to extend PSH to 200 more individuals.
As a Council member, ending homelessness (making it rare, brief, and non-recurring) would be a top priority for me. I would promote the new ICH strategic plan and introduce a Council resolution committing to fully implementing it over 4 years. This will create clear markers to hold the Council and mayor accountable.
And the real answer to ending homelessness is creating enough affordable housing.
Jeanné Lewis: It is time to turn our attention away from efforts to lure outside developers and investors and focus instead on the rich, diverse, and talented community and human resources we already have here in DC. These are core components of my housing and economic development agenda.
In the short term I would prioritize fully funding and implementing priorities of The Way Home Campaign, as well as helping to establish new sustainable opportunities for those with very low-income incomes or other barriers to housing to have adequate housing. I support expanding funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, including increasing staff to implement the program.
My longer-term objective would be to increase funding for the suite of programs targeting homelessness, while also decreasing the need for these programs (and ultimately decreasing the need for this funding). We need to strengthen the inclusionary zoning requirements to ask more of developers and provide more affordable housing options. In particular, we can utilize project-based local rent supplements to assure that when affordable housing is built, it is actually affordable. By applying racial equity analysis, such as required by the REAR Act and applying it to contractors and contracts between the government and developers, it will be possible to identify and require contract terms that are favorable to the developers and the city government AND the people who make DC their home.
Public housing should remain public. We have seen how loopholes in our current inclusionary zoning and other public-private partnerships have limited their effectiveness. We can’t take that risk with public housing. So many families have already been pushed out of DC, while others have found themselves homeless. We need to prioritize preserving and repairing our existing public housing stock.
The federal government has a role to play here as well, as declining funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development are much of what has left our public housing stock in such utter disrepair. I would work closely with Representative Homes Norton and other federal policymakers representing DC to push for these changes at the national level.
I support extending and expanding rent control in DC; letting it expire without Council action is simply not an option. There are things that can be done to reform the program such as closing loop-holes such as the use of voluntary agreements. Rent control is an important tool in the District’s toolbox, but it cannot provide sustainable housing on its own. I am focused on making better use of tools such as rent subsidies that do not impose such a burden on apartment owners and target benefits to those truly in need.
Will Merrifield: Homelessness is not decreasing in the District. Instead, District leaders and agency heads make it very difficult for homeless families to access shelter in the first place. While working at the Washington Legal Clinic for Homeless, I saw firsthand many families being denied shelter for bogus reasons. These families then had to seek help from an attorney to challenge the wrongful denials and ultimately obtain shelter. This type of practice allows fewer families through the door for shelter, thus allowing officials to claim that homelessness is falling even as rents continue to skyrocket and wages do not.
In order to prevent more people from falling into homelessness after the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative that legislation is put forward to effectively cancel rent for any person that has lost income due to COVID 19 and is facing eviction. Housing insecurity is a public health problem in the best of times, and in the midst of a pandemic it is quite simply unacceptable to allow for mass evictions to take place. DC’s shelter system, strained at the best of times, is not a solution to the economic crisis wrought by the pandemic. If rents are not cancelled people will be put out on the street. Thus, legislative and budget solutions must be sought at the local level. DC should also take into consideration the fact there are 10,000 vacant units in the District that should be utilized immediately to house currently homeless individuals.
In the long term, District leaders have to be laser focused on creating affordable housing from the ground up. I have laid out my vision for that process through the creation of thousands of social housing units. DC will never achieve a human right to housing by continuing down the failed road of funneling public money to private developers to build more luxury apartments.
Rick Murphree: Homelessness is a symptom of so many problems. We need to look at putting long term solutions in place to reduce homelessness. Many of our short-term facilities are substandard for families. I would work with the nonprofit and community organizations to better address some of these needs. For example, we need to immediately open more facilities to offer mental health services and drug rehabilitation services. Additionally, as a veteran I strongly believe we need to strengthen veteran services that we offer in the city. Veterans have already given so much and deserve to be given the opportunity to succeed in the city.
Vincent Orange: I supported the opening of smaller family shelters in each ward. This initiative has proven to be successful. Despite the challenges, the DC government appears to be committed to preventing an explosion of evictions which I support.
In this pandemic, I believe it would be prudent to examine Mobile Bus Showers for the homeless where the DC government registered those participating, distribute PPEs and personal hygiene products to the homeless. We can build up trust with this initiative, register the homeless population and begin to provide services which may include jobs, affordable housing and mental health services, and much more.
Alex Padro: I would propose the extension of the protections established during the COVID-19 health emergency. The requirement that all landlords offer tenants payment plans should be extended for the next two years, with the payment period extended through the life of the current lease or any lease extension signed during the 12 months following the end of the health emergency. The prohibition against residential evictions should also be extended for at least one year following the end of the health emergency.
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 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.
The Council has not yet passed legislation that addresses the need of gig works, street vendors, undocumented workers, and other excluded communities who contribute to our economy, yet have been left to fend for themselves in the midst of an economic and public health crisis. Other jurisdictions, like Virginia, are using both federal funds and local funds to provide cash assistance to renters and I believe we must do the same. Additionally, prevention of homeless by looking at the overall economic security of our residents must be our overall goal as a city council.
3. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and nationwide protests against police violence, the DC Council passed temporary emergency legislation that requires the timely release of body-camera footage after police shootings, imposes limits on when officers can use deadly force, and bans the Metropolitan Police Department from buying military-style equipment from the federal government. Do you believe these reforms should be made permanent? Should the Council enact further changes, such as reducing the size of MPD’s budget in favor of community health, education, or other programs?
Markus Batchelor: The recent protests have illustrated what many of us have already known: that people of color are at an exponentially higher risk of unwarranted police force, the systems rooted in racism must be fundamentally changed, and now is the time for our city to re-imagine public safety in our communities. For that reason, the mandates that are laid out in the temporary emergency legislation should be made permanent. I also believe that reducing the size of MPD’s budget in favor of community health, education and other programs would be more beneficial to the public. Furthermore, I would also advocate for the elimination of police from traffic and parking enforcement. This would decrease the chances of excessive force as with the case of Rayshard Brooks and Philando Castille.
Marcus Goodwin: Yes, we need to make those emergency legislative fixes permanent. Every city in America is confronting institutional racism and the need for structural police reform. I marched alongside thousands of protestors because we deserve and demand real change on this systemic problem. We also need to acknowledge that we ask too much of our police by forcing them to answer situations involving mental health, domestic abuse, homelessness, etc. We need to invest more resources into the social and healthcare workers that are better equipped to tackle those situations. Lastly, only 17 percent of MPD officers live in Washington, DC because it is too expensive. We need police officers to live in the areas they police to enable effective community policing, but that cannot happen without solving the housing crisis. That’s why I’m supportive of a workforce housing fund in the District that creates homeownership opportunities for our essential workers.
Christina Henderson: I support the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Act and believe that the reforms in that bill should be made permanent. There is deep-seated distrust between communities of color and MPD. It has been decades in the making and for far too long our government’s posture has been that certain communities are exaggerating the extent to which they are unfairly overpoliced and victims of abusive practices, and that releasing information would do more harm than good. We need to change the narrative, not just through policy but also through budgets. If we are committed to reducing our jail population and dismantling mass incarceration, our investments must reflect that commitment. Right now, the DC budget is not balanced in that regard. For example, in FY20, DC will spend approximately $738 million for the operating budget of the Department of Corrections and MPD. Meanwhile, we won’t even spend a third of that on the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, jobs programs, and youth programs in the city. We have to shift from an overreliance on law enforcement to reduce crime and address the social conditions that lead to crime—lack of housing, limited access to jobs that pay a living wage, the need for community-based trauma services, and having safe places for young people to channel their energy. Across the nation, policing has move towards greater transparency and reform, and as a Councilmember, I would work to ensure that DC follow suits.
Chander Jayaraman: I agree with most of those provisions, and believe they are already the operating standard of the MPD. As far as reforms to the police department, I believe we don’t need armed police officers in schools, and support continued funding for effective violence interrupter programs and would support more funding for the gun buyback program that utilizes trusted intermediaries such as local pastors. I believe that all MPD officers should continue to take training in de-escalation strategies very seriously, and try to lead the nation in de-escalation practices and techniques.
Ed Lazere: Yes. Over my 20 years of working on DC budget issues, I’ve watched the Metropolitan Police Department’s budget grow year after year at the expense of investments in families and communities. I remember one summer a decade ago when a revenue surplus was announced, creating what I hoped was a chance to invest more in needs like housing and schools, but the Council devoted most of it to more police, all because there had been some high-profile murders just days before the vote.
As long as I have been in the District, some DC leaders have held up a goal of having roughly 4,000 sworn police officers, with no analysis to back it up. It has been defended even though DC has far more police per capita than other major cities. This hasn’t made us more safe and in fact has contributed to harassment and abuse of Black and brown residents.
DC’s racial justice and criminal justice reform activists, many of them people of color, have long made the case that investing in stable families and communities, community based mediation and mental health services is the key to safer communities. The 2019 DC Jails and Justice Task Force that I was honored to advise came to the same conclusions.
Our police budget says troubling things about our priorities. The proposed MPD budget for 2021 — $540 million — is twice as much as our affordable housing budget — $269 million.
This is the wrong direction. Instead, as a Council member I would work to invest more in Black and brown communities, support violence interruption services and other community-based mediation services, reimagine what it takes to create stable and safe communities, and continue reducing our reliance on traditional policing. While we should all have someone to call when we’re in trouble, it should not always be the police.
Jeanné Lewis: Yes, these reforms should all be made permanent. These measures increase police accountability, but it not enough. I do not support Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget
increase for the police department. I do believe in reducing the size of MPD’s budget in favor of community, health, education, and other similar programs.
We need to start discussing now what a transition to community safety with fewer police looks like on a wider scale - not just the ultimate vision, but the concrete needs of the Black community to weather that transition. Increased funding for community programs that enhance safety and taking them to scale so they reach enough of us is a critical part of that transition process. We also need to address systemic issues that do harm and make us unsafe like housing inequity and lack of equitable development in the city.
This transition, however, must not be done in haste, where it could have adverse consequences for the Black and Brown communities in the District. I strongly advocate for a public-health approach to crime and drug use. I would expand DC’s Cure the Streets Program and name all staff and volunteers as “essential”.
Additionally, I support reducing the presence of police officers in District public schools.. What schools really need is an increase in counselors and mental health professionals, so children in the District learn how to regulate and manage their emotions in a healthy way. In our school buildings with vacant space, we could house nonprofits and agencies that provide trauma-informed, therapeutic and supportive services to help students.
Will Merrifield: Yes, these reforms should absolutely be made permanent. The militarization of the police across the country is a sickening and locally it should end immediately. I support defunding the MPD and investing in housing, strong public schools and a guaranteed jobs program. Also, it is imperative that police be permanently removed from our schools.
Rick Murphree: I agree with the councils passage that requires timely release of body-camera footage after a police shooting, impose limits on when officers can use deadly force and ban MPD from buying military style equipment from the federal government. However, I don’t believe we need to make a decision of only MPD or only community health, education, or other programs; we can and should have both. I live east of the river and have had a number of shootings in front of my house with high powered rifles. I cannot expect MPD officers to show up with pistols in the middle of a shooting with a high-powered rifle. MPD budget has increase 12% in the last 6 years. On average the budget for education has increase 40%. Money isn’t always the answer, but how and what we spend it on is a key indicator. We need greater oversight and accountability, balancing safe communities with tactics that helps us get there. We know that crime is often a symptom of a larger societal challenge. We need to better address these social determinants that leave people desperate and more likely to commit crimes in our community. For example, I don’t believe we need to spend money on officers in schools. This money is better off spent on mental health or school nurses. We need to spend money on the problems that exist, like mental health, education, violence interrupters, recreation centers for kids, etc, and we need to spend money on the symptoms of the problems (violence) with police. There are many calls police are called to that we should be providing funding for mental health workers to go with them on calls, like domestic violence, homelessness, drug use, etc. The amount of violence in my own neighborhood requires something besides a mental health worker, it requires policing. There are people we seek to do harm to vulnerable members of our community and that needs to be addressed and tackled head on. We need to have a balance of both and not limit ourselves to one or the other.
Vincent Orange: Yes, I believe these reforms should be made permanent. Yes, the DC Council should examine further changes. However, it must be a comprehensive review with define goals. The safety and well being of DC residents, businesses and visitors are of utmost importance.
Alex Padro: Yes, the emergency measures should be made permanent. A portion of the MPD budget should be reallocated to transfer responsibility for responding to a variety of types of calls for service than police officers are not trained for or best suited to respond to. Examples of alternative first responders are social workers, mental health professionals, traffic control and school safety officers, and youth violence interrupters. Job training programs would also benefit from enhanced funding and have a positive impact on crime reduction. Another example of a program that has a positive impact on public safety is one of the programs that I am the most proud of having launched. In 2006, I helped start the Clean Team program, currently funded and managed by the Department of Small and Local Business Development. From its inception, the Clean Teams have hired and trained returning citizens almost exclusively, though former gang members have sometimes been hired. These men and women have been paid a living wage and given training in job and life skills that have allowed them to reintegrate with their families and transition to employment in the private sector and government agencies. They often relate how they are now responsible for improving the streets that they once were ‘tearing down.’ Clean Team members maintain public space, sweeping sidewalks and curbs, collecting trash and recyclables for disposal, and serving as public safety ‘eyes and ears on the street.’ Clean Teams are currently active in nearly 30 neighborhoods citywide, but the program could be expanded further with additional funding.
Mónica Palacio: For four years, I worked as the Training Director at the National Crime Prevent Council. I traveled to cities across the US who were in crisis to repair trust with law enforcement. As the Director of the Office of Human Rights, I also led the District’s response to hate crimes.
I have asserted and continue to assert that now is the time to reevaluate whether we are making the right investments in public safety and in the oversight of our law enforcement agencies. We must use a human rights framework in establishing new norms and performance benchmarks as well. As a practical matter this means our law enforcement officers will be held to higher standards, including but not limited to, a standard of care that ensures that African Americans and all people of color can trust they are safe at the hands of their government.
When elected, my concrete proposals will include:
Enacting legislation that ensures swift and unequivocal suspension when an officer has used excessive force or caused unnecessary harm to a District resident during the performance of their duties;
Holding more public forums and public hearings so that all grievances and community complaints become a matter of public record and victims receive the support and resources they need;
Re-allocating funding so all recruits and MPD officers receive effective and mandatory training on the #8CantWait principals, which include some of the best practices in community policing and de-escalation tactics.
4. DC had a budget surplus of more than $300 million last fiscal year, which enabled the mayor to propose a budget for 2020 that grew 9% from 2019. But the 2021 budget is much leaner, since the District used its surplus to fill some of the gaps created by coronavirus. Name three things you’d support funding, and three things you think DC may not be able to afford to fund in the fiscal year 2021 budget.
Markus Batchelor: We need deep and bold investments in education and the digital divide, healthcare, as well as affordable housing and rent relief. At this moment in time, I think that those are among the most critical challenges that residents are facing and I would prioritize them. I also think that the city needs to take this time to dig deeper into our reserves to address those and other challenges. Now is the moment that demands a bold investment and as the Councilmember, I wouldn’t shy away from using the resources that we have already allocated for this kind of crisis.
Marcus Goodwin: I would support funding small business rent relief, rent relief for tenants facing economic distress, and equitable school funding to ensure kids get the education they need during this pandemic. The largest expense for small businesses such as bars, restaurants, and clubs, is rent. Without a revenue stream, these businesses will continue to close for good and further exacerbate the economic crisis. That is why, we need a tax abatement on rent for qualifying small businesses to give them a reprieve and ensure that they can come back when the District re-opens. The importance of rent also extends to tenants, many of whom have families, lost their job, and cannot pay bills like their rent. If we do not act on rent relief, thousands more District residents could end up living on the street. Lastly, we must continue investing in our kids, so every that DC child has access to a quality education. Achieving academic success for students will be difficult while we confront this pandemic. However, we cannot abandon the next generation and must continue investing in them.
I would support reducing the police budget so that we can properly invest in our communities and focus on a more socially comprehensive approach to policing. I support the mayor’s decision to implement a wage and hiring freeze. Our agencies are important, but we need to limit our spending where we can. Lastly, I would suspend all non-essential capital improvement projects. That means postponing transportation and infrastructure projects that aren’t vital until our budget projections recover.
Christina Henderson: Even though we are facing an uncertain economic outlook due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am committed to fighting for a more equitable DC and I believe the frontline of that fight is in the DC budget. Three things I would support funding are: 1. Increased funding to stabilize our fragile childcare market: Childcare is not just an education issue; it is a workforce issue—critical to economy. These businesses are hurting and the market is on the verge of collapse. 2. Increased funding for local programs that improve access to healthy foods and promote food security for communities like Produce Rx and WIC expansion. 3. Increased funding for rental assistance programs. It is going to take families and individuals months, even years, before they can fully recover from the financial impact of the layoffs and furloughs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If elected, I would work tirelessly with my colleagues to produce budgets that are people-centered and continue to provide support to our neighbors and communities in need. Three things that DC may not be able to afford to fund in FY21 are: 1. An $18.5 million expansion to the MPD budget for things like ballistic shields, increased patrols, and pay raises. If the rest of DC government is taking a pay freeze, then MPD should have to as well. 2. New zero-fare transit or significant transit subsidy proposals. 3. The new Office of Creative Affairs which was created in the middle of this current fiscal year, though largely has the same duties and responsibilities as the Commission on Arts and Humanities.
Chander Jayaraman: I was very impressed by how the Mayor handled the budget shortfalls for both the current fiscal year and FY21, using support from the federal government and our reserves to fill big gaps, and using innovative re-financing techniques to minimize the impact of the downturn on DC government programs - in particular, I strongly support the increase to funding for education and health care in the Mayor’s budget. I believe that now is the time for the DC Government to double down on education, training, and paid internships for young people and young adults to get on solid career pathways. I’m very concerned that both the UDC and DC Community College are underperforming, in terms of the quality of the programs they offer to our young people, especially compared to other leading providers in the region, like NoVa Community College, and Montgomery County Community College. I believe our higher education system is in need of a dramatic overhaul.
I would support funding to ensure the safety of our workforce, and offering life and career training programs for incarcerated residents, and paying a stipend to adult students in career and employment training (CTE) programs. Given the short term budget shortfall and long term financial health of the District, we would not be able to afford to fund the building of a sports stadium, providing free SmartTrip cards to all residents (especially adults those whose incomes are above the AMI), and paying for agency staff travel to distant conferences unless absolutely necessary.
Ed Lazere: I don’t accept that there is anything DC cannot afford right now, despite the more adverse budget conditions. Through a combination of federal relief funds, DC reserves, closing tax loopholes, and progressive tax reform, the District can continue to make progress on important initiatives, including:
The Birth to Three Act
Affordable housing, including the Housing Production Trust Fund and the Local Rent Supplement Program
At-risk funding in DC schools
School-based mental health
The pandemic highlighted and widened DC’s economic and racial inequities, and our budget should take several steps to address the worst ones. This includes:
Funding homeless prevention services and affordable housing: The proposed budget for FY 2021 makes only modest progress to reduce chronic homelessness and actually cuts street outreach. At a time when housing is the key to our security and health, we must invest more to address homelessness and build affordable housing.
Supporting immigrants and other excluded workers: Undocumented immigrants, sex workers, and other workers who operate outside the formal economy have been shut out of unemployment insurance, federal relief efforts, and DC relief efforts. Sadly, the budget proposed by Mayor Bowser includes no assistance for these residents, who have faced especially high rates of unemployment and are most of hunger and homelessness. I would work to find $30 million in assistance for these residents.
Addressing the Digital Divide: The need for distance learning in our schools highlighted the need to ensure that all students have high-speed internet and appropriate computer technology. Roughly $11 million is needed to ensure that all students have a computer at home.
Jeanné Lewis: The budget dictates what the government sees as most important for its residents. With that being said, I am committed to making Washington, DC a people-focused and citizen- driven city. We could be doing much more to engage citizens in the work of budget development, program oversight, and policy formation.
This begins with the budget process. Right now we are given an opportunity to participate in a forum that asks citizens to allocate the city budget across different broad categories (e.g., health, education, public safety) after agencies have set priorities. But many of the problems that people face do not fall neatly into one of those categories (e.g., where does addressing domestic violence fall?) and our true challenges involve much more specific decisions about what we should be spending our tax dollars on. Residents should have the opportunity to recommend budget allocations before agencies share their proposals with the mayor. As a consequence the community can hold the mayor accountable as to whether her proposal to the council reflects the people’s wishes. And in the markup process the people can reinforce their priorities to the council.
It is essential to provide the public with greater access and power to see, understand, and influence the way our government works—beginning with those first set of budget numbers proposed by agencies each year and following through to require proactive transparency about spending and activities on a regular basis.
If elected, I hope to engage our residents more fully in the fiscal year 2022 budget. However, we also know the impacts from COVID-19 will still be felt. I proposed initiatives for the fiscal year 2020 budget, and I believe these components will still be necessary in 2021. These include:
Expand funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, including increasing staff to implement the program. This will help us prepare for renters with hardship once evictions are allowed to resume and back rent needs to be paid.
Cease new construction, and prioritize hiring DC residents slated to work on new construction projects to implement the recommended $343 million in repairs to public housing in the city. This will address housing conditions that increase the risks of contracting and dying from COVID 19, and provide employment for DC residents.
Expand the Cure the Streets program, and name all staff and volunteers as “essential.” This will help address the increase in assaults and gun violence in the city and strengthen an infrastructure that can help distribute public health information and protective equipment like masks.
Provide an expansive network of internet hot spots throughout the city using our Metrobus infrastructure that is not used for ridership. This will allow residents to have better access to online resources including education resources, voting information, benefits and assistance, and communication tools.
Invest in infrastructure to generate additional income and engage DC residents in healing our economy next fiscal year. We can plan now for the city to sell bonds with a value between $25 and $5000 to individuals who want to help the city’s economy. The profit from the sale of the bonds can be targeted to provide funding for two purposes:
Businesses with fewer than 10 employees and those owned by Black, Indigenous and people of color
Individuals, especially immigrants, who are left out of federal stimulus programs.
These proposals include ideas for generating revenue for the city; however, I believe the cuts to salary increases, and proposed cuts to the MPD budget funding the new jail are warranted.
Will Merrifield: I would support funding:
Public housing repairs;
The creation of new affordable housing via a social housing program;
Funding a New Deal WPA-style guaranteed jobs program to financially stabilize workers and communities post-pandemic and appropriately recycle wealth back into the economy.
I would eliminate funding for:
Giveaways to developers in the form of public money and public land to build luxury apartments;
Events DC- this organization just a slush fund for vanity projects and a vehicle for the misuse of public money;
K Street Streetscape Improvement which seeks to spend 122 million dollars to improve an 11 block stretch of K street.
Rick Murphree: Budgets outline more than our priorities but the kind of city we are. The 2021 budget must take into consideration both revenue and expenses. Just because we are spending a lot of money in one area doesn’t mean it’s being spent effectively. A hallmark of my approach to the budget process would be to identify efficiencies and areas where we make our investments work effectively on behalf of all residents. I would first request a full audit on departments like DCPS and DCPCS to look at efficiency and effectiveness. I would request this audit process in each department to see the areas of opportunities that we could cut funding, just like we do for our personal expenses. I would also look at ways to raise revenue. For example, the way property tax rates are set up are not equal across the board. This disproportionately falls on our seniors and long-standing Washingtonians who are being left behind from the city’s prosperity. I would make the property tax equal for everyone and then base it on income level to assure we are not pushing Washingtonians out of the district and their homes. I would support funding more mental health services, affordable housing for those working for the city residents, like schoolteachers, and more funding and equal funding for all schools.
Vincent Orange: I support education, affordable housing and recovery of the DC economy funding.
Now that universal paid leave is law in DC, there must be an examination of how to eliminate the $160 million required to provide these benefits to nonresidents.
CM Cheh has introduced a bill that would treat residents and nonresidents alike for paid leave benefits. There is a potential cost savings, if the funding mechanism is adjusted properly. See my opinion article published by the DC Line on June 29, 2020 entitled “DC’s Universal Paid Leave system should treat all DC residents equally.
DC may not be able to fund the $100 per month SmarTrip Cards and paying off the bonds on NATS stadium ten years early.
Alex Padro: If I was able to choose where to invest a $300 million surplus, I would fund three initiatives that are not able to be included in the FY21 budget: housing vouchers to reduce the current decades-long waiting list for these subsidies; emergency grants for small, independent businesses struggling to survive the impact of the coronavirus crisis (in order to save such businesses and the thousands of jobs they support); and increasing subsidies for child development centers (in order to allow parents that cannot work due to the unaffordability of child care to be able to join the workforce).
Mónica Palacio: As part of my platform, I believe that we cannot afford to reduce funding levels for education, COVID relief for small business and COVID relief for workers who cannot pay for food or rent. If we are forced to make cuts in the budget, I would support cutting back on capital projects, hiring new city workers as well as cutting raises to city employees.
Article by Alex Baca.