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Answers to Hill Rag Post-Debate Questionnaire

HOUSING

·     Do you support the recent TOPA changes for single family homes that reduced notifications and eliminated the ability to assign tenant's right to purchase to a third party?

[No. If there were tenants who were misusing their TOPA rights, there was a narrower solution available that would have addressed that misuse without stripping an entire subset of tenants in DC of their rights. Unfortunately, it was voted down. In the middle of a housing crisis, we should be doing everything we can to protect renters. The pay-for-play policymaking we’ve seen by the Council to appease real estate donors stops with me.]

·     Do you support legislatively exempting the affordable 595 units of housing owned by the United House of Prayer from residential property tax?

[If a church, or any non-profit organization, is providing low-income housing that the city itself refuses to provide, that service is not only in the public interest but also helps alleviate an affordable housing crisis that the city itself has refused to tackle. Tax relief should absolutely be considered in this circumstance, particularly when one considers how many hundreds of millions of dollars wealthy developers have been given to build condos that nobody can afford.]

·     How can we help advise Build First residents that may not financially qualify for available units?

[In order for Build First to be anything other than a talking point, residents cannot find themselves in a position where they do not financially qualify for available units. The entire premise of Build First is to not displace residents, so until such time as it’s not displacing residents, it is a failing program. In order to be successful, the financial qualifications and requirements need to be tailored so they work for every low-income neighbor.]

·     How can neighborhoods be protected from "pop up" construction, which threatens neighbors with lax DCRA code enforcement during construction?

[There are too many examples of laws on the books in DC that are not enforced, and for too long we have let our DC Council throw their hands up in frustration as though they are merely concerned residents just like the rest of us. DC Council members are paid government employees. They have oversight and budgetary authority over departments such as DCRA. They should be conducting rigorous oversight and demanding performance on our behalf.]

EDUCATION

·     How can we make Early Childcare more affordable for low income and working families?

[Families in spend upwards of $32,000/year on childcare. Childcare providers earn $29,000/year. My philosophy on childcare is premised on ensuring childcare isn’t bankrupting families, or resigning providers to poverty. The Council passed a one-time $1,000 childcare tax credit for families. It not only doesn’t make a dent in this problem, it also shows they don’t get it. Instead, we should reverse tax cuts given to businesses and wealthy residents, and subsidize childcare for low-income residents.]

·     What will you do to address residency enrollment fraud in schools?

[This is another example of the DC Council being asleep at the wheel. We should not need to learn about government scandals that impact DC children and families from reporters, the Council should be conducting regular oversight so these problems are identified before they become crises. To prevent this moving forward, we need additional dedicated funding and staff to proactively conduct audits and identify issues before they shut DC children out of schools, not after.]

·     Does DCPS need further legislative reform?

[Yes. I’m the only person in this race with classroom experience and substantive policy and oversight credentials. DCPS currently lacks the dedicated resources to conduct proper internal audits and oversight, and there is a lack of transparency that makes it difficult for us to identify problems before they become crises. Legislation to provide additional transparency and oversight is needed. I believe we should consider whether Mayoral control is adequately serving the needs of our students.]

·     What steps should DCPS take to address the achievement gap between African American and white students?

[Ward 6 has the widest racial achievement gap in the city. As a former teacher and current parent, it’s shameful. Instead of modernizing Capitol Hill schools at the expense of others, we must close this gap by supporting students inside AND outside the classroom with adequate funding for special needs students; by prioritizing language immersion programs; and by scaling up the community school model linking families to health and social support services.]

IMMIGRATION

·     Should DC be a sanctuary city? (Yes or No)

[Yes. I am the product of a Jewish father and a Mexican-American mother. One side of my family was forced to flee Europe, and the other faces regular persecution in southern Arizona to this day. Perhaps the most disappointing moment of this campaign was when Charles Allen chose not to attend the only immigration forum held in 2018. Ward 6 progressives should be demanding better than the literal disregard he has shown our immigrant communities.]

JUSTICE

·     What are the three most effective reforms that DC can make to its juvenile justice system? (Bullet 3)

·     [Full implementation of the NEAR Act, which could occur if we demand that the Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee holds MPD accountable for meeting deadlines and releasing data.

·     Holding MPD accountable for aggressive policing that disproportionately impacts persons of color and transgender youth by holding hearings to publicly identify problems and demand accountability.

·     Fully investing in housing, education, healthcare and job training programs that provide vulnerable residents with economic opportunity and stability.]

·     How will you ensure that the NEAR Act is fully implemented?

[I am encouraged that the NEAR Act has finally received full funding, but am incredibly disappointed that implementation is not complete, and that MPD has not met deadlines to release data. I believe Charles Allen deserves much of the blame, because he alone has held oversight authority. As the Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, he has refused to hold MPD or the Mayor accountable when they’ve fallen short. That needs to change.]

·     Is there anything that can be done legislatively to provide more services for homeless victims of domestic violence?

[Yes. We start by repealing policies that Charles Allen voted for, which require “proof of homelessness” to enter shelters, and eliminate the potential for private bathrooms for victims of domestic violence. Imagine a family fleeing from violence and needing to bring “proof” in order to enter a shelter, then being told to share a bathroom with strangers. These policies reflect a disgusting lack of empathy and concern for victims, and must be fixed immediately.]

METRO

·     Do you support the recent tax increases to fund Metro?

[I understand the need to raise revenue to fund Metro, but I do not fully support the way it was done. I support increasing the sales tax for hotel rooms and rental cars. I do not support raising the general sales tax across the board; it’s regressive tax policy that disproportionately impacts low-income residents. I would prefer to fully reverse the corporate and estate tax cuts that Charles Allen voted for last summer.]

·     Do you support protected bike lanes on Sixth Street, NW, in Shaw and on Second Street in SW? Please address concerns of implications for nearby churches and parking?

[I support protected bike lanes and believe they serve our city’s interest. However, there are unique concerns specifically as it relates to local churches. Our housing policies have displaced thousands of residents who used to walk to church, and now are forced to drive. Additional bike lanes eliminate parking and will keep some residents from their places of worship. I believe that is the type of consideration that should matter to us, as a community.]

CAMPAIGN LAW

·     What improvements should be made to current campaign finance laws?

[I’ve proposed mandatory disclosure of all donors who are owners or executives of companies that lobby the DC Council or receive public benefits. Charles Allen opposes this reform. Current law caps business and individual contributions at $500, so candidates can take more from executives than from the business, while saying they don’t take business money. It’s like refusing money from the Trump Organization but taking checks from Ivanka, Eric, Jared and Don Jr as individuals.]

·     Do you support open primaries? (Yes or No)

[Yes. Closed primaries and arbitrary party registration deadlines are a form of voter suppression.]

SOCIAL ISSUES

·     What do you think of the Mayor's plan to close DC General?

[I support closing DC General but am incredibly disappointed by the way it is being done. I have spent a lot of time at DC General during this campaign, and it’s clear our neighbors who live there have no idea where they will be asked to go next, or when. It’s wrong, and inhumane. Charles Allen is exacerbating this problem by refusing to tell voters whether he supports Amazon HQ2 being built on that land.]

·     Do you support a sales tax exemption for women's hygiene products and diapers? (Yes or No)

[Yes. DC lags behind comparable cities when it comes to this progressive policy. The tampon tax is an unfair burden on low-income women and families throughout DC, who pay an estimated $3 million per year in tax on essential hygiene products. DC is choosing to profit from products that are considered medically essential to keep women and children healthy, by instituting a regressive tax that does not apply to any other necessary preventive healthcare service.]

·     Do you support DC legalizing sports gambling? (Yes or No)

[Yes. Following the Supreme Court decision, Delaware has already implemented Vegas-style sports betting, and New Jersey is not far behind. Moreover, analysts expect sports betting to be legalized in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other surrounding states within the next five years. The reality is that DC has a choice between legalizing sports betting and capturing some of the revenue as a percentage-based tax on revenue and winnings, or ceding this revenue to neighboring states.]

STATEHOOD

·     What steps have you taken or need to be taken to make statehood a reality?

[I admire the work Delegate Norton has done to advocate for and increase support of statehood in Congress. As the only person in this race who has worked in our federal government, including in Congress, I understand the challenges that keep this from becoming a reality. I believe we need to commit to electing leaders who reflect competent local governance free from scandal, deception, or criminal behavior, and who understand how to work with Congress.]

EMPLOYMENT

·     What can be done to decrease minority unemployment?

[Local job training and skills development programs are lacking, and are woefully underfunded. Moreover, the Council must conduct oversight when it comes to enforcement of local hiring laws for construction and new development, regardless of whether executives are political donors. I’m also an advocate for providing DC residents with District government jobs.  DC government should be staffed primarily by DC residents; this would not only increase local tax revenue, but it would improve city services.]

·     How would you create opportunities for our returning citizens?

[For returning citizens, we must provide new mandatory dedicated funding to MORCA so additional case managers and key staff can be hired to provide services for everyone in need; build on the current structured program available to those who require it within 180 days of release; and expand programs to link returning citizens to existing housing, health, counseling and jobs programs throughout the city. Long-term, we must also establish greater control of our prison system.]

·     How do we ensure there is equal pay for equal work for women and minorities in the District?

[We start by rejecting DC insiders who are beholden to special interests, and electing progressive women and people of color to office. DC lags behind most progressive cities when it comes to enforcement and oversight of equal pay laws, and I’ve come to learn that Charles Allen doesn’t understand many of these issues because he’s never had to face them. We need to elect leaders who understand and have empathy for everyone in our community.]

Questions from the Returning Citizen's Candidates Forum

1)    Please answer with a simple “Yes” or “No”, Are you in favor of Building a Prison in DC?

[Yes.]

2)    Should the DC Government build a new jail?

[Yes.]

a)    Should the DC Government have a private company finance and build the jail — and; then, lease the building from the private company?

[No.]

b)    Should the DC Government have a private company operate its jail?

[No.]

3)    What steps should the DC Government undertake to encourage returning citizens to register to vote?

[Since the right to vote is returned automatically to all returning citizens upon release, voter registration should occur automatically at that point as well. Additional funding to MORCA to hire case managers and key staff would allow them to proactively ensure that registration information is up to date.]

4)    What support should the DC Government provide to returning citizens?

[We should start by providing additional funding to MORCA so additional case managers and key staff can be hired, to provide services for everyone who needs them. It is important to build on the current structured program available to those who require it within 180 days of release, but we should be expanding these programs to include services that connect returning citizens to existing housing, health and jobs programs in the city. Structured reentry activities and case management that provides critical learning opportunities on things like parenting, health literacy, resume and job preparation, computer skills and financial management are critical, but we need to start by electing DC Councilmembers who will commit to making sure the funding is there. This means electing people who have the compassion, empathy, and commitment to ensure our returning citizens come home and are on the glidepath to success.]

5)    How will you leverage your position to bring more dollars to DC for Workforce Development?

[Budgets are moral documents, and our funding priorities reflect our values. One of the most inexcusable votes my opponent has taken was last summer, when he decided to cut the corporate and estate tax rates. Cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy when we are falling short in key areas, including housing, education, homelessness and workforce development programs, is not only wrong, it’s immoral. I would commit to reversing these cuts, so we can fund programs that we need in our communities, and take care of people in a way that reflects the true values of our city. I would have no problem calling out my colleagues on the Council should they choose to help the ultra-wealthy rather than our most vulnerable citizens. And, unlike our current councilmember, I would not vote yes on such shortsighted, immoral policies.

6)    What functions should the Reentry Portal perform?

[The Reentry Portal should serve as a hub where people know they can go to be plugged into needed services and become informed of job, housing and health care opportunities. However, we need to make sure the funding exists on the back end to provide the comprehensive services. Last year, there was $2.3m allocated to the Returning Citizens Portal of Entry; just under half was for case management and transportation. The funding level was not sufficient to provide the wraparound services we need. If we want to truly solve the underlying drivers of incarceration we need to commit to funding that will get the job done.]

a)    Should the Reentry Portal be part of the DC Department of Corrections (DOC) or part of the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs (MORCA)?

[MORCA.]

b)    Why?

[We should expect close collaboration between DOC and MORCA as a returning citizen gets close to reentry, because coordination of services and identification of needs is critical to ensuring that we are providing the services that are needed. However, I do not think a returning citizen should have to continue to engage with DOC on an ongoing basis after being released, because we do not need to provide social services through our criminal justice system. The goal is to provide needed workforce training and social, health and educational services, and those services should be available in communities throughout the city, as they are for other residents, rather than available only through the DOC. Housing these services outside the DOC also allows for dedicated funding to be provided, and ongoing oversight to be conducted by the Council, to make sure we are allocating the necessary resources and providing returning citizens with the high-quality services they deserve. In addition, an office under direct control of the Mayor should be better able to collaborate directly with existing health, housing, educational and job training programs in DC for which returning citizens are eligible and could benefit from, and address issues related to agencies and departments not providing services as quickly or efficiently as they should be expected to.]

7)    What is the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs (MORCA) doing well?  

[MORCA is providing critical services that make a real difference, such as structured reentry activities and case management that provides learning opportunities on things like parenting, health literacy, resume and job preparation, computer skills and financial management. These are absolutely essential to ensure returning citizens are able to return to their communities and achieve success.]

a)    What is the MORCA not doing well? 

[The comprehensiveness and availability of services is falling short of what we should expect. The goal should be to provide everyone who needs assistance with assistance. We can realize this goal by demanding that the DC Council provide adequate funding to hire additional case management staff to meet the current demand for services.]

b)    What else should MORCA be doing?

[MORCA should proactively create working relationships on a staff-to-staff level with all key DC agencies providing health, housing, educational, social and job training services, to better integrate existing services into their work, and to ensure that returning citizens are able to fully take advantage of city services. Since we know we currently fall short when it comes to providing housing and other services to returning citizens, this collaboration will allow MORCA to more quickly identify shortcomings that are having a harmful impact on returning citizens, and work to address them quickly.]

8)    What is the Department of Corrections (DOC) doing well?  

[DOC has greatly improved when it comes to commitment to providing health and social services to inmates, and educational and workforce training services as well. While there is additional work to be done and progress to be made, it is encouraging that DOC has identified the need and appreciates the importance of this work.]

a)    What is the DOC not doing well?  

[Because of the condition of the DC Jail, DOC is not providing inmates with the safe environment we should expect our city to provide. Due to lack of funding and lack of functional space, DOC is not providing as many educational and training services to inmates as we should expect. We can address these shortcomings by building a new DC Jail that reflects our shared values in providing safe space for inmates, and opportunities to access treatment and training that will increase the likelihood of success in the community upon release.]

b)    What other functions should the DOC be performing?

[DOC should do more to proactively collaborate with MORCA to identify needs for inmates who will soon be released, so the process to link returning citizens with services can be more automated and less dependent on a returning citizen’s initiative or knowledge of available programs. The more proactive we can be in coordinating and providing services, the more likely we are to set people up for success.]

9)    Do you support the cities ASPIRE to Entrepreneurship Program @ DSLBD?

[Yes. I would like to see funding and outreach increased in order to grow the program so it reaches more people.]

10) The Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program is designed to help returning citizens start their own businesses.  Will you support full funding for this program?

[Yes.]

11) The full name of the NEAR Act is “Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results.”  What aspects of the NEAR Act are being implemented well?

[The opening of the ONSE to begin to address the underlying causes of violence and crime is a very positive step in the right direction. I hope to see the office continue to grow, receive full funding, and increase its reach.]

a)    What aspects of the NEAR Act are not being implemented well?

[We have fallen woefully short when it comes to collection and reporting of the required data elements we should be seeing from MPD, including stop-and-frisk data. Unfortunately, it has become clear that we cannot rely on MPD to comply proactively, and unfortunately, we have not been able to rely on my opponent, Mr. Allen, to use his authority as Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee to compel MPD to take their obligations under the law seriously and respond in a timely manner.

b)    What changes would you make to the NEAR Act?

[I would start by requiring MPD follow through with their obligations under the current law, so we can begin to see where we are falling short. We need to elect officials who are willing to hold MPD leadership accountable for doing the work they are legally required to do.

12) Reportedly, returning citizens are not getting help from the D.C. Housing Programs when released from prison.

a)    What might you do as a government agent to address such reports?

[If any DC agency is falling short when it comes to providing services to our neighbors, whether they be returning citizens or not, they are falling short of what we demand from them, and should be held accountable. I would commit to demanding regular public hearings, conducting ongoing oversight, and demanding accountability at agencies that are falling short. If DC government leadership clearly understands that the expectation is for them to provide services to everyone who needs them, and that they will be held accountable if they fail to do so, we should be able to increase the feeling of accountability within our government agencies and departments.]

13) What are your plans to expand services for returning citizens coming from BOP facilities?

[Since BOP services vary widely from facility to facility, we cannot rely on those programs to adequately prepare returning citizens for reentry and instead need to proactively involve MORCA to identify people in need of services, and proactively reach out to make sure they are provided. We can improve our ability to do this by increasing funding for case managers, and improving collaboration and coordination between MORCA and DC government agencies and departments.

14) From your viewpoint, what are the biggest obstacles to improving police- community relations be specific – what can be done to overcome them and what could help?

[I believe we lack a level of trust between many citizens and MPD officers. This is particularly true among persons of color and the trans community. Lack of trust makes all of us less safe, citizens and officers alike, so addressing it should be a priority. We should start by providing training to MPD officers so they are able to engage with all of our neighbors appropriately, regardless of language or cultural barriers. We should also encourage officers to engage with neighbors in our community, to build relationships and trust. Only 17 percent of MPD officers live in the District. We should be hiring more officers from our community, and ensuring that they can afford to live in the District. Furthermore, we should be reducing the frequency and amount of police transfers to avoid uprooting officers that have built trust within our community. Finally, we must fully fund and implement the NEAR Act, so we can begin to identify specific issues related to improper targeting and stops that we know are occurring, so we can begin to employ targeted solutions, including additional training as needed.]

15) As a legislator/representative, what would you do to encourage a fairer judicial system; where privilege, money, or race do not prevail?

[We should start by working to make sure privilege, money and race are not impacting our policing, so low-income minority populations are not unfairly targeted and improperly placed within our criminal justice system in the first place. Beyond that, I believe we need to commit to increasing funding for public defender services, so everyone accused of a crime receives legal representation that has the time, energy and skill to competently and effectively represent them in court.]

16) What is your 1 year plan to transition returning citizens to working citizens?

And how would you pay for it? (Looking for specific plan or policy)

[We currently give hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to wealthy developers to build shiny new condo buildings, and because these wealthy developers donate to all of the incumbent DC Councilmembers, they receive this money with no strings attached. They are not required to hire local workers to build these projects, nor are they required to hire local workers to staff the restaurants, hotels and other businesses that eventually open. I believe that needs to stop, and I would immediately move to introduce legislation that would bar any taxpayer subsidies for any projects that do not meet local hiring thresholds. In order to ensure that returning citizens are able to be fairly considered for these jobs, and ultimately hired, I would model a DC tax credit program after the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit, where a business could be eligible for tax relief if they hire local returning citizens, and retain them as an employee for a minimum time period. We can implement these types of progressive policies if we elect leaders who have not been bought and paid for by wealthy developers and business owners.

17) Should the District government ask the Federal government revisit (repeal, modify, amend, or nullify) the National Revitalization Act of 1997?

[Yes. I believe DC should have the ability to control the level and quality of health, educational and social services provided, the condition and location of prison facilities, and the terms of parole for inmates who committed crimes in DC. Too often, we are sending our prison population hundreds of miles away, leaving them isolated and unprepared to reenter their community because they were not provided with necessary social and health services, educational programs or job training. We could be doing more to ensure the success of returning citizens in DC, if given the authority to do so.]

18) Should the district sue MPD for not following the mandate of gathering and reporting contained in the NEAR act?

[Yes. It is unfortunate that we could not count on MPD to comply, and it is equally unfortunate that my opponent, Mr. Allen, chose not to use his authority, as Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee for the past three years, to demand that they comply. Since we now know we cannot rely on MPD or Mr. Allen to act, it is time for the courts to intervene.]

19) THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR’S MAY ISSUE. Has a comprehensive article on the other failure of civil commitment of Sex Offenders. Would you support the DC Sentencing Commission doing a study of the issue which is in DC?

[Yes.]

El Distrito ha tomado pasos hacia adelante en ofrecer programas de educación bilingües pero más se tiene que hacer para cumplir con la demanda creciente de la comunidad.

El Distrito ha tomado pasos hacia adelante en ofrecer programas de educación bilingües pero más se tiene que hacer para cumplir con la demanda creciente de la comunidad. El problema es urgente y algo se tiene que hacer. Con cada dia que pasa, estamos dejando estudiantes atrás.

La educación bilingüe, a través de inmersión de lenguaje, a probado a ser efectiva y valiosa para los estudiantes que están aprendiendo el inglés y para aquellos que ya hablan el inglés. Es necesario que el Council del Distrito entienda los beneficios de la educación bilingüe y que haga más para expandir las opciones que existen para obtener una educación bilingüe.

Para que una escuela sea considerada bilingüe, de inmersión, o de dos idiomas, al menos la mitad del tiempo de instrucción debe de ocurrir en un idioma que no sea el inglés. La diferencia entre esto y la enseñanza tradicional de otro idioma es que estudiantes quizás tengan materias enteras enseñadas en otro idioma. Por ejemplo, la matemática puede ser enseñada en inglés mientras que la historia se enseñe en español.

Hay once escuelas en el Distrito que enseñan a los niños en español y ingles. Existen siete escuelas públicas en el Distrito que ofrecen educación bilingüe elemental, incluyendo a Tyler en Capitol Hill. Cuatro escuelas de charter ofrecen educación bilingüe, pero ningunas de estas se encuentran en Ward 6.

No es una sorpresa que no hay mucho espacio en estas escuelas. Las listas de espera con frecuencia contienen hasta más de 200 nombres. Las listas de espera para programas de pre-kinder que ofrecen educación bilingüe son, en promedio, 2.2 veces más largas que las listas de espera para programas normales.

Desafortunadamente, programas de educación bilingüe no han podido expandir y no han podido convertirsen en lo normal porque no existen los fondos para reclutar y entrenar instructores con las cualificaciones adecuadas. Katarina Brito, desarrolladora de programas bilingües, dice que las escuelas públicas del Distrito están compitiendo para obtener instructores con altas calificaciones que no solo sean expertos en ciertas materias, pero que sean capaces de dirigir un salón de clase en español. Es importante que reconozcamos este hueco en instructores cualificados y que discutamos como es que el council del Distrito puede hacer más para incentivar el empleo como educador bilingüe, y para empoderar y alentar individuos bilingües en el Distrito a considerar carreras en este tipo de trabajo.

Cerca a 30 por ciento de la población del Distrito habla un idioma que no es el inglés. Con un compromiso del Council en la forma de financiamiento adecuado para la educación y entrenamiento de instructores, deberíamos de ser capaces de resolver la escasez de maestros a través de identificar y apoyar maestros talentosos aquí en nuestros vecindarios.

Sabemos que los beneficios de la educación bilingüe ha atraído la atención de padres en el Distrito, porque un número creciente de padres estan buscando a inscribir sus hijos en escuelas bilingües. Programas inicialmente creados para services inmigrantes Latinos y sus hijos se han convertido en codiciadas oportunidades de enriquecimiento para aquellos que hablan inglés y que reconocen el valor de ser bilingüe en un mundo globalizado. Esto es un desarrollo en gran parte positivo porque es importante que todos los niños del Distrito obtengan una competencia lingüística y cultural, y que aprendan a aceptar la diversidad en lugar de sentirse amenazados por ello. Sin embargo, la creciente demanda para la educación bilingüe quiere decir que necesitamos acción del gobierno para asegurarnos que no estemos dejando vecinos atrás. Es imperativo que tomamos en consideración las necesidades de las comunidades latinos y de minorías mientras que trabajamos a expandir los programas. La educación bilingüe debe de ser una opción para todas las familias sin importar de dónde vienen entonces el Council del Distrito está pasado de tener que priorizar el financiamiento y establecer caminos de empleo para maestros para asegurar que nuestro sistema esté satisfaciendo las necesidades de nuestra comunidad.

The DC Office of Human Rights is overburdened; the solution is more funding, not fewer human rights.

The DC Office of Human Rights (OHR) is under-funded, and under-appreciated by our DC Council. With a budget of approximately $5m annually, OHR is tasked with enforcing the DC Human Rights Act, DC Family Medical Leave Act, and the DC Bullying Prevention laws, in addition to investigating discriminatory practices throughout the city and overseeing DC Language Access programs.

At present, OHR has trouble keeping pace with the number of complaints they receive. In 2016, OHR received over 2,000 inquiries, resulting in nearly $4m in settlement payments. The number of complaints has increased in recent years, and while Councilmember Grosso was recently able to secure a modest funding increase, OHR remains under-staffed and under-resourced.

The solution to an over-burdened Office of Human Rights isn’t fewer human rights for DC residents, but my opponent does not seem to agree. He recently justified his refusal to lift a block on a bill that would provide homeless neighbors with protections against discrimination by saying OHR had enough work to do, and shouldn’t be asked to do more.

Mr. Allen is wrong. The solution to an overburdened Office of Human Rights isn’t fewer human rights for the most vulnerable among us. The solution is mandatory funding from the DC Council so this critical office is able to meet our city’s growing need for its services. 

By single-handedly blocking a bill that would afford our homeless neighbors with basic protections against discrimination, Mr. Allen is signaling tacit approval for current practices by some landlords to deny housing to rental applicants based on housing status. He is signaling support for harassment and forceful removal of homeless residents from public spaces, simply based on their housing status. He is asserting that these residents should not have an opportunity to bring a claim of discrimination against a landlord or a store owner, because we do not have the time or the staff to hear them.

The solution to the staffing shortage and backlog of claims at OHR is simple: the office needs additional funding based on the actual need, because every legitimate claim of discrimination deserves to be heard, investigated, and resolved. In recent years, we have used millions of surplus dollars in our budget to cut taxes for corporations and the ultra-wealthy, so I reject the claim that we do not have money to adequately fund our Office of Human Rights. 

The DC Council needs to catch up to our community when it comes to funding bilingual education services.

DC has taken steps to offer bilingual education programs, but much more needs be done to meet the growing demand of the community. The solutions are urgent, and need to happen immediately. With each passing day we fall short, we are leaving students behind.

Bilingual education through language immersion has proven to not only be effective but very valuable for both English learners and native English speakers. It is incumbent on our DC Council to understand the benefits of bilingual education and do more to expand educational options in DC.

To be considered a bilingual, immersion, or dual-language school, at least half of instructional time must occur in a language other than English, even for children who are native English speakers. This is different from teaching a foreign language, because students might have entire subjects taught in another language; for example, math may be taught in English while history may be taught in Spanish.

There are eleven schools in DC that teach children in Spanish and English. There are seven DC Public Schools that offer bilingual elementary education, including Tyler on Capitol Hill.  Four DC charter schools offer bilingual education, though none are in Ward 6.

Of course, space is not readily available at these schools, and waitlists often contain upwards of 200 names. The waitlists for pre-k programs that offer bilingual instruction are, on average, 2.2 times longer as the non-bilingual program waitlists.

Unfortunately, bilingual education programs have not been able to expand and become the norm in large part because we lack the funds to hire and train qualified teachers. Bilingual program developer Katarina Brito says that DCPS is competing for highly qualified teachers who are not only trained in specific subjects, but also capable of running a classroom in Spanish. It’s important that we recognize this gap in qualified teachers and discuss how the DC Council can do more to incentivize employment in DC as a bilingual educator, and empower and encourage bilingual individuals in DC to consider careers in this field. Close to 30 percent of the DC-area population speaks a language other than English, so with a commitment from the DC Council in the form of adequate funding for education, training and career pathways, we should be able to solve much of our teacher shortage by identifying and supporting talented educators right here in our neighborhoods.

The benefits of bilingual education have caught the attention of parents in DC, an increasing number of parents are seeking to enroll their children in dual-language schools. Programs that were originally created to serve Latinx immigrants and their children have become coveted enrichment opportunities for native English speakers who recognize the value of being bilingual in a globalized world. This is a largely positive development, as it is important for all DC children to obtain linguistic and cultural competence, and learn to embrace diversity rather than feel threatened by it. However, the increased demand means we need government action and involvement to keep pace, so we are not leaving any of our neighbors behind.  It’s imperative that we take into consideration the needs of Latinx communities and communities of color while working to expand bilingual education options in DC. Bilingual education should be an option for all families regardless of income level or background, so it’s long past time for the DC Council to prioritize funding and educational pathways to ensure our system is meeting the needs of our community. 

We've Failed Our City's Homeless Women

I recently met a homeless woman who was born and raised in Ward 6, and attended the old Hine school. Until several years ago, she lived on Capitol Hill with her mother and sister. Her mother faced domestic abuse from her boyfriend, and suffered from many physical ailments, so she served as her caretaker. In 2013, her mother passed away, and six months later her sister was tragically shot and killed by her partner. Within six months, her mother and sister were gone, and she found herself homeless. She has been living on our streets since that time, hoping to someday receive a housing voucher.

Our city has failed her, and so many women like her. From failing to provide health care and mental health services to her family, to failing to support her when she has needed us most, our city left her and her family to fend for themselves. In spite of it all, her optimism was inspiring. She believes she will be ok, if she remains positive. It was a privilege to spend time listening to her story. It was sad to realize that she’s never had the opportunity to tell it to her representative on the DC Council.

It has become very apparent during my time running for DC Council in Ward 6 that the incumbent has not been listening to these women. They either don’t know who he is, or they tell me they don’t believe he knows they exist.

On any given night, an average of 882 unaccompanied women experience homelessness in DC. According to a recent study on the condition of homeless women in DC, 42 percent of these women have been victims of domestic violence. One in three homeless women report domestic violence as the direct cause for their housing instability. For the homeless woman I met, domestic violence existed in nearly every facet of her life.

At the federal level, resources for domestic violence and sexual assault victims are becoming more and more limited as Republicans continue their efforts to undermine Medicaid and eliminate insurance products sold on the individual market. The DC Council is doing little, if anything, in response. In fact, we’re often doing the opposite. In a progressive city like ours, we should not be leaving women experiencing domestic violence to fend for themselves.

We should be providing homeless women with the support and services they want and need. Other than housing, homeless women list access to affordable and healthy foods, mental health services, educational programs, healthcare, and employment and training opportunities as their top priorities. We’re doing little to assist them, and in many ways, my opponent has actually made their lives harder. By requiring proof of homelessness to enter shelters, and limiting access to private bathrooms, our DC Council has helped perpetuate the cycle of emotional and physical insecurity our women experiencing homelessness face.

These women have told us what they need, and our city has the resources to deliver, if we elect leaders who care enough to do so.

DC’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers Deceive Pregnant Women

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Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), sometimes referred to as “pregnancy resource centers” or “fake clinics,” offer pregnant women an abortion-alternative agenda under the guise of professional healthcare. There are 4,000+ centers nationwide, four in DC, and one in Ward 6.

The problem? CPCs are not medical facilities. Instead of offering information that is medically accurate, comprehensive and unbiased, CPCs intentionally mislead women to keep them from accessing abortion care. To get women in the door, these self-proclaimed ‘clinics’ offer free pregnancy tests, and sometimes offer sonograms. Staff will often wear white coats and medical scrubs, and are trained to deflect when asked if they provide abortion services. In reality, these centers are unlicensed and unregulated. Once inside, women are given medical misinformation and pressured to carry a pregnancy to term.

The Supreme Court is currently deciding a case against a similar California state law. I was proud to attend the rally outside the court on March 20 in support of women who have been taken advantage of by these fake clinics. I was equally proud to join local women the following week in a protest outside the fake clinic in Ward 6.

The CPC in Ward 6 is located on Capitol Hill. According to its website, “The Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center serves the Gospel of Jesus Christ by providing intervention and abortion alternatives...and encourages a lifestyle that reflects godly values, especially with regard to sexual behavior.” When a student from a Georgetown University student group called the center in October, he was told that a 10-week-old fetus can feel pain—despite there being no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Unfortunately, DC does not require CPCs to disclose that they are not medical facilities. The Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center does not display any such signs. In fact, DC does not even require CPCs to disclose that they’re not medical facilities and neither the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs nor the DC Department of Health regulates the activity of such centers. At a time when facts, science, and truth matters, our local laws ought to protect women seeking reproductive care they are legally afforded.

This is another example of basic women’s health care being ignored by our DC Council. A pregnant woman in DC deserves medically accurate, comprehensive and unbiased information. The solution is to immediately move legislation that requires CPCs to advertise truthfully in DC, and to display signage that discloses their medical status, and whether or not they provide comprehensive reproductive health services. Similar ordinances have been passed in New York City and San Francisco, so once again DC finds itself behind progressive cities across the nation.

In 2014, my opponent refused to answer a question from Planned Parenthood regarding whether he supported women having access to abortion services at all qualified health care providers. It was an incredibly confusing decision, one that led to him receiving one of the lowest Planned Parenthood scores issued to DC Council candidates during the 2014 election year. I believe he made this strange choice in part because he did not want to be asked to legislate against the CPC in Ward 6. On this issue, we could not disagree more. Our community can count on me to always stand up for the safety, well-being, and constitutional rights of women, and always fight for their access to comprehensive reproductive services. When it comes to women’s health there can be no gray area, and there can be no unanswered questions.

Urban Planning with Neighbors, Not Developers, in Mind

Since the start of my campaign, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Ward 6 residents talk about the issues that concern them the most. It has been a true privilege to get to know people from across our Ward, and learn about their lives. Though the specifics vary from person to person, one issue has been mentioned with overwhelmingly consistency: parking.

It’s not interesting to talk about, nor the making of a revolutionary campaign promise. It also doesn’t carry the same urgency as the need to improve DC’s public schools, solve our affordable housing crisis, or expand access to quality healthcare. But this city’s parking shortages affect just about everyone, and only harm DC residents. These problems can seem mundane, like the daily hassle of driving around the block a few extra times in search of a spot, or the need to shell out an ever-rising rent to get a spot near your apartment. But I’m also compelled to think of our elderly neighbors, who have told me about their joint pain when walking increased distances between their cars and homes. Bringing home groceries just shouldn’t be that hard.

At its core, parking shortages come from new construction developments throughout the city–especially in our ward. Each square foot of shiny, expensive new buildings and closed-off courtyards occupies space where a resident could park. To prevent this, every new development in the city is supposed to follow a set of zoning rules, including those that require a certain amount of parking spaces depending on the size and type of the building. Given the volume of complaints I’m hearing from residents in every corner of Ward 6, it’s clear that these guidelines are either not being followed or adequately enforced.

One of the worst problem areas is in Southwest. Throughout the construction of Nationals Stadium, The Wharf, and every apartment and condo building in between, a common thread seems to have been little, or no, urban planning. The area has become increasingly congested, traffic and daily disruptions for our residents are getting out of hand, crosswalks have become dangerous for elderly and limited mobility residents, and free street parking has become increasingly scarce. We should not be squeezing longtime residents in order to accommodate developer-driven growth.

Moving forward, we need to enforce zoning regulations that deal with parking, or update them to reflect the current needs of residents, because not doing so is harming our elderly and low-income neighbors. Further, when traffic studies and urban planning experts go before the Zoning Commission, we must make sure they reflect a truly unbiased, evidence-based stance and are not backed by developers with an agenda to keep building with reckless abandon. Big developers should not be allowed to take away public parking spaces then charge exorbitant prices for their private garages, no matter how much money they donate to our DC Councilmembers. Whether it’s pushing rents beyond affordability or shirking the responsibility of creating parking spaces, they have passed through too many loopholes at the expense of our community members. The decisions that affect the very shape of our neighborhoods–from the number of parking spaces to the width of the sidewalks–should be made solely for the benefit of the people who call them home.

Caribbean-American Political Action Committee Questionnaire

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Caribbean-American Political Action Committee questionnaire. I am especially excited and proud to have this opportunity, because one of the great influences in my life was my time living in the Caribbean, in Guyana as a member of the Peace Corps, teaching literacy in Charity. I remain in regular touch with my host family because they have truly become a part of my family. I witnessed firsthand the hurdles they faced, but also their resiliency, kindness, and generosity. They taught me so much, and I carry those lessons with me every day.

I was raised in a mixed-race household by my first-generation Jewish father and my Mexican-American mother. They both overcame long odds to achieve success, and create opportunity for myself and my brother. Along the way, they taught us the importance of social justice, and instilled in us the belief that it was our obligation to give back; to lift and support others because we are standing on the shoulders of those who did the same for us. I look back now and am so humbled to have learned those lessons from my parents, and so proud to know that they have faith in me to live them and pass them along to my own daughter.

I am also humbled to have this opportunity to run, which is a privilege that most people in our community do not have the time or resources to do. I am proud to know that if I am elected I would be the first Latinx to serve on the DC Council, something that is long overdue. If 2016 taught us anything, it is that we as a community must do even more to stand up for each other, speak out when we see injustice, organize in support of progressive causes and candidates, and run for office when we know our representatives are falling short. That is why I decided to run. I am not a politician, I am a progressive, working mom who is sick of watching our current leaders talk a good game, then take votes that leave too many of our neighbors behind and pay no political price for it.

I have spent enough time watching the incumbent cut taxes for corporations and the ultra-wealthy while voting against funding for affordable housing; I have watched him vote to make it harder for homeless neighbors to access shelters; vote against eliminating the tipped minimum wage; and ignore entire communities in our Ward, even as they are being displaced, simply because they do not make political donations. I also faced my own personal battle as a constituent, when my husband and I tried to have Spanish-language no parking signs removed from our neighborhood. They were not placed by the city, but by neighbors who wanted to target Latino workers and keep them from using public street parking. Simply put, the signs were discriminatory, and they needed to be removed. Yet, my councilmember did nothing, so we had to remove them ourselves. It was then that I truly learned who he was, and seeing it firsthand was a big reason I decided to enter this race, even if my chances were slim. No matter the odds, a fight on behalf of our vulnerable neighbors is a fight worth having.

I have built my career by serving others. Before moving to DC, I helped protect immigrants in Los Angeles from unscrupulous employers as a Legal Fellow with Bet Tzedek, taught literacy to Guyanese youth as a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked as a field organizer on the Obama campaign in 2008, and followed President Obama to DC after his election hoping to make a difference and serve the public. Nearly a decade later, this city has given me everything: a career, an education, great friends, a family, a dog, and a home. Then, in 2016, my husband and I became proud parents to our daughter Julia Justicia (“JJ”).

But even in a progressive city like ours, I see a troubling lack of empathy, accountability, transparency, and compassion in our DC Council. Simply put, the status quo is not ok, and too many of our neighbors literally cannot afford another four years of this. If elected, I commit to holding true to our shared values, and continuing to stand up for vulnerable communities. I’m not in this for myself. I’m in it for my neighbors.

Thank you again for the opportunity to submit my response, for your consideration, and for all the work you do on behalf of people who are so truly deserving of our help.

With gratitude,

Lisa Hunter

Candidate for DC Council, Ward 6 

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1.     Please explain your plan or approach to improve agency responsiveness and the quality of the District’s constituent services.

[I recently wrote about a story a local advocate told me, about a woman seeking to work in a salon in DC. The woman was working to comply with local regulations and secure appropriate licensure, but none of the DC agencies she was required to interface with could provide her with the language assistance she needed. The process was confusing and cumbersome, and like many of us, the woman was unable to navigate it without assistance from her government. But her government did not provide her with the assistance she needed. Three months later, the local advocate ran into this woman again. She was at a church, eating a free meal. Having been unable to secure approval to work in the salon, the woman was homeless.

When I heard this story, it broke my heart. The role of our city’s agencies and our representatives on the DC Council is to lift people up, and in this case, they did just the opposite. This is why we must demand nothing less than an accountable, transparent, efficient government that is responsive to all of our neighbors. This starts with constituent services, and it is the role of our councilmembers to find solutions and interface with agencies on our behalf when there is a problem that needs to be solved. This isn’t what we get from our current leadership; the most common response to a request is “I’ll look into it,” and if you live in Ward 6, you likely have multiple such requests outstanding, sometimes years after they were made. It’s unacceptable.

In order to make our government work for its people, I will not only prioritize constituent services for the residents of Ward 6, I will commit to interfacing with them, in person, at agencies such as DCRA, DOH and other places that pose regular problems for our residents. If elected, I plan to hold regular office hours at these agencies, because constituent problems are a councilmember’s problems. I commit to making constituent problems my problems, and helping to solve them in person. It’s easy to forward emails along and hope someone else deals with the problem, as our current councilmember is known to do, but real leadership requires showing up. There is no excuse for inaction on the part of agencies, whose budgets are approved by the DC Council. It is time to exercise the full authority of the legislative branch and demand accountability and performance through rigorous oversight and aggressive follow-up.

In addition to improving our basic services for all neighbors, I would like to pay specific attention to fixing the shortcomings of our current language access services. The DC Language Access Act was introduced in 2004, and passed over ten years ago. Since that time, immigrants have made up approximately one third of DC’s population growth. Our city’s immigrant communities and limited- or non-English proficient (LEP/NEP) speakers are deserving of, and indeed entitled to, government services, yet our Council has not prioritized much-needed reforms. Although legislation that would strengthen the law and ensure that it actually achieves its goals has been introduced on multiple occasions since 2014, the DC Council has failed to act, leaving vulnerable members of our community without access to critical services. According to the most recent compliance report issued by the DC Office on Human Rights, places like the Department of Health, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Office of Contracting and Procurement, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education fell short in meeting the preparedness, accessibility, and quality standards required to serve the needs of our LEP/NEP populations. This is absolutely unacceptable. We can do better, just as progressive cities throughout the country already have. New York has an entire Translation and Interpretation Unit integrated into their Department of Education, dedicated to identifying and addressing language barriers in schools. San Francisco offers translation services in over one hundred languages for all web-facing content, including their law enforcement and judicial web pages, and provides additional services by phone and in-person as needed. There is nothing stopping DC from implementing these same services and requiring additional language training and services be made available across our police department, agencies, schools, and court system. It’s an investment that will make city services more accessible for many of our neighbors who need them most. If I am elected, this will be one of my top priorities.]

2.     What specific actions have you initiated or will you take to support the Caribbean-American community in Washington, D.C.? 

[Providing the Caribbean-American community, and all minority communities in DC, with the support they deserve requires a comprehensive look at housing, education and economic policies across the city. I believe we start by making sure city services are accessible to everyone, and that starts with fixing our language access shortfalls, as outlined above. According to the most recent Census data, over a quarter of DC-area homes speak a language other than English as the primary language in their home, a number that is well above the national average. This is true for many of our Caribbean-American families, and the city is failing to meet the needs of our limited- or non-English proficient neighbors.

I recently wrote a piece for my website about language access issues and I hope you will take a moment to read it, available in English here, and in Spanish here. I will push for an immediate markup and passage of the Language Access for Education Act. The number of residents in DC for whom English is not a first language continues to rise, yet DC lags behind most progressive cities in the nation with respect to accessibility to government services. As a Latina, this bothers me at a very personal level, and my own personal interactions with my opponent as a constituent have me convinced that he is not the person to help us move forward as a community. At a minimum, we should be ensuring that children in our schools for whom English is not a first language are given the tools and resources to be successful, including translations of essential information and other materials that will contribute to their success.

I would also propose an amendment to the Language Access for Education Act that would lower the thresholds that trigger the presence of a school language liaison from what has currently been proposed. A school could conceivably fail to meet the 5 percent or 500-student threshold and still be the only educational resource for a substantial number of children who will need assistance in order to succeed in school. We cannot allow shortcomings in existing policies to create opportunity gaps in our schools. I would suggest a method through which all students can be provided targeted support based on demonstrated need, without respect to whether their school meets a designated threshold. Our schools are unique, and our policies need to reflect that. The ability of a student to access needed services should not be limited by a shortage of staff or resources based on pre-set numbers, so any reforms must include mandatory dedicated funding that is flexible enough to meet the needs of every school, and adjust with an increase in funding or personnel if that is found to not be the case.

Beyond language access, I recognize that the Caribbean-American community faces the challenges imposed by a city that has become increasingly unaffordable, particularly when it comes to housing security. I have proposed several policy changes that I believe would help us begin to truly address our affordable housing shortage, and allow us to achieve, and even exceed, a target increase of 26,000 affordable housing units by 2020. First, we need to redefine “affordable.” The prevailing view of the Council is that building units that meet the current definition of affordability is alleviating our affordable housing crisis, and that is not the case. For housing to be truly affordable, it needs to be affordable to those who need it most. Eighty percent of area median income (AMI) is not affordable for too many of our neighbors, particularly single parents, or those struggling to find work. Second, we must streamline access to funding, and make sure those developers who are building truly affordable housing have timely access to funding and assistance from the city. Third, we must make clear to developers that our taxpayer subsidies are no longer available for their commercial developments. I believe the last decade of development in this city shows that commercial developers do not need our assistance. DC is a great place to live and work, and that’s why commercial developers are here. We should be subsidizing only those projects that contain an adequate percentage of truly affordable housing, and it’s time we have a discussion about what truly affordable housing looks like. It’s also time that we demand developers create affordable housing units that are fully integrated into the development, with the same finishes and materials, so our neighbors are not being told upon arrival to their new home that their community considers them to be lesser than their neighbors. In addition, the Mayor and DC Council must make greater investments in our housing programs to help residents obtain – and remain in – housing. In this regard, I align closely with the DC Fair Budget Coalition’s vision for addressing housing security. My approach starts with meeting the affordable housing need of our extremely-low-income (0-30% AMI) residents. This includes allocating $313 million in programs run by DC Housing Authority to create new housing and provide Local Rent Supplement Program vouchers. To help residents remain in their homes (or move, if needed), we ought to allocate $12 million to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which helps provide back rent for people facing evictions. Lastly, it is time to reverse the recent cuts to the corporate and estate tax rates and direct that revenue to our homelessness and affordable housing crises. That our DC Council would take votes to help a few hundred ultra-wealthy DC residents when we have not committed funding to provide everyone in our city with a safe place to sleep at night is a moral failure, and it’s time we make it right.

I would also push for strong enforcement of our labor laws, to make sure workers are protected and small businesses are not taken advantage of by large companies who are able to dodge the rules and create an un-level playing field which allows them to thrive at the expense of our local small businesses. DC has some of the toughest labor laws in the country, but we fall short in a very critical way: enforcement. We know that the Department of Employment Services receives a constant stream of labor law complaints, and that the Office of the Attorney General does not have the funds nor the investigators to keep pace. As a result, unscrupulous employers take advantage of workers, fail to comply with local hiring laws, and, in some instances, point fingers at competitors in an effort to distract overextended investigators and divert attention from their own violations. I have met too many workers who tell me they are being taken advantage of by their employer, and most of them have been Persons of Color. This is unacceptable, and we need to do better. DC must immediately invest more in oversight and investigations to protect our workers, especially as the city’s many development projects surge ahead.

It’s a matter of public record that our Ward 6 councilmember has taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from developer interests. As such, it’s no coincidence that Ward 6 is home to the most pervasive and expansive development projects in the city. The Wharf is a glaring example: DC gave $300 million in subsidies to commercial developers without ensuring that their projects provided much-needed affordable housing, or good-quality jobs that pay a living wage to DC residents. As a taxpayer, I am appalled by leaders who vote to subsidize such significant projects without determining whether financial support was necessary in the first place. Especially when it comes at the expense of our most vulnerable neighbors.

The DC Council allowed the Wharf developer, who also happens to be one of Mr. Allen’s max donors, to meet only 10 percent of affordability standards for newly built housing units, down from the 30-percent standard initially set.  Labor unions and local residents are furious at this boondoggle, and they should be. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, union agreements would have resulted in more than $13.2 million in higher earnings for construction workers, hotel workers, and office cleaners. The workers would also have received healthcare and retirement benefits.  Instead, my opponent appeased corporate interests and failed to ensure that every dollar of taxpayer money is spent wisely.  At a time when corporate greed is pervasive, and when our confidence in the integrity of our government institutions and elected officials is low, we deserve better.]

3.     Unfortunately, throughout the City many Caribbean-owned businesses closed in recent years. How will you support the viability and competitiveness of the City’s small, minority, veteran, women, and especially Caribbean-owned businesses?

[I believe we have a moral obligation to make sure the commercial development in DC does not come at the expense of the homes and businesses of our residents, or the history of our city. This means making opportunities available for all of our small business owners, not just those with political connections. We start by making our government contracting, permitting, licensure and loan programs work for everyone, not just those with friends in government or money to pay for expedited review. Too often, our archaic and opaque agency processes close out business owners with limited resources, because they are unable to navigate the bureaucracy on their own and end up suffering as a result. Of course, these same processes are perfectly navigable for large developers, and the local business and restaurant groups with the time and resources to pay for favors on the DC Council, and often hire former city employees to help them navigate our confusing system. If we commit to making these processes work for everyone, we will have started the process of leveling the playing field, so small, minority, women and veteran-owned business can continue to compete, and thrive, in our city.

We also must do more to invest in small businesses by building on the work the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) is able to do through the DC Small Business Lending & State Small Business Credit Initiative. Programs like the DC BizCAP loan program are great for those with substantial non-liquid assets that can be used as collateral, but the reality for many of our small business owners is something altogether different. We should take a thorough look at the program, through oversight on the DC Council, to determine whether the program is benefitting those who truly need assistance, or whether reforms are needed to make it more inclusive, particularly to those who may not have substantial assets to offer as collateral.

While DISB offers important resources for those seeking to start or maintain a business in DC, additional investments should be made outside of this Department to ensure that longtime business owners are not faced with predatory rent increases. A business owner who has operated in their community for decades, and has played an important role the growth of their neighborhood, should not be forced out simply because the city, and our developer community, decide on a different vision for that section of town. We should be rewarding those who have been longtime investors in our communities by investing in them. Programs that provide temporary assistance for business owners who owe back rent can be funded by the city at only a modest cost, and could be the difference between losing a business or not. Main Street programs that award grants to local businesses for beautification efforts can be expanded to offer grant programs that can do more than apply a fresh coat of paint to a façade, but can assist with critical improvements to infrastructure and equipment that an owner may not have the capital to obtain on their own, but that would help their business take advantage of a new market opportunity, or enhance their existing service. In addition to expanding existing programs, we must do more to make them accessible to all who could benefit from them, including by conducting proactive outreach to small business owners, and providing resources, training and outreach that is appropriate and useful for our limited- or non-English proficient neighbors, many of whom are business owners in DC, through expanded Language Access services.]

4.     What policy actions would you propose or support to improve the opportunities and rights of Caribbean immigrants in the District of Columbia?

[As detailed above, I would like to pay specific attention to fixing the shortcomings of our current language access services. The DC Language Access Act was introduced in 2004, and passed over ten years ago. Since that time, immigrants have made up approximately one third of DC’s population growth. Our city’s immigrant communities and limited- or non-English proficient (LEP/NEP) speakers are deserving of, and indeed entitled to, essential government services such as housing and healthcare assistance that provide basic safety and an opportunity for economic security and upward mobility, yet our Council has not prioritized much-needed reforms. We have a long way to go when it comes to supporting our immigrant communities in DC, and we need to start by ensuring everyone in our city has access to basic government and legal services if their rights are being infringed upon.

I have been particularly concerned to learn about the lack of oversight and care that has gone into our current Immigrant Justice Legal Services Program, and one of my priorities would be making sure it is adequately funded and staffed so our immigrant community can receive legal support and services they desperately need. The work made possible through the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program has made a significant impact in the DC immigrant community, a community that continues to grow. According to a report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the percentage of immigrants that make up the DC local population has risen from 12 percent 30 years ago, to 23 percent today. The proportion of the DC area’s population that is foreign-born is greater than the national average, and continues to rise. As our immigrant population in DC increases, we must also recognize that the growing need for legal services outweighs the current capacity.

Mayor Bowser deserves credit for recognizing the ongoing need, and renewing the Grant Program by making an additional $500,000 available in fiscal year 2018.  For fiscal year 2019, she has proposed an increase of $100,000, though legal services advocates note that even with the proposed increase the program is still falling short in meeting the need of the community. As such, I would fight for the requisite $1.5 million funding, and work with colleagues for a dedicated line-item in the annual budget. This is the reality we face as the need continues to grow, and ongoing funding for the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program under the current structure will need to be considered, and renewed, every single year, leaving the future of the program in the balance on an annual basis.

Finally, we also must do more to support our immigrant communities in the workplace. This starts by making sure all workers are paid a living wage, and have access to predictable schedules that allow them the flexibility to take on additional employment, seek educational opportunities for themselves, be present with their children, provide care to family members, or otherwise benefit from the certainty that comes with workplace scheduling.]

5.     The City’s Caribbean Community is the only immigrant community without an Office to address and support community affairs and services.  Would you support the creation of such an office?

[Yes. This is yet another example of our city failing to keep pace with other large cities across the country. The Caribbean Community deserves access and assistance to community programs and government services, and DC must do more to conduct proactive outreach and engagement. I fully support dedicated, mandatory funding to make this happen, and I pledge to work with the Caribbean community to establish such an Office immediately.]

6.     How do you plan to help strengthen the Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) program since larger business take advantage of many small businesses, including Caribbean-owned ones, with whom they partner under this program?

[This program provides benefit to our small business community, but is in many ways another example of a DC bureaucracy that is falling short of its original intent. The procurement and development process in DC lacks transparency, accountability, and clarity, which works to the advantage of large entities with the money to make political connections, or the time, resources and staff to navigate a confusing system. Large developers and companies that choose to partner with local small businesses in order to qualify for CBE certification reap most if not all of the benefits, while doing little for the small businesses they partnered with. The first step to addressing these issues is for the DC Council to work with stakeholders and advocates to identify specific shortcomings and potential ways to strengthen the program. The Council must then conduct oversight in order to determine exactly where we are falling short, and where the program might benefit from programmatic changes or additional targeted resources. Because of the ease with which a large entity can qualify for CBE preference, simply by opening an office and moving staff into it, the program in its current state also allows entities that might not otherwise be eligible to proactively institute organizational changes with the goal of filing for certification, thereby bypassing businesses that have been good stewards of the program and have acted in good faith. Reforms and oversight must take place in order to make sure these abuses aren’t able to occur.]

7.     What policies will you support to address the challenges facing DREAMers, the administration’s suspension of temporary protective status for many D.C. residents, and the threats facing sanctuary cities?

[The stress faced by DREAMers, immigrant communities, families and friends is what I consider to be the most concerning development of the Trump presidency. As a Latina with Mexican-American family members who already struggle to access government services, it is deeply upsetting to know that these daily struggles have only become more difficult. Much of my family lives in Arizona, and I remember what it was like worrying about them every day as they lived under the terrible, discriminatory policies set by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It is profoundly sad to know that some of those same ideas, and daily fears, have been spread even further throughout the country, but I am resolved to continue to stand up and defend our community in the face of these increasing threats. I am happy that Mayor Bowser has expressed an unwavering commitment to maintaining DC’s status as a sanctuary city, but I also believe we lack the level of compassion and empathy on our DC Council needed to understand these ongoing stresses, and to proactively protect our neighbors should the Trump administration seek to initiate additional damaging policy changes.

This issue is deeply personal for me. There are many reasons why I entered this race, but one moment that sticks out to me occurred in the summer of 2017, when my opponent Charles Allen sent a flippant tweet about Joe Arpaio. It became obvious to me at that moment that Mr. Allen clearly does not understand the pain and the damage Mr. Arpaio has caused so many immigrants, and so many members of my own family, many of whom live in Arizona. Even if we are to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he means well, he clearly lacks the understanding and the empathy we need to see in our leaders in order to get through these difficult times. Seeing his remarks was yet one more reminder that we have elected a man who works for some of us, not all of us. Protecting our immigrant communities requires more than words, it requires courage, empathy, and a willingness to fight. I have personally seen Mr. Allen fail to act when given the opportunity to defend the Latinx community. Simply put, I do not trust him to fight for our immigrant communities, because I do not believe that he understands our immigrant communities.

I support more than merely maintaining DC’s status as a sanctuary city. We should be ensuring that every student has access to free public schools, and financial aid to local universities. We also must proactively require that our DC agencies do more to make sure our neighbors who have been driven into the shadows by the Trump administration are having their health, housing, nutritional and economic needs met, and if there are shortfalls in our budget to fully meet these needs, now is the time to address it.  One reform that stands to help thousands of immigrants in DC would be adjusting eligibility rules for the DC Healthcare Alliance so that beneficiaries don’t have to re-certify for the program every 6-months, but instead re-certify annually, avoiding drops in coverage and alleviating the high volume facing service centers today.

I am running because I believe we are a stronger community when we lift everyone up, and leave none of our neighbors behind. Now, more than ever, this means supporting and fighting for our undocumented neighbors.

8.     What concrete steps will you take to improve the District of Columbia’s Public School system – including facilities and equipment, teacher treatment, relationships with parents, as well as education standards and test scores in all wards of the City?

[Unfortunately, the opportunity gaps in DC schools are some of the largest in the nation. Approximately 95 percent of DC’s white third graders read at a proficient level, while the literacy rate for minority students is only 35 percent. This is a horrific stat that makes clear we’ve created a system that is not working for our minority and immigrant communities. As a Latina, and a product of parents who had to overcome discrimination in their schools, towns, and workplaces, I take these issues to heart, and am committed to doing everything in my power to fix them. My daughter, Julia Justicia, will soon be a Latina in our DC Public Schools, and I want her to learn and grow in a school system that works for everyone, regardless of their background, race, ethnicity or economic status.

Even as our DC government has fallen short, I remain convinced that our community shares the belief that our children are our greatest asset, and that each child deserves every possible opportunity to reach their full potential as individuals.  Research has increasingly shown the benefits of integrating social and emotional development with academic learning.  These approaches benefit all students but they are shown to be particularly beneficial for students who have experienced great adversity.  It’s critical for our community’s public schools to prepare students not only for future academic success like high school completion and college graduation, but also the skills required to thrive as citizens and flourish in the workplace.  Ward 6 is the proud home to schools that are emphasizing social-emotional learning skills and the competencies students will draw upon as they navigate future challenges.  The teachers I have met throughout this campaign are champions for their students. 

A common theme among teachers I have spoken to is the lack of time for lesson planning and other proactive work that improves the classroom experience for students. Teachers should not have to stay up until all hours of the night, in their own homes, doing work they get paid to do during the day. Requiring them to do so leads to burnout, and increases teacher churn. It’s fundamentally unfair, and it also sends the wrong signal to our teachers and parents, because the work they are doing matters a great deal to our society, and it should be treated accordingly. I would propose any new initiative that increases staff burden be accompanied by a burden assessment carried out by the DOE, and to the extent that we are adding extra hours or burden on our teachers and schools, it would be the responsibility of our government to provide appropriate dedicated funding and staff support accordingly before a requirement could be put in place.

I believe our schools and our communities should not be defined by the performance of our elite, we should be defined by what we do to make sure we leave nobody behind. This means giving everyone a chance to succeed, especially our students with special needs, and nowhere is this more important than in our schools. I fully support dedicated supplemental funding for programs, including funding for dedicated staff at each of our schools who are available to help children with social, emotional and health needs. It is also important to me that we have the funding and capacity to provide these same services to students with language access issues.

By prioritizing dedicated funding and requiring dedicated personnel that is adequate to meet the needs of each school based on its enrollment size and demonstrated need, the DC Council can establish an infrastructure that is subject to well-defined benchmarks and has a chance to be successful. Using its ongoing oversight authority, the Council would be in a position to evaluate the successes and shortcomings and act accordingly. One of my concerns with DC government generally is the extent to which the DC Council cedes responsibility and authority to the Mayor by failing to conduct regular accounting, oversight or investigations where appropriate. Too often, we learn about shortcomings in our school system from reporters, after they have happened. Effective ongoing oversight by a legislative body is important not just when it uncovers problems or scandals, but because ongoing oversight leads to higher levels of accountability, effectiveness and service within government on a daily basis.

I would also propose an amendment to the Language Access for Education bill that would lower the thresholds that trigger the presence of a language liaison from what has currently been proposed. A school could conceivably fail to meet the 5 percent or 500-student threshold and still be the only educational resource for a substantial number of children who will need assistance in order to succeed in school. I would suggest a method through which all students can be provided targeted support based on demonstrated need, without respect to whether their school meets a designated threshold. Our schools are unique, and our policies need to reflect that. The ability of a student to access needed services should not be limited by a shortage of staff or resources based on pre-set numbers, so any reforms must include mandatory dedicated funding that is flexible enough to meet the needs of every school, and adjust with an increase in funding or personnel if that is found to not be the case. As part of any further consideration or markup of this legislation, I would like to see the thresholds that trigger the presence of a language liaison be lowered from what has currently been proposed. A school could conceivably fail to meet the 5 percent or 500-student threshold and still be the only educational resource for a substantial number of children who will need assistance in order to succeed in school. I would suggest a method through which all students can be provided targeted support based on demonstrated need, without respect to whether their school meets a designated threshold.

Student-to-teacher ratios should not be based on budgetary determinations made by the DC government, they should be based on information we receive from teachers and school personnel who are best equipped to determine what works for our students and what doesn’t. This feedback must be incorporated into our policymaking and funding decisions. Recognizing that each community, each school, and indeed each classroom is different, there needs to be sufficient flexibility within a school to determine that staffing levels are meeting the needs of all students. Our low-income children face health disparities, food insecurity, undiagnosed medical conditions, unstable housing, and many other challenges that our high-performing students never need to think about, so my primary concern is making sure they have the support they need to be successful, and that teachers are given the tools, resources and time they need to help them succeed.

It is important for our elected officials to recognize that our opportunity gaps exist for many reasons beyond the walls of our schools. The literacy rates in our schools reflect wide racial and ethnic disparities, and students coming from communities of color are often not receiving the teaching, or achieving the results, they deserve. In particular, as the Latinx population continues to rise we’ve continued to ignore these issues, perhaps in part because, unlike most major US cities, DC has never had a member of the Latinx community elected to serve on its legislative body.]

9.     In Washington, D.C., many seniors seek to age in their homes and/or communities.  What efforts will you take to improve access of services and the quality of programs for the City’s senior citizens?

[I would start by making sure we have a sufficient stock of affordable housing so our seniors are able to age in their homes and communities. Based on a recent report, Ward 6 has fewer rent controlled units than any other Ward in the city. I have met too many Ward 6 neighbors who have lived in their homes for decades and feel as though they are counting the days until they are forced out. The pressure placed on our neighbors to find affordable housing, let alone remain in it, is tremendous and at times inhumane. As such, I support policies that tie rent increases to CPI and cap the annual rent increase percentage on rent-control units to 2.5 percent.

We are in a particularly critical time when it comes to securing housing for our longtime residents, as the revisions to the Comprehensive Plan are moving through the DC Council. The Comp Plan is centered on the idea of an “inclusive city,” but in reviewing the proposed revisions, and the Council approval process, it does the opposite. I testified before the DC Council at the hearing on the Comp Plan, which went until 4 in the morning. There is nothing inclusive about a process that takes place in the darkness of night. It is clear that the amendments stand to drastically change DC and bend to the whims of the developer class. Far from providing for an “inclusive city,” the proposed changes inject ambiguity, loosen definitions to key terms (e.g., residential and commercial definitions of low-, moderate-, medium-, and high-density), and weaken the Comp Plan’s existing prescriptive power at the cost of further displacing our Black and Latinx residents. This is wrong. Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the lack of transparency throughout the amendment process. I have spoken with countless voters throughout Ward 6 who have been counting on this Comprehensive Plan process to provide them with a pathway to stability and security in their longtime homes and neighborhoods. These are individuals who have lived in our city for 50-plus years, and thought this process would provide them with a voice, due process, and a recognition by their city that their continued presence in and contributions to their community was valued, respected, and worthy of protection. In light of this revision process, that’s the opposite of what the DC government is telling our neighbors.

I support a process through which the deliberation and decision-making leading to any revisions are transparent, and available to everyone in the community who wishes to learn more about them. Further, I support a revision and approval process that is driven by the DC Council, not the Zoning Commission, because decisions that will have such profound impact on individual neighborhoods need to be made by elected officials who are directly accountable to the people living in those neighborhoods.]

10.  What issues are you most concerned about in your run for political office?

[I am not running because I aspire to be a career politician. I’m running because I’m a progressive, working mom who is sick of watching our current leaders talk a good game, then take votes that leave too many of our neighbors behind. I have enough public service experience to know what inclusive representation looks like, and enough empathy to know how important it is that we don’t fall short. I have watched shiny new buildings being built across our community, yet there doesn’t seem to be anywhere affordable for our neighbors to live. I have watched longtime neighbors forced out of their communities because they can no longer afford the costs of living, or find a job that pays a fair wage. I have watched developers promise jobs to local residents, only to build large buildings with jobs that aren’t even made available to our local community, and often times do not even pay a living wage. I have gone to my own councilmember, who is now my opponent, with complaints regarding discrimination against Latino workers in my neighborhood, and he took no action. From our growing skyline to our neighborhood streets, we’re seeing too many people being ignored, or outright cast aside by our politicians, and I am no longer willing to sit on the sidelines and watch it happen. I am running for this job because I believe we can do better, and I believe we’re stronger when we bring everyone with us, and leave nobody behind.

If elected, my immediate priorities will be to address DC’s affordable housing crisis and burgeoning homelessness population; empower all DC workers so everyone can earn a stable living wage; and bring transparency and accountability to our campaign finance system to end the unchecked influence of wealthy campaign donors and special interests. There are very easy ways we can begin to tackle these very complex problems, if we elect people who are willing to try.

Housing Security:  My proposal for ensuring housing security for every DC resident starts with adjusting the flawed formula that we currently use to define affordability and determine eligibility for housing programs. The Area Median Income (AMI), set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, incorporates the suburbs of DC in its calculation. Federal and DC-based housing programs peg eligibility to AMI, yet nothing precludes DC from employing a formula that focuses squarely on District income rather than incorporating suburban incomes in places such as Alexandria, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, McLean and others that skew what is truly affordable to low- and ultra-low-income DC residents. I would work with the Council, advocates, and groups such as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute to develop a DC-based AMI. For housing to be truly affordable, it needs to be affordable to those who need it most. Eighty percent of the current AMI is not affordable for too many of our neighbors, particularly single parents, or those struggling to find work.

Economic Justice For Workers: I would also move to immediately pass an enhanced version of the Fair Scheduling Act. This legislation is critical because it would primarily support the most economically vulnerable workers in our city. Requiring employers to provide hours to current employees before bringing on new staff would allow many workers to reach full-time status, which would trigger their eligibility for employer-sponsored health insurance. Having worked on Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation in the Obama administration, I can say with certainty that, in a city where our DC Council seeks to position themselves as champions of the ACA, one of the most important policy changes they could make in order to decrease the rate of uninsured DC workers would be to increase the number of full-time workers. Yet, they refuse to act. This bill is largely about economic certainty and security for low-wage workers, but it is also an example of DC business interests having undue influence in matters related to the health care of DC workers. Beyond the obvious benefits of additional work hours, advance notice of scheduling and the elimination of ‘just-in-time’ scheduling would allow workers to schedule childcare when it is needed – and not schedule it when it is not needed. It would also allow more workers to climb the economic ladder by taking evening classes or seeking additional employment should they choose to do so.

Transparency in Campaign Donations: I would also focus on truly reforming our campaign finance system to bring transparency and accountability to the business and developer donors who wield great influence over our elected officials, but are able to make campaign contributions that remain largely hidden from the public. Too many of our neighbors are being displaced by a slate of policies pushed by the DC Council, and it’s because our elected officials have been bought by corporate and developer executives who donate as individuals rather than through their companies. The first step to fixing this problem is to expose it. My proposal, which is available here, would require mandatory disclosure of all individual donors who serve as owners, executives, principals, directors, partners, board members or trustees of companies that have lobbied the DC Council or received public benefits, to be defined as contracts, tax subsidies, or goods and services of substantial value provided by the city. Many progressive jurisdictions throughout the country have passed similar legislation, so DC will remain well behind when it comes to campaign finance reform, even after the Fair Elections Act is fully implemented. These types of disclosure laws have withstood First Amendment challenges in court because it is recognized that, even in an era where money is unfortunately protected as speech, it is in the public interest for voters to know who is electing – and influencing – their leaders.

I am concerned that too many of our neighbors feel as though they are being ignored by our city, simply because they do not donate to political candidates or have friends on the DC Council.  I am concerned that too many of our neighbors do not have a voice in our city, because every important hearing and meeting seems to be scheduled at times that nobody who works an hourly job, or requires a babysitter for their children, could possibly attend. I believe we live in the greatest city in the world, and can achieve a government that is open, transparent, accountable, and effective for everyone in our community, regardless of what they look like, where they live, where they came from, or what they do for work.]

Debajo de Trump, Inmigrantes del Distrito Enfrentan Incertidumbre Extraordinaria; Ayudemos y Dediquemos Fondos Adicionales a el Programa de Subvención de Servicios Legales de Justicia para Inmigrantes

Lo más seguro es que aquellos de nosotros con el privilegio de empleo estable, ciudadanía, y proficiencia en inglés nunca nos tendremos que preocupar sobre el acceso de servicios legales de inmigración, pero tenemos  muchos vecinos en nuestra comunidad que tienen esa preocupación. Los servicios de abogados pueden ser caros y difíciles de obtener para aquellos que los necesitan. Para las comunidades inmigrantes de bajos recursos en el Distrito, el acceso a servicios legales de inmigración y recursos son hechos disponibles a través de la ayuda de organizaciones, asociaciones, y oficinas de abogados que se dedican a proveer este apoyo a la comunidad.

En enero del 2017, la Alcaldesa Bowser anunció que el gobierno del Distrito proporcionaría $500,000 a organizaciones ONGs, organizaciones privadas, asociaciones, y oficinas de abogados que ayudan a la comunidad inmigrante en el Distrito a través del

Programa de Subvención de Servicios Legales de Justicia para Inmigrantes. Esto marcó un paso importante hacia adelante para asegurar que la comunidad de inmigrantes en el Distrito tengan acceso a servicios legales críticos. La primera ronda de subvenciones fueron concedidas a diez organizaciones que incluyeron, Ayuda, KIND Inc., Briya Public Charter School, and Human Rights First. Desde que recibieron los fondos, las organizaciones han completado numerosas presentaciones sobre los derechos, consultaciones legales, y entrenamientos de la ley de inmigración.

El trabajo hecho posible a través del Programa de Subvención de Servicios Legales de Justicia para Inmigrantes a hecho un impacto significativo sobre la comunidad de inmigrantes del Distrito, una comunidad que continúa a crecer. De acuerdo a un reporte por el Council Metropolitano de Washington de Gobiernos, el porcentaje de inmigrantes que componen la población local del Distrito ha subido del 12 por ciento hace 30 años, a 23 por ciento hoy. La proporción de la población del Distrito nacida en el extranjero es más alta que el promedio nacional, y continua a incrementar. Mientras la población inmigrante en el Distrito aumenta, también tenemos que reconocer que la necesidad para servicios legales exceda la capacidad actual que tenemos ahora.

La Alcaldesa Bowser merece crédito por reconocer la necesidad que continua y por renovar el programa de subvenciones al hacer $500,000 adicionales disponibles en el año fiscal 2018. Sin embargo, mientras que la necesidad continua a crecer, los fondos para el programa debajo de la estructura presente tendrían que ser considerados, y renovados cada año, dejando el futuro del programa no estable.

El acceso a servicios legales para inmigrantes no debe de ser debatido cada vez que hay un presupuesto y nuestro gobierno no debe de añadir incertidumbre a las vidas de comunidades que ya son vulnerables. Tenemos una obligación moral de continuar a ayudar la comunidad inmigrante del Distrito en una manera que es consistente, estable, y previsible.

Después de que el programa fue anunciado inicialmente en enero del 2017, Brianne Nadeau, representante de Ward 1 en el Council, introdujo el Access to Justice for Immigrants Amendment Act que expanderia el program existente a través de la creación de una fonda sostenible y dedicada que reforzaría el compromiso de acceso a la justicia para todos los residents. Esta propuesta nunca recibió un voto.

Es sumamente importante que el Council del Distrito refleje el compromiso de la ciudad a la justicia para los inmigrantes en establecer una línea de pedido recurrente en el presupuesto que garantiza los fondos para el programa y que triplica la cantidad. Según organizaciones como Ayuda y CARECEN, $500,000 no es suficiente. Un aumento en la financiación del programa es necesario, y el programa debe de recibir fondos dedicados cada año.

El Distrito es una comunidad progressiva. Como una mujer que identifica como Latina y Judía, ha sido inculcado en mí que no dejamos nuestros vecinos atrás independientemente de dónde vienen o cuales son sus necesidades. Yo creo fuertemente que nuestra comunidad está de acuerdo, y es hora que elijamos líderes que reflejen eso en el Council del Distrito.

Responses to DC Sierra Club Questionnaire

Ready for 100

More than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are from burning fossil fuels. To remain below a 1.5 degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial temperatures to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must move to a fully decarbonized energy sector by 2050.  Achieving 100 percent of our energy from renewable sources is affordable with today’s technologies, and continued innovation will reduce costs even more. The District’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires 50 percent of our electricity to be derived from renewables by 2032. To combat the devastating effects of climate change, the District must expand our use of clean energy to 100 percent by 2050.

Q: Will you support the District of Columbia officially setting the goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050?

[Yes. This is a matter of global health, but also a matter of local public health. We need to look no further than Southwest DC to find stories on an almost daily basis about the unsafe conditions created by rampant development, which have literally poisoned our water, air, and our neighbors themselves. It has been truly upsetting to see neighbors complain about their toxic surroundings, and be largely ignored by their councilmember because he accepts money from the businesses and developers that are causing the problems. We need to tackle these problems in a comprehensive manner that brings immediate relief to our neighbors, beyond requiring that future new construction that uses renewable energy once it is finished. We must require these construction projects to be socially and environmentally responsible today. Unfortunately, our current DC Council, and our Ward 6 councilmember in particular, accepts too much funding from corporate and developer interests to possibly take them on in a meaningful way. His voting record to date proves it.]

Carbon Pricing

Putting a price on carbon emissions is one of the most straightforward and cost-effective ways to fight climate change. The DC Sierra Club is part of the “Put a Price on It” coalition that has proposed levying an increasing fee on carbon emissions and rebating most of the money back to residents of the District of Columbia, with additional support to low-income residents. The remainder of the money raised from the fee would fund strategic investments to accelerate DC’s transition to a clean energy economy in a way that is just and equitable. This market-based approach would provide financial incentives for using clean energy and financial disincentives for dirty energy.

Q: Will you support legislation to establish a carbon fee and rebate program in DC?

[Yes. I am very familiar with policies related to carbon taxes and rebates, having worked on Capitol Hill during the congressional debate of similar federal policy almost a decade ago. Policies that incentivize a shift to green energy and reduce our city’s emissions are becoming increasingly important, and policies that incentivize change by investing funds in our own communities are the optimal way to produce these results.

It is also important that we pursue clean energy policy without unduly burdening low-income residents who cannot afford to upgrade their homes or modify their energy source with efficiency in mind. To that end, as fees on distribution companies are increased and those costs are passed onto consumers, I would seek to revisit the percentage of carbon rebates going to our low-income residents, currently set at 15 percent. This policy is estimated to increase residential power bills by an average of $9/month, and while that should be offset by rebates, it is an increase that could be debilitating for families who struggle to pay their bills on a month-to-month basis. We need to make sure the rebate system is designed in such a way that we are proactively insulating low-income residents from price spikes they cannot afford, particularly since they may experience these financial pressures prior to receiving rebates.

I would also revise the eligibility requirements for low-income residents. I am not comfortable with requiring residents to have a photo ID or driver’s license in order to be eligible for rebates, since these requirements would inherently exclude the most vulnerable populations in our city who will depend on access to these rebates most. Presumptive eligibility would protect low-income residents from being excluded from this rebate program.]

Advancing Solar Energy in the District

DC's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires that 50 percent of DC's energy come from renewable sources by 2032, with 5 percent coming from solar energy generation in DC. The District is not on track to meet either requirement. The Cooperative/HOA Solar Expansion Act (B22-0229) prohibits homeowners and co-op associations from placing unreasonable restrictions on residents installing solar panels on their roofs. The Solar Ready Roofs Act (B22-0437) requires that new buildings in DC be designed and built such that their roofs can accommodate solar panels and that 10 percent of the building's energy needs can be generated from on-site renewable sources.

Q: Will you support legislation expanding solar energy production in the District – including the Cooperative/HOA Solar Act and the Solar Ready Roofs Act – and pledge to work with the Sierra Club on innovative efforts for more renewable energy in DC?

[Yes. I am encouraged by the expansion of solar power in my neighborhood, through individual and co-op installations, and believe we can continue to make progress particularly as the technology continues to get less expensive and more familiar. However, there is no question that the city’s current regulatory process, or lack thereof, makes it incredibly difficult. From homeowners associations placing restrictions on residents, to our own DC historic preservation districts making it confusing if not nearly impossible to receive permits that allow for solar installation in a way that does not run afoul of preservation rules, the policies and procedures we have in place are making it harder for us to meet our renewable energy goals, not easier. The role of our government is to serve as a force multiplier, not to stifle progress. We need to take a comprehensive look at everything from DCRA regulations to tax credit programs and make sure our government is accelerating progress, not inhibiting it.]

Protecting Renewable Energy Funding

The Renewable Energy Development Fund (REDF) and the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF) were created to provide funds to increase the deployment of clean energy sources in the District. The SETF also provides money for energy efficiency programs. These funds were envisioned as dedicated solely for those purposes and intended to be available year to year. In recent years, money from these funds has been swept into the general fund, a violation of the intent of the law.  

Q: Will you oppose diverting money from these funds away from renewable energy and energy efficiency programs and into the general fund and instead provide the oversight required to ensure that the Department of Energy and Environment is efficiently and effectively using these funds to expand clean energy in DC?

[Yes. Too many programs in DC have received celebratory press conferences at the DC Council upon passage, only to be ignored, underfunded, and neglected when the reporters are no longer paying attention. These funds are yet another example. We are currently in the middle of budget season, so if our DC Council truly cares about programs like REDF and SETF because they are good policy, rather than simply good politics, they can, and should, immediately push for dedicated, mandatory funding.

Waste Diversion Funding

The District has set a goal by 2032 of diverting 80 percent of our waste from landfills and incinerators through source reduction and by increasing reuse, recycling, and composting. However, DC is far short of that goal, with 23 percent of our waste being diverted in 2016. Last year, the Sierra Club successfully fought to reverse a proposed budget cut of $477,000 in funding for staff positions and zero waste programs at the Department of Public Works' Office of Waste Diversion. To come anywhere near the 80 percent diversion goal, funding for this office must increase.  

Q: Will you commit to fully funding DPW's Office of Waste Diversion so it has all the resources it needs to effectively carry out its mission and zero waste goals, including sufficient resources for education and enforcement?

[Yes. This is a worthwhile goal, and your work to date to secure funding is commendable. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point in the lifecycle of our current leadership where the goals being set are so rarely met, that one begins to wonder why we listen when they set goals at all. The solution is simple: we either fund a program appropriately so we can meet our goals, or we don’t. I support adequate funding and ongoing oversight of goals to reduce our waste and increase recycling and composting across the city, and my support would be reflected not with mere words, but with a vote for full, mandatory, dedicated funding.]

Composting

In January 2018, the District’s new recycling requirements went into effect across residences and commercial properties, setting uniform standards for the entire city. The new rules were an improvement from past (and sometimes confusing) guidelines on the types of waste that were recyclable in DC. In addition to recycling, composting of food and other organic materials is an important component of reducing waste sent to landfills and incinerators. Currently, composting is not widespread in DC. Though the District has analyzed the feasibility of curbside composting and is working on a five-year plan to implement it, DC is not embarking on similar efforts to address the large volumes of food waste generated by restaurants and apartment buildings.

Q: Will you support efforts to expand composting and education programs for composting in the District and work with the Sierra Club on developing new legislation and maintaining effective oversight of the executive branch to encourage composting in apartment buildings and by restaurants?

[Yes. I fully support these efforts and look forward to working with the Sierra Club and other advocates on how best to carry them out. I know from speaking with neighbors that we need to be sure a program run by the city runs efficiently and predictably, and that means it must be adequately staffed and resourced. The consequences of a composting program that runs anything like our neighborhood trash and recycling programs have been known to run in the past could lead to setbacks that would make it difficult for composting programs to gain widespread support among neighbors. We can avoid this issue if we recognize it now, and ensure that any composting program we put in place is smartly developed and, importantly, adequately funded. Cities such as Boston and Milwaukee have shown that it’s possible, if it’s taken seriously by our government leaders.]

Straws on Request

Single-use plastic straws are a significant pollutant of oceans and rivers, including in our local Potomac and Anacostia watersheds. Nationwide, 500 million plastic straws are discarded every day. Here in DC, Sierra Club volunteers last year worked with the Anacostia Watershed Society to sort trash removed from the Anacostia River. After counting the waste separately, volunteers found approximately 6.5 percent of the litter was from straws.

Q: Will you support a "plastic straws on request only" policy for restaurants in DC and pledge to work with the Sierra Club on developing legislation and maintaining effective oversight of the executive branch to put this policy into effect?

[Yes. Cities such as Miami, Seattle and Malibu have already implemented this policy because they know that straws have a devastating impact on their local environment, and it’s time for DC to catch up. I would fully support these efforts, including consistent and comprehensive oversight to ensure compliance.]

Dedicated Metro Funding

Metro is the only major subway system in the nation without a dedicated funding stream. In recent years, Metro has been addressing safety issues, deferred maintenance, and other basic infrastructure needs. Nonetheless, as the system enters its fifth decade, it regularly faces shortfalls in both its capital and operating budgets. Just to maintain existing service levels requires an additional $500 million in annual dedicated funding for Metro from local governments, and even more would be needed to restore previous service levels. Under the existing funding formula, $500 million in additional money would require a $178 million annual contribution from the District.

Q: Will you support establishing a dedicated funding stream in the form of a new tax to provide Metro with DC's $178 million share of the $500 million needed in additional Metro funding?

[Yes. There is no reason, other than failed leadership, for Metro to be the only major subway system in the nation without a dedicated funding stream. For many of the same reasons that I oppose raising fares in order to pay for this funding, I am opposed to any proposal that would seek to raise the sales tax in order to raise revenue for Metro. There are ways to find this money that do not involve placing a regressive tax burden on our low-income residents, including reversing the corporate and estate tax cuts that were given to businesses and wealthy DC residents over the last several years.

If DC is making this substantial investment in our Metro system, it’s important for taxpayers to know that it will be handled responsibly, so I would also move forward with the recommendation of Secretary LaHood that the Metro governing board be overhauled and reformed with a smaller, more credible body that will drive us toward solutions rather than often being part of the problem themselves.]

DC Streetcar Budget

The Department of Transportation has plans to extend the District's first streetcar line, connecting the current H Street line to Georgetown via Downtown and to Ward 7 along Benning Road. This would better link Ward 7 residents to job opportunities across the city and create a high-capacity east-west transit link, powered by electricity from increasingly renewable sources. Despite DC’s pressing needs for more transit and to transition away from fossil- fuel-based transportation, the DC Council last year slashed millions of dollars for the Streetcar and shifted the remaining money to the last year of the six-year budget cycle, resulting in a complete halt to Streetcar expansion.

Q: Will you support allocating the millions of dollars needed to engineer and build the Streetcar extension from Georgetown to the Benning Road Metro and oppose efforts to cut Streetcar funding or move it to the later years of the six-year budget cycle?

[Yes, if this funding is what the residents of Ward 7 believe will truly link them to job opportunities and improve their economic opportunity, I support it. What I truly support is a process that lets residents of Ward 7 determine whether they believe a streetcar is the best way to provide them with access to jobs, schools and businesses, rather than the city and stakeholders with financial interests making that determination for them.

The current H Street streetcar was built at great taxpayer expense, and while the promise of its construction may have incentivized growth in the eastern portion of the H Street corridor, the streetcar itself, once completed, has done little if anything to sustain those businesses or promote additional growth. Given the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on the H Street line, and the opportunity cost of using those funds on a streetcar rather than to help alleviate our city’s educational and housing shortfalls, it is hard to claim that the current iteration of the streetcar has been a success, so extensions of the streetcar line need to incorporate feedback from the communities directly impacted. In this case, I believe residents of Ward 7 deserve additional opportunities to be heard, so we are moving forward in a way that truly meets their needs. Most neighbors I speak to express a strong preference to take the X2 for their daily commuting needs, in part because it is faster and more predictable, so it is hard to claim that the current iteration of the streetcar has been a success if the measure is simply whether it has been critical in moving residents to and from economic opportunity.

I support efforts to expand access to Metro, and within Ward 6 I am particularly supportive of the proposal to construct a NOMA entrance/exit point closer to Union Market, and in opposition of efforts to build a government-subsidized parking garage on the site. I support improving the efficiency and reliability of transportation city-wide, because true disparities exist in our communities when it comes to access to reliable transportation that will get our neighbors to work on time, and at an affordable price. This is a problem that extends well beyond Ward 6, but it’s our shared responsibility to address it.]

Bus & Bike Lanes

The District's streets have limited right-of-way for travel, almost all of which is devoted to automobile lanes and parking and very little of which is devoted to transit and cycling. Expanding bus and bike lanes would reward District residents who choose to travel in ways that conserve land, energy, and fuel. Proposals by the DC Department of Transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority would create bus-only lanes on 16th, H and Eye Streets NW, making travel faster and more reliable for thousands of bus riders who live in wards 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8. In addition, DDOT’s long-range plan envisions miles of protected bicycle lanes – which makes bicycling safer, easier and more popular and also reduces fuel use. The transportation plan calls for bike lanes on streets across DC, such as East Capitol Street, Naylor Road SE, Massachusetts Avenue NW/NE/SE, New Hampshire Avenue NE, and 6th Street NW.

Q: Will you press DDOT to accelerate plans for more bus and bike lanes (which take away lanes for automobiles and parking) and budget adequate money for DDOT to build these bike and bus lanes?

[Yes. I support dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes because our neighbors who rely on those modes of transportation should be able to do so safely, quickly, and efficiently.

I am not opposed to removing on-street parking in order to achieve these goals where appropriate, but there are certainly some neighborhoods, and streets, where eliminating parking spaces would have substantial consequences for the neighborhood and residents so these decisions cannot be taken lightly or made without community input. In many cases, protected bike lanes can be created by changing traffic and parking patterns, and enforcing traffic laws, without needing to eliminate parking. Transparency, public discussion, community input and government disclosure during the decision-making process are appropriate because each neighborhood, and each street, is different.

There are too many people in our communities who spent hours on the bus getting to and from work, appointments, and even the grocery store. To the extent that dedicated bus lanes can alleviate those unconscionable burdens, I am fully supportive. I also fully support the efforts to achieve Vision Zero, and to the extent that requires additional bike lanes I would be supportive. However, I am not a transportation expert, I am a mom and a neighbor who has worked in public policy my whole life and believes I can help my community by bringing new leadership. I do not see my role as that of one who should be dictating where bike and bus lanes should be placed, nor do I see my role as that of one who pretends to have mastered the profession of urban planning in order to answer a questionnaire. My role is to listen to advocates, riders, and members of the community, take their input and concerns seriously, and work to make their lives better.]

Comprehensive Plan

In recent years, population and job growth in metropolitan DC has shifted toward the District. This has spared thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and farmland from suburban development, and reduced pollution caused by driving. DC's population is expected to continue to grow substantially in coming years, to over one million residents. DC has built thousands fewer housing units than called for under the 2006 Comprehensive Plan and housing prices are sharply increasing. Adding new housing is difficult and costly, in part because 71 percent of DC's land is zoned for single-family homes or row homes, and much of the rest is in high-priced areas like downtown.

Q: Will you call for the Office of Planning’s updated Comprehensive Plan – which the Council must approve – to accommodate a larger population, zoning changes that allow increased density and mixed-use development, and zoning changes that allow more multifamily housing within low-density areas?

[Yes. The Comp Plan is centered on the idea of an “inclusive city,” but in reviewing the proposed revisions, and the Council approval process, it does the opposite. I testified before the DC Council at the hearing on the Comp Plan, which went until 4 in the morning. There is nothing inclusive about a process that takes place in the darkness of night. It is clear that the amendments stand to drastically change DC and bend to the whims of the developer class. Far from providing for an “inclusive city,” the proposed changes inject ambiguity, loosen definitions to key terms (e.g., residential and commercial definitions of low-, moderate-, medium-, and high-density), and weaken the Comp Plan’s existing prescriptive power at the cost of further displacing our African American and Latinx residents. This is wrong.

Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the lack of transparency throughout the amendment process that OP has pursued. I have spoken with countless voters throughout Ward 6 who have been counting on this Comprehensive Plan process to provide them with a pathway to stability and security in their longtime homes and neighborhoods. I’ve had more conversations than I can count with Ward 6 neighbors worried that the downstream impact of the revisions posed by OP will result in new, imposing development that will push even more African-American and Latinx families out of our community. These are individuals who have lived in our city for 50-plus years who thought this process would provide them with a voice, due process, and a recognition by their city that their continued presence in and contributions to their community was valued, respected, and worthy of protection. In light of this revision process, that’s the opposite of what the DC government is telling our neighbors.

I support a process through which the deliberation and decision-making leading to any revisions are transparent, and available to everyone in the community who wishes to learn more about them. Further, I support a revision and approval process that is driven by the DC Council, not the Zoning Commission, because decisions that will have such profound impact on individual neighborhoods need to be made by elected officials who are directly accountable to the people living in those neighborhoods. I applaud the efforts by local advocacy organizations such as Empower DC, and the ANCs holding OP and the DC Council accountable for this obscure process that stands to forever change the future of DC.]

Clean Elections

On February 6, the DC Council unanimously approved the Fair Elections Act, creating a public election financing program to lessen the influence of big money donors – such as a polluters – and empower small donors and grassroots activists. It is projected to cost the District about $5 million a year, a tiny fraction of DC's multi-billion dollar budget.

Q: Will you support full funding for the public financing program and oppose any budget that does not fund it?

[Yes. Importantly, I would also immediately introduce new legislation to enhance this law by requiring mandatory disclosure of all individual donors who serve as owners, executives, principals, directors, partners, board members or trustees of companies that have lobbied the DC Council or received public benefits, to be defined as contracts, tax subsidies, or goods and services of substantial value provided by the city. Many progressive jurisdictions throughout the country have passed similar legislation, so DC will remain well behind when it comes to campaign finance reform, even after the Fair Elections Act is fully implemented. These types of disclosure laws have withstood First Amendment challenges in court because it is recognized that, even in an era where money is unfortunately protected as speech, it is in the public interest for voters to know who is electing – and influencing – our leaders.

The DC campaign finance law that caps both business and individual donations at $500 has had substantial unintended consequences that need to be addressed. Members of the DC Council are able to take more money from owners and executives of businesses, as individuals, than they could have taken from the business itself. This has made it incredibly difficult to track which businesses are donating money through their owners and executive leadership, and has created a dynamic where people like the incumbent, Mr. Allen, are able to tell voters they do not directly accept business money – technically true – even though a deeper look at his finances shows tens of thousands of dollars in donations from developer and business executives throughout the city over the last four years. For example, in 2014 Mr. Allen accepted a max donation from the owner of PN Hoffman, the developer that went on to secure approval to develop the Wharf shortly thereafter. In 2014 and 2018, he has received substantial campaign contributions from the executive team at Stanton, the developer that recently completed the Hine project. There are many more examples, and the information is not easily accessible to voters, which is why Mr. Allen has been able to say for four years that he does not accept money from business interests, even as these donations continue to come in. This money has influenced votes and shaped our city’s skyline and spending priorities, so voters deserve to see it. Absent a deterrent that would keep councilmembers from taking tens of thousands of dollars from business owners and executives without paying a political price for doing so, we are not creating a system that will meaningfully change the dynamics of our elections and our pay for play politics.]

Responses to JUFJ Questionnaire

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the JUFJ questionnaire.

I was raised in a mixed-race household by my first-generation Jewish father and my Mexican-American mother.  They both overcame long odds to achieve success, and create opportunity for myself and my brother. Along the way, they taught us the importance of social justice, and instilled in us the belief that it was our obligation to give back; to lift and support others because we are standing on the shoulders of those who did the same for us. I look back now and am so humbled to have learned those lessons from my parents, and so proud to know that they have faith in me to live them and pass them along to my own daughter. It is for that reason that I have long admired the mission, the work, and the people of JUFJ. To watch you live our shared values of social justice through your work is inspiring.

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that we as a community must do even more to stand up for each other, speak out when we see injustice, organize in support of progressive causes and candidates, and run for office when we know our representatives are falling short. That’s why I’m running. I am not a politician, I’m a progressive, working mom who is sick of watching our current leaders talk a good game, take votes that leave too many of our neighbors behind, and pay no political price for it.

I understand that I’m up against a DC insider. I wasn’t raised within this system, or hand-selected by local powerbrokers to run for a seat on the DC Council.  But I have spent enough time watching the incumbent cut taxes for corporations and the ultra-wealthy while voting against funding for affordable housing; I have watched him vote to make it harder for homeless neighbors to access shelters; vote against eliminating the tipped minimum wage; and ignore entire communities in our Ward, even as they are being displaced, simply because they do not make political donations. No matter the odds, a fight on behalf of our vulnerable neighbors is a fight worth having. Progressives have an obligation to stand up for and stand beside those in our community who cannot fight for themselves. That’s what I’m doing, and that’s why I’ve earned endorsements from progressive, women-led organizations such as Run for Something, Vote Pro Choice, and The American Women’s Party.

I have built my career by serving others. Before moving to DC, I helped protect immigrants in Los Angeles from unscrupulous employers as a Legal Fellow with Bet Tzedek, served in the Peace Corps as a literacy teacher in Guyana, worked as a field organizer on the Obama campaign in 2008, and followed President Obama to DC after his election hoping to make a difference and serve the public. Nearly a decade later, this city has given me everything: a career, an education, great friends, a family, a dog, and a home. Then, in 2016, my husband and I became proud parents to our daughter Julia Justicia (“JJ”).

But even in a progressive city like ours, I see a troubling lack of empathy, accountability, transparency, and compassion in our DC Council. Simply put, the status quo isn’t ok. It is harming our neighbors, and leaving them behind. If elected, I commit to holding true to our shared values, continuing to stand up for vulnerable communities, and ensuring the progressive laws we pass are as strong as possible, sufficiently funded, implemented swiftly, and aggressively enforced. I’m not in this for myself. I’m in it for my neighbors.

Thank you again for the opportunity to submit my response, for your consideration, and for all the work you do on behalf of people who are so truly deserving of our help.

With gratitude,

Lisa Hunter

Candidate for DC Council, Ward 6

 

 

Date: 3.29.2018

Candidate Name: Lisa Hunter

Email: lisaforward6@gmail.com

Vision for the District:

 

  1. If you are elected, what are your top three priorities and specific proposals about how to achieve those priorities? How do your priorities and proposals address structural inequities, especially those that impact people of color, that exist in the District of Columbia?

[In a city with growing economic and racial disparities, I view the following priorities as paramount to achieving a more equitable and just community: 

  1. Addressing DC’s affordable housing crisis and burgeoning homelessness population'
  2. Empowering all DC workers so everyone can earn a stable living wage, and
  3. Bringing transparency and accountability to our campaign finance system to end the unchecked influence of wealthy campaign donors and special interests.

1. Housing Security

I would fight tirelessly to bring truly affordable housing to our very low-income residents and neighbors who struggle to find – and keep – safe, stable, affordable housing. 

A difficult and honest conversation about the realities of gentrification in DC is long overdue. Ward 6 is home to some of the most expansive and expensive development projects in our city, and while our elected leaders promise that affordable housing is coming, our low-income residents continue to be pushed out of their neighborhoods due to the rising cost of living. Somehow, as shiny new buildings rise across our skyline, affordable housing has become less attainable, and we have some of the widest economic disparities in the nation.

I took [a] picture a few weeks ago on the corner of 11th & K Street SE.  The sign is in front of the new Kipling luxury condo building, with a giant “No!” painted over it. Just behind the sign is Hopkins Apartments, a public housing complex whose residents are doing amazing things to lift their community, but are not receiving the funding or attention from our city that they deserve. When we think about the impact of rapid and aggressive development, we think of quickly-gentrifying neighborhoods like this one. I live only a few blocks from this intersection, and this photo reflects the growing economic disparities driving our longtime neighbors out of DC. This sign represents the views held by people who feel voiceless, under attack, and desperate to be heard.  They may be weeks away from living on the streets, or being uprooted from our community altogether, and they’re being ignored. Our councilmember attends the ribbon cuttings for these new condo buildings, but nobody at Hopkins can recall having ever seen him at one of their events. This is wrong. Stable, safe, and affordable housing is the most pressing, essential need for every person in our community, and it’s why I am committed to championing these efforts.

My proposal for ensuring housing security for every DC resident starts with adjusting the flawed formula that we currently use to define affordability and determine eligibility for housing programs. The Area Median Income (AMI), set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, incorporates the suburbs of DC in its calculation. Federal and DC-based housing programs peg eligibility to AMI, yet nothing precludes DC from employing a formula that focuses squarely on District income rather than incorporating suburban incomes in places such as Alexandria, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, McLean and others that skew what is truly affordable to low- and ultra-low-income DC residents. I would work with the Council, advocates, and groups such as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute to develop a DC-based AMI. For housing to be truly affordable, it needs to be affordable to those who need it most. Eighty percent of the current AMI is not affordable for too many of our neighbors, particularly single parents, or those struggling to find work.

In addition, the Mayor and DC Council must make greater investments in our existing housing programs to help residents obtain – and remain in – housing. In this regard, I align closely with the DC Fair Budget Coalition’s vision for addressing housing security. My approach starts with meeting the affordable housing need of our extremely-low-income (0-30% AMI) residents. This includes allocating $313 million in programs run by DC Housing Authority to create new housing and provide Local Rent Supplement Program vouchers. To help residents remain in their homes (or move, if needed), we must allocate at least $12 million to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which helps provide back rent for economically-vulnerable neighbors facing evictions. Public housing is also deserving of at least $40 million in dedicated funding to help fund repairs and maintain existing public housing units. Stories of elevator outages, mold, leaks, asbestos, and other issues are far too common in my conversations with public housing residents; we have failed to provide them with the safe housing they deserve.

Beyond our housing programs, I am passionate about helping individuals experiencing homelessness. DC has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country, which means our current leaders have failed. Our homeless population deserves to be treated with dignity, and we must do everything we can to help individuals and families find stable housing and start on a path to economic security. Solutions to this challenge must be comprehensive, and I am disappointed that the Mayor’s efforts on this front have been insufficiently funded. It’s time for us to invest in ending family and chronic homelessness by allocating funding to DC’s Rapid Rehousing Program, including $60 million in permanent subsidies for homeless families and chronically homeless individuals, and an additional $15 million to improving services and shelters for homeless individuals. I fully support funding additional wraparound services such as mental health, employment, and other social services to support our homeless residents, and I commit to working closely with organizations that serve this community for input to not only move legislation, but actually fund these programs, make sure they’re implemented, and conduct ongoing oversight to make sure they are working.

Social justice for our homeless population also means protecting this community from discrimination. If elected, I will work to swiftly pass the Michael A. Stoops Anti-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2017, which adds homelessness as a protected class and provides protections and legal resource for our homeless neighbors who face discrimination based on their housing status. It has been disappointing to watch this bill languish in the committee chaired by Mr. Allen. He could have brought it forward for consideration at any point over the last nine months, but has not done so.

I was struck by the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness’ new report revealing that three out of four homeless women in DC living without children are survivors of violence. In the era of the #MeToo movement, we must recognize the impact of domestic violence, sexual trauma, and assault have had in driving many women and families to homelessness. These are women who deserve to be treated with compassion, empathy, and whose basic needs are not being met. We must start truly investing in programs that provide specialized support for survivors of trauma, including mental health, substance abuse programs. I was appalled to see that my councilmember voted to increase identification and “proof of homelessness” requirements for residents seeking shelter in times of crisis. Imagine a woman seeking shelter from domestic violence, being turned away because she forgot to bring her paperwork. It is gut-wrenching to think about the complete disregard for the realities faced by our vulnerable neighbors that one must hold in order to cast that vote. It is particularly unnerving given that we know domestic violence is too often the cause of families becoming homeless. When we think about these problems, and know that my opponent voted against providing funding for en-suite restrooms for families in shelters, it becomes clear our current leaders are not leading, because they are not capable of understanding, let alone solving these problems. That vote was a myopic and insensitive decision, and reflects a truly disturbing lack of empathy, particularly for families and children fleeing violence, experiencing trauma, who the DC Council believes should be expected to use the general restrooms alongside others at the shelter. Helping women who experience sexual trauma and homelessness is a passion of mine, and I will fiercely champion this issue on the DC Council.

   2. Workers’ Rights and Wages

I would also move to immediately pass an enhanced version of the Fair Scheduling Act. This legislation is critical because it would primarily support the most economically vulnerable workers in our city. Requiring employers to provide hours to current employees before bringing on new staff would allow many workers to reach full-time status, which would trigger their eligibility for employer-sponsored health insurance. Having worked on Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation in the Obama administration, I can say with certainty that, in a city where our DC Council seeks to position themselves as champions of the ACA, one of the most important policy changes they could make in order to decrease the rate of uninsured DC workers would be to increase the number of full-time workers. Yet, they refuse to act. This bill is largely about economic certainty and security for low-wage workers, but it is also an example of DC business interests having undue influence in matters related to the health care of DC workers. Beyond the obvious benefits of additional work hours, advance notice of scheduling and the elimination of ‘just-in-time’ scheduling would allow workers to schedule childcare when it is needed – and not schedule it when it is not needed. It would also allow more workers to climb the economic ladder by taking evening classes or seeking additional employment should they choose to do so. This is good policy that strengthens our workforce, which is why some companies such as Target have voluntarily adopted a policy where workers receive their work schedules with a minimum of ten days advance notice. Unfortunately, my opponent opposed this bill because he does not believe it would be good for the DC business community. I believe the DC business community is doing quite well, and it’s time we start taking care of our neighbors facing housing and economic insecurity.

3. Campaign Finance Reform and Transparency

Finally, I would focus on truly reforming our campaign finance system to bring transparency and accountability to the business and developer donors who wield great influence over our elected officials, but are able to make campaign contributions that remain largely hidden from the public. Too many of our neighbors are being displaced by a slate of policies pushed by the DC Council, and it’s because our elected officials have been bought by corporate and developer executives who donate as individuals rather than through their companies. The first step to fixing this problem is to expose it. My proposal, which is available here, would require mandatory disclosure of all individual donors who serve as owners, executives, principals, directors, partners, board members or trustees of companies that have lobbied the DC Council or received public benefits, to be defined as contracts, tax subsidies, or goods and services of substantial value provided by the city. Many progressive jurisdictions throughout the country have passed similar legislation, so DC will remain well behind when it comes to campaign finance reform, even after the Fair Elections Act is fully implemented. These types of disclosure laws have withstood First Amendment challenges in court because it is recognized that, even in an era where money is unfortunately protected as speech, it is in the public interest for voters to know who is electing – and influencing – their leaders.

The DC campaign finance law that caps both business and individual donations at $500 has had substantial unintended consequences that need to be addressed. Members of the DC Council take more money from owners and executives of businesses, as individuals, than they could have taken from the business itself. This has made it incredibly difficult to track which businesses are donating money through their owners and executive leadership, and has created a dynamic where people like the incumbent, Mr. Allen, are able to tell voters they do not directly accept business money – technically true – even though a deeper look at his finances shows tens of thousands of dollars in donations from developer and business executives throughout the city over the last four years. For example, in 2014 Mr. Allen accepted a max donation from the owner of PN Hoffman, the developer that went on to secure approval to develop the Wharf shortly thereafter. In 2014 and 2018, he has received substantial campaign contributions from the executive team at Stanton, the developer that recently completed the Hine project. There are many more examples, and the information is not easily accessible to voters, which is why Mr. Allen has been able to say for four years that he does not accept money from business interests, even as these donations continue to come in. The Washington City Paper recently exposed this gimmick, noting that Mr. Allen has received at least 15 percent of his donations from developers. My calculations based on a review of his filings estimates that number at closer to 35 percent. This money has influenced votes and shaped our city’s skyline and spending priorities, so voters deserve to see it. Absent a deterrent that would keep councilmembers from taking tens of thousands of dollars from business owners and executives without paying a political price for doing so, we are not creating a system that will meaningfully change the dynamics of our elections and our pay-for-play politics and allow our elected officials to work for the people who need them most, rather than for corporate donors.

Housing Security

  1. In a 2015 study commissioned by the DC government, the Urban Institute reported that DC would need 26,000 - 33,000 more units affordable to those making under 30% of AMI by 2020. Leading advocates are calling on the city to subsidize 26,000 units for very low-income families (0-30% of AMI) over the next ten years both through creation of new units and subsidizing existing units, starting with 2,600 units in fiscal year 2019. What is your position on this proposal and how would you fund this expansion to ensure housing stability among DC's lowest income residents?

[I support the proposal to subsidize housing for low-income families, and support the efforts of advocates to secure funding for 26,000 units. However, I do not believe that 26,000 units is enough to solve the problem we are facing in our city and would like to see us commit to doing more. The aforementioned report highlights a critical gap that needs to be closed, and coming up on the three-year anniversary of its release it feels very much like we are further away from doing so, not closer. This only became more true last month, when the DC Council took their first vote to strip tenants of their TOPA rights, which will eliminate a program that has provided housing security and home ownership opportunities to hundreds, if not thousands, of DC families. We have a higher rate of homelessness than other large east coast city, and are not doing enough to provide every one of our neighbors with a safe, stable place to live. Moreover, approximately 40 percent of housing units in Ward 6 are studios or one-bedroom units, which simply do not work for families with children.

I have proposed several policy changes that I believe would help us begin to truly address our affordable housing shortage, and allow us to achieve, and even exceed, a target increase of 26,000 affordable housing units by 2020. First, we need to redefine “affordable.” The prevailing view of the Council is that building units that meet the current definition of affordability is alleviating our affordable housing crisis, and that is not the case. For housing to be truly affordable, it needs to be affordable to those who need it most. Eighty percent of AMI is not affordable for too many of our neighbors, particularly single parents, or those struggling to find work. Second, we must streamline access to funding, and make sure those developers who are building truly affordable housing have timely access to funding and assistance from the city. Third, we must make clear to developers that our taxpayer subsidies are no longer available for their commercial developments. I believe the last decade of development in this city shows that commercial developers do not need our assistance. DC is a great place to live and work, and that’s why commercial developers are here. We should be subsidizing only those projects that contain an adequate percentage of truly affordable housing, and it’s time we have a discussion about what truly affordable housing looks like. It’s also time that we demand developers create affordable housing units that are fully integrated into the development, with the same finishes and materials, so our neighbors are not being told upon arrival to their new home that their community considers them to be lesser than their neighbors. Fourth, it is time to reverse the recent cuts to the corporate and estate tax rates and direct that revenue to our homelessness and affordable housing crises. That our DC Council would take votes to help a few hundred ultra-wealthy DC residents when we have not committed funding to provide everyone in our city with a safe place to sleep at night is a moral failure, and it’s time we make it right.

Somehow, we have allowed developers to build shiny new buildings throughout DC, particularly in Ward 6, and yet we find ourselves with next to nowhere for any of our low-income neighbors to live. Fixing this requires more than a commitment to subsidize housing for the next five years, it requires a fundamental shift in our DC Council, from a body that talks like it cares to a body that votes like it cares. We only get there by electing people who understand that we are a stronger city when we work together on behalf of our most vulnerable neighbors, not when we allow policy and spending decisions to be influenced by the developer and corporate executives who make maximum campaign contributions.

  1. Public housing is a key source of stable, affordable housing for thousands of the District’s extremely low income households. Over the last decade, however, federal divestment in public housing has resulted in three quarters of units to fall into disrepair, including hundreds that are no longer inhabitable. Public housing residents have had to deal with mold, collapsing ceilings, missing portions of the floor, and more, all of which compromise their health and safety. Housing advocates are calling on the city to repair and maintain DC's public housing stock by establishing a minimum funding level of $25 million in the Public Housing Repair Fund. Do you support this investment? How else do you recommend the city address our public housing challenges?

[Yes, I support this investment, and would like to see a dedicated funding stream at $40 million, far higher than the minimum $25 million. One of the true privileges of this campaign has been spending more time with neighbors who live in public housing, getting tours of their facilities, and learning about programs they create and ways they support their community. The neighbors I have met are truly inspiring; the optimism and constant drive to make things better is humbling and contagious. The unfortunate part of too many of these stories is a lack of commitment from the DC government to serve as a force multiplier not just by providing funding to repair substandard units, but by showing an ongoing presence and commitment to these communities in the form of enhancements and improvements. I am sick of hearing my neighbors in public housing tell me they feel ignored. They deserve so much more from us, and we have the capacity to give it to them if we elect leaders who are willing to try.

As stated above, I believe that ensuring housing security for every DC resident starts with adjusting the DC formula for AMI.  Federal and DC-based housing programs peg eligibility to AMI, yet nothing precludes DC from employing a formula that focuses squarely on District income rather than a formula incorporating suburban incomes in places such as Alexandria, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, McLean and others that skew what is truly affordable to low- and ultra-low-income DC residents. I would work with the Council, advocates, and groups such as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute to develop the DC-based AMI.

In addition, the Mayor and DC Council must make greater investments in our housing programs to help residents obtain – and remain in – housing. In this regard, I align closely with the DC Fair Budget Coalition’s vision for addressing housing security. My approach starts with meeting the affordable housing need of our extremely-low-income (0-30% AMI) residents. This includes allocating $313 million in programs run by DC Housing Authority to create new housing and provide Local Rent Supplement Program vouchers. To help residents remain in their homes (or move, if needed), we ought to allocate $12 million to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which helps provide back rent for people facing evictions. As stated earlier, public housing is also deserving of $40 million to help fund repairs and maintain existing public housing units. Stories of elevator outages, mold, leaks, asbestos, and other issues are common in my conversations with public housing residents, and we have failed to provide them with safe housing.

  1. Over 80,000 families and individuals in the District of Columbia live in rent controlled apartments, making this policy tool one of the single largest sources of long-term affordable housing in the city. However, significant loopholes in the law leave low-income tenants vulnerable to unfair rent hikes and displacement. The DC Rent Control Coalition is working to reform the District’s rent control laws to cap annual rent increases, preserve affordable rent-stabilized housing, protect seniors and people with disabilities from extreme rent increases, improve the petition process, and protect tenants against retaliatory landlords. Where do you stand on the Rental Housing Affordability Stabilization Amendment Act of 2017, which would eliminate the extra 2% tenants pay above the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in annual rent increases and cap vacancy increases at 5%, and on the Preservation of Affordable Rent Control Housing Amendment Act of 2017, which would ban voluntary agreements that raise rents on future tenants?

[I support the policy change put forth by the Rental Housing Affordability Stabilization Amendment Act of 2017, though I would seek to offer what I believe is an important amendment to the legislation if given the opportunity. Based on a recent report, Ward 6 has fewer rent controlled units than any other Ward in the city. I have met too many Ward 6 neighbors who have lived in their homes for decades and feel as though they are counting the days until they are forced out. The pressure placed on our neighbors to find affordable housing, let alone remain in it, is tremendous and at times inhumane. As such, I support policies that tie rent increases to CPI and if given the opportunity to debate this particular piece of legislation, I would offer an amendment that would modify the annual rent increase percentage cap on rent-control units to 2.5 percent rather than 5. While it has not been the case in recent years, history shows that when the economy is booming and wages are growing rapidly, the lowest income bracket often lags behind. Our low-income neighbors already spend upwards of half their income on housing costs. As such, a 5 percent rent increase poses a burden that many of our neighbors are simply unable to meet. A 2.5 percent increase cap would more appropriately align with the historical data on wage increases for low-income workers, and protect many of our long-time residents from being forced to leave their communities. It is also important that these increases are based on the actual rent being paid, not on an artificially large number that only exists in theory before phony discounts are applied. Outlawing that practice would substantially alleviate the economic pressure of annual rent increases on our low-income neighbors.

I also support the Preservation of Affordable Rent Control Housing Amendment Act of 2017. It is despicable that housing providers have been increasingly asking tenants to unknowingly enter into agreements that are detrimental to future tenants, and it is the responsibility of the DC Council to end this predatory practice that has contributed to a drastic reduction in DC’s affordable housing stock. Some stakeholders argue that this policy change will raise housing costs for those currently in rent-control units, and to the extent there is such a cost shift this would be an example of a burden that the DC Council should allocate surplus revenue to alleviate, as opposed to things like corporate and estate tax cuts.]

  1. When Mayor Bowser took office, she committed to a plan to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring, including ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, chronic homelessness by the end of 2017, and all homelessness by 2020. The District has now missed two of these deadlines, and is not on track to meet the goals set forth in this plan unless there is a significant investment increase in permanent housing solutions. Will you commit to fully funding and implementing the Interagency Council on Homelessness plan to end homelessness, including filling in the gaps in funding from the prior two fiscal years?

[Yes. Our most basic obligation to our neighbors is to provide them with a safe place to call home, because unless we do that, we are not providing them with an opportunity to reach their potential. We must fully fund and implement the Interagency Council on Homelessness plan, make up for lost prior-year funding, and establish ongoing dedicated mandatory funding to truly tackle this crisis.

In addition to providing full funding for basic programs, which I believe is the bare minimum we should expect from our elected officials, it is time we as a city commit to treating our homeless neighbors with dignity, and demand that our elected officials vote accordingly. The problem does not begin and end with the Mayor. My current councilmember, Mr. Allen, is the embodiment of this problem on the DC Council, having voted to require identification and ‘proof of homelessness’ as prerequisite to shelter admissions, and voting against creating semi-private en-suite bathrooms in our shelters. A recent amendment that would have expanded Rapid Rehousing from 12 months to 18 months failed by one vote, with Mr. Allen casting the deciding vote saying he was uncertain that it was a good use of $17 million, only to turn around later that afternoon and vote to give $36 million to a developer who wanted to build a parking garage. He has also failed to act when he had sole authority to do so - it is incredibly disappointing that the Michael A. Stoops Anti-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2017 has languished in Mr. Allen’s committee since he has been unwilling to give it the consideration it deserves. This common-sense legislation would provide our homeless neighbors with protections against basic discrimination, and should be expanded to include explicit protections against encampment sweeps and discriminatory application of loitering laws. The first step to helping our homeless neighbors is to show them the basic respect and care that they deserve. Yet, my councilmember has proven himself unwilling to show the empathy or compassion needed to meet that basic standard, so it’s impossible for me to believe that he is capable of being part of the solution to our ongoing homelessness crisis.

Of the many reasons I decided to run in an uphill race against a DC insider, chief among them is an unwillingness to sit idly by as a man who self-identifies as a Democrat casts aside the needs of so many vulnerable members of our community. That isn’t the Democratic Party I am a part of, it isn’t what I learned during my time in the Obama administration, and it does not comport with the basic values and morals I hold as a human being. Compassionate, empathetic leadership means anticipating the needs of those who are at risk and working tirelessly to help those experiencing homelessness receive economic and housing security as swiftly and compassionately as possible. It also means making significant investments in affordable housing programs like Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH), Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) tenant vouchers for families, and expanding the Rapid Rehousing program. We have to stop talking about homelessness and housing in a vacuum, and focus on the bigger picture to truly effectuate change in our communities.

Recent coverage of a new report by the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness revealed that three out of four women in the District who are homeless and living without children are survivors of violence. Based on a survey of 882 homeless women living alone in the District, at least one third said that violence is the cause of their homelessness or housing instability, with 29 percent reporting they had engaged in “survival sex” to obtain money, food, alcohol, drugs, a place to stay or other goods. These are horrifying statistics. As someone who has worked in women’s shelters, staffed a sexual assault and rape crisis hotline, and accompanied survivors of domestic violence seeking restraining orders against their abusers to court, I have seen the wretched cycle of violence firsthand. We must elect leaders who will advocate on behalf of these vulnerable populations, understand the role that violence and trauma plays in housing instability, and focus on the social services that protect survivors of violence. If elected, I would champion these issues with a comprehensive view that includes fighting for additional funding to create more beds in the District for women and children fleeing violence, investing in mental and behavioral health services, and supporting organizations providing legal services to our most vulnerable populations.

Strengthening Families

  1. The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act lays out a framework for a community-led public health approach to violence prevention to ensure residents’ safety while also addressing police abuses. Advocates are calling for the Act to be fully, faithfully, transparently, and successfully implemented. How will you ensure that the Mayor and her administration as well as the Council fully and effectively implement the NEAR Act?

[As someone who has worked in Congress and in a federal agency subject to strict oversight, I know firsthand that the best thing we can do to ensure that critical laws like the NEAR Act are implemented in full by an administration is to leverage the legislative power of rigorous oversight. I am pleased by the recent push by BLM advocates to force MPD to release the data, but the reality is they’re being forced to do so because our DC Council has made the decision not to proactively exercise its oversight authority and force MPD and the Mayor’s office to act. The current Ward 6 councilmember chairs the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, and has had an opportunity to put public pressure on the Mayor to fully implement the law by using this committee to continuously highlight the ongoing issues in our communities that could be directly addressed by provisions of the NEAR Act should they be prioritized and implemented. He could have also made a public push to require the MPD to release the stop-and-frisk data they are required to release, and could have held hearings to force them to commit to timelines and concrete implementation milestones. He has declined to do so, so it would seem as though the most impactful step we could take in furtherance of more aggressive oversight and implementation of the NEAR Act would be to replace Mr. Allen as Chair.

I am encouraged that the NEAR Act has been fully funded, and the release of the first dataset required under the law is a positive step, though we have a long way to go. The first release also shows that we have a lot of progress to make on things as simple as following a criminal offense from arrest through prosecution and sentencing.

Addressing the root cause of crime and focusing on preventive and other health services rather than incarceration makes our communities safer. Investing in new offices that will provide access to treatment for residents with mental illness and substance use disorder will save lives. Our MPD officers are to be commended for the work they do in our communities, and they will benefit greatly from the opportunity to gain additional resources for training and data collection. Improving police interaction with residents for whom English is not their primary language, or for those with mental illness or substance use disorders will improve the safety of officers and our citizens. 

The specific concerns around the creation of an Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement do not seem to be borne out by data, as the program it was modeled after seems to have been proven effective in Richmond, CA, both in reducing the number of firearms on the streets and reducing the number of reported shootings. It is a relatively new and innovative policy, which means it is inherently controversial, but the fear of unintended consequences appears to be unfounded. Of course, the program should be subject to rigorous oversight to ensure that we are making the progress the Council sought when passing the law in 2016.]

  1. Despite being a city with a 20% immigrant population, local schools do not have the resources necessary to adequately meet the needs of immigrant students and parents who are English Language Learners. The Language Access for Education Act would provide support for these families, yet Council has failed to advance this legislation. Will you commit to passing and fully funding the Language Access for Education Act? 

[Yes. I recently wrote a piece for my website about language access issues and I hope you will take a moment to read it, available in English here, and in Spanish here. I will push for an immediate markup and passage of the Language Access for Education Act. The number of residents in DC for whom English is not a first language continues to rise, yet DC lags behind most progressive cities in the nation with respect to accessibility to government services. As a Latina, this bothers me at a very personal level, and my own personal interactions with my opponent as a constituent have me convinced that he is not the person to help us move forward as a community. At a minimum, we should be ensuring that children in our schools for whom English is not a first language are given the tools and resources to be successful, including translations of essential information and other materials that will contribute to their success.

I would also propose an amendment to the Language Access for Education Act that would lower the thresholds that trigger the presence of a language liaison from what has currently been proposed. A school could conceivably fail to meet the 5 percent or 500-student threshold and still be the only educational resource for a substantial number of children who will need assistance in order to succeed in school. I would suggest a method through which all students can be provided targeted support based on demonstrated need, without respect to whether their school meets a designated threshold. Our schools are unique, and our policies need to reflect that. The ability of a student to access needed services should not be limited by a shortage of staff or resources based on pre-set numbers, so any reforms must include mandatory dedicated funding that is flexible enough to meet the needs of every school, and adjust with an increase in funding or personnel if that is found to not be the case.

It is important for our elected officials to recognize that this problem exists beyond the walls of our schools. As an example, DC provides fewer language resources to Spanish-speaking residents than other large cities, even as our Latinx population continues to rise, perhaps in part because, unlike most major US cities, DC has never had a member of the Latinx community elected to serve on its legislative body.]

  1. DC has some of the strongest labor laws on the books but workers - especially returning citizens, those in immigrant communities, and those working in the informal economy - continue to face barriers to meaningful employment and fair pay at too many turns. How do you plan to work with the Mayor and administration to ensure the District’s labor laws are enforced? Further, how will you use your position on Council to build more pathways to the middle class for struggling workers?

[It’s true that our city has passed some of the toughest labor laws in the country to protect workers’ rights. But it’s also true that we fall short in a very critical way: enforcement of our existing labor laws. At some point, we must ask ourselves whether our elected officials are moving legislation to score messaging victories, or because they care about our city’s workers.

We know that the Department of Employment Services receives a constant stream of labor law complaints, and that the Office of the Attorney General does not have the funds nor the investigators to keep pace. As a result, unscrupulous employers take advantage of workers, fail to comply with local hiring laws, and, in some instances, point fingers at competitors in an effort to distract overextended investigators and divert attention from their own violations. DC must invest more in oversight and investigations to protect our workers, especially as the city’s many development projects surge ahead.

It’s a matter of record that our Ward 6 council member has taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from developer interests. As such, it’s no coincidence that Ward 6 is home to the most pervasive and expansive development projects in the city. The Wharf is a glaring example: DC gave $300 million in subsidies to commercial developers without ensuring that their projects provided good-quality jobs that pay a living wage to DC residents. As a taxpayer, I am appalled by leaders who vote to subsidize such significant projects without first determining whether financial support was necessary in the first place.

Moreover, the DC Council allowed the Wharf developer, who also happens to be one of Mr. Allen’s max donors, to meet only 10 percent of affordability standards for newly built housing units, down from the 30-percent standard initially set.  Labor unions and locals are furious at this boondoggle, and they should be. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, union agreements would have resulted in more than $13.2 million in higher earnings for construction workers, hotel workers, and office cleaners. The workers would also have received healthcare and retirement benefits.  Instead, my opponent appeased corporate interests and failed to ensure that every dollar of taxpayer money is spent wisely.  At a time when corporate greed is pervasive, and when our confidence in the integrity of our government institutions and elected officials is low, we deserve better.]

  1. Over a year since it was passed, the Universal Paid Leave Act established a public social insurance fund (like unemployment insurance) that enables everyone working for private and non-profit employers in DC to take extended paid leave when caring for themselves or a family member, or when welcoming a new child. How will you ensure that the Mayor and administration fully and effectively build out a top-notch paid leave program for DC’s working families, on-time and on-budget? Once the paid leave insurance program is running effectively, if the program generates fund surpluses, would you champion updates to the Universal Paid Leave Act that benefit workers such as increasing the length of medical leave or expanding family definitions to include chose family?

[Yes. I am inspired by the work of advocates across the city to move the Universal Paid Leave Act, convince the Mayor to cease her opposition, and get the law fully funded in the upcoming budget. It was a big win for families in this city, particularly lower-income residents who do not have access to sufficient leave through their employer benefit package.

I also believe there’s more work we must do to improve this law so it fully reflects what medical professionals believe is appropriate. Doctors recommend that parents take a minimum of 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn child, and for good reason. My husband and I were fortunate to be able to take leave after our daughter was born, and it was still a struggle to adjust to our new life, and learn on the job as new parents. The UPL only affords parents with 8 weeks of leave.  This is clinically insufficient, and places substantial pressure on parents to secure childcare four weeks earlier than they would otherwise need to.  

I have confidence that the current law will be successful once implemented, and will serve to dispel many of the myths and scare tactics put forth by the business community that have kept workers from having access to paid family leave for far too long. That will become increasingly clear, which is why I am committed to revisiting this law through a public health lens, at which point I do not believe the positions of business interests such as the DC Chamber will hold much in the way of credibility or relevancy.]

People Powered Democracy

  1. DC’s current donor class is whiter, wealthier, older, and male-er than the District’s population. More than 60% of campaign contributions come from either individuals who don’t live in DC, or from corporations and PACs, while only 5% come from voters giving $100 or less. The Fair Elections Act promotes a system that better represents the people who live and vote here by establishing a voluntary public financing system where small-dollar donations are matched with public funds. The DC Fair Elections Act was recently passed and now needs to be funded in the Fiscal Year 2019 District budget. Do you support full funding for Fair Elections and would you use the system in future elections?

[Yes. This policy has been implemented in many jurisdictions throughout the nation, and there is evidence that it expands the pool of candidates, which is a good thing. I congratulate the advocates who worked hard to get it passed. I have already committed to not taking any money from developer and business interests in DC, since I believe their influence has greatly exacerbated the disparities we see in our neighborhoods. I would use this system in future elections, but believe there is more work for us to do in order to ensure a truly equitable election system where the power rests with the people of DC. The reality is, just like the DC donor class, my opponent is whiter, wealthier, older and male-er than the District’s population. While the Fair Election law could serve to assist candidates in launching campaigns, absent additional reforms it will not fully level the playing field or mitigate the structural advantages held by incumbents on the DC Council who have established ties with the wealthy DC business community, and have been hand-picked for their positions.

If we truly wish to get there, DC needs to take the next step by reforming our campaign finance and disclosure laws. Even after the Fair Elections Act has been implemented, DC law will continue to lag well behind what other progressive cities throughout the nation have already put in place. As such, I would move to immediately enhance this law by requiring mandatory disclosure of all individual donors who serve as owners, executives, principals, directors, partners, board members or trustees of companies that have lobbied the DC Council or received public benefits, to be defined as contracts, tax subsidies, or goods and services of substantial value provided by the city. Many progressive jurisdictions throughout the country have passed similar legislation, so DC will remain well behind when it comes to campaign finance reform, even after the Fair Elections Act is fully implemented. These types of disclosure laws have withstood First Amendment challenges in court because it is recognized that, even in an era where money is unfortunately protected as speech, it is in the public interest for voters to know who is electing – and influencing – our leaders.]

Sharing Resources

The District’s resources should be allocated responsibly and with transparency, in ways that benefit the needs of existing communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color. Unfortunately, it has become standard practice for the District to offer billions of dollars of public land, tax breaks, and lucrative contracts to private companies, some of whom routinely do not comply with District labor, hiring, and housing laws. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to hear stories of businesses being subsidized by millions of tax dollars found committing wage theft, operating substandard housing, and breaking hiring laws. What is your position on taxpayer subsidies and tax abatements for large development projects? And how will you hold developers accountable to meeting community development requirements?

[As a matter of principle, I will always prioritize the needs of our low-income residents over the wishes of wealthy commercial developers. Commercial developers in DC are doing just fine, and that was true even as we moved through a recession. Meanwhile, many of our neighbors are struggling to stay in their longtime homes. My position is simple: once we make sure that every one of our neighbors has a safe, stable, affordable roof over their head, we can start considering whether to incentivize commercial development through tax incentives. Until then, we should not be subsidizing commercial development that does nothing to alleviate our affordable housing crisis, and in fact in most instances serves to exacerbate it.

A glaring example of placing commercial development over housing was the Council’s recent vote on the Union Market TIF, and I was disgusted to see my councilmember vote in favor of it. The juxtaposition of a vote for a developer subsidy taken almost simultaneous to a vote against assisting our low-income residents was a glaring window into the priorities of the DC Council as presently constituted. It’s not who we are as a city, and it’s not who we are as a Ward. Adding insult to injury, this TIF was primarily provided to fund the construction of an expensive parking garage that the city itself has said was unnecessary, and on the same day the Council voted down an increase in funding for our homeless neighbors. I oppose any similar efforts in the future to fund commercial development. I would only support such taxpayer financing schemes in instances where the project is residential, and there is a clearly articulated plan to include a majority of truly affordable housing units within the project. My definition of truly affordable is not the same as the city’s accepted definition of affordable housing – to me, truly affordable means units that our low- and ultra-low-income residents can actually afford.

We are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, so tax subsidies and financing may be an appropriate budgetary tool in order to spur residential development that increases our affordable housing stock. However, we need to completely revisit what it means to be affordable because the current definition isn’t working for those who need help, namely single parents. There is a limited stock of multi-bedroom units, and the affordability thresholds set under current law are too high. I would propose that DC acts within the context of what is actually occurring in our city, rather than relying on federal affordability metrics, and requires that any residential developments receiving DC financing, funding or subsidies meet a definition of affordability that meets the needs of the people living in that community. Any funding or subsidies provided by DC need to be contingent on fulfillment of these promises – we can construct agreements in such a way that if a developer fails to deliver on their promises, we will require them to return the money they have received, and they will be liable for punitive damages should they choose not to immediately do so.]

  1. How we spend our money as a community says a lot about our values. Persistent inequalities exist in access to affordable housing, public education, quality healthcare services, reliable public transportation, basic amenities, reasonable childcare options, and more. In recent years the DC Council cut taxes for wealthy residents and successful businesses, and at the same time has said that there is insufficient revenue to actually solve the challenges facing our city. What will your budget priorities say about you and your values? Where will you look for additional revenue?

[I’m a progressive. I believe strongly that budgets are moral documents, and votes reflect values. We face significant economic inequality in our city for many reasons, and in recent years the primary reason has been that our city government works for its business and developer donors, rather than for its people. It takes one look at our recent funding priorities to see why our racial and economic disparities continue to grow.

The decision of our DC Council to take a budget surplus and distribute it to corporations and the ultra-rich is a statement of morals and values that I will never support. I would seek to immediately roll back the tax cuts received by the ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations in DC as a result of the tax cuts moved by the Council in 2017. It sounds simple, but unfortunately our DC Council doesn’t seem to get it – if we can’t guarantee a safe roof over the heads of each of our neighbors, we cannot be giving tax cuts to the ultra-rich. As a Democrat, I was beyond disappointed when the DC Council aligned with some of the same tax policies in 2017 as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, and dismayed that the current Ward 6 councilmember voted in favor of these cuts. Those votes don’t reflect the views or values of my neighbors in Ward 6, they reflect Republican votes that were taken at the behest of wealthy campaign donors.

In concert with his votes to cut the corporate tax rate, slash the estate tax, and give hundreds of millions of tax-payer subsidies to developers, the current Ward 6 councilmember has voted against eliminating the tipped minimum wage, and against new funding for programs that serve those experiencing homelessness and the need to bring new, affordable housing. As a result, in Ward 6 there are shiny new buildings everywhere, yet few truly affordable housing units in sight. Our Ward has fewer rent-controlled apartments than any other ward in the city. We welcome fancy new restaurants and stores almost daily, none of which are bringing jobs that are hiring our local workers and paying them a living wage. Our ward is rapidly gentrifying, and while the political establishment remains comfortable with the status quo and cozy with their long-standing developer and business interests, we’ve somehow arrived at a place where we will turn a blind eye to the displacement of our Black and Latinx neighbors simply because there’s a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for us to shop at. We are better than this. A continuing failure to acknowledge the problem with displacement of our neighbors is why economic and racial inequality continues to grow in our city.

I am frustrated by the myopic lens the current Ward 6 councilman uses in addressing the needs of income inequality and chronic homelessness. It is short-sighted and unsympathetic. He will tell you that he’s invested millions of taxpayer dollars in creating affordable housing units across the Ward. Unfortunately, he won’t tell you the number of longtime Ward 6 residents displaced from their homes in order to create such “affordable” housing. He won’t disclose that those new units are made with sub-standard finishes, and that residents using vouchers to live in them are denied amenities available to non-voucher residents (e.g., the Hine project at Eastern Market). I am deeply troubled by the number of stories I’ve heard about developers coming into communities to bulldoze existing housing for longtime residents, promising newly-built affordable units to those same residents upon completion, only to expedite the displacement of our neighbors without any intention of helping them return. That’s wrong, and yet there is little incentive for my opponent to conduct oversight or even enforce the laws that would protect these tenants, because many of these predatory developers are high-dollar donors to his campaign.

We must address these issues by electing leaders who are committed to elevating, strengthening, and empowering all Ward 6 residents, regardless of whether they can afford to donate to campaigns or attend fundraisers. This starts by electing those who are unencumbered by their relationships to corporate interests. Leadership means engaging in difficult and honest conversations about the realities of a rapidly gentrifying community. It means showing up, and not waiting for people to come to you for support when it’s too late, but anticipating the needs of those who are at risk of homelessness and working tirelessly to help those experiencing homelessness get achieve economic and housing security as swiftly and compassionately as possible. It also means making significant investments in affordable housing programs like Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH), Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) tenant vouchers for families, and expanding the Rapid Rehousing program.

We have to stop talking about homelessness and housing in a vacuum, and focus on the bigger picture to truly effectuate change in our communities. Recent coverage of a new report by the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness revealed that three out of four women in the District who are homeless and living without children are survivors of violence. Based on a survey of 882 homeless women living alone in the District, at least one third said that violence is the cause of their homelessness or housing instability, with 29 percent reporting they had engaged in “survival sex” to obtain money, food, alcohol, drugs, a place to stay or other goods. These are horrifying statistics. As someone who has worked in women’s shelters, staffed a sexual assault and rape crisis hotline, and accompanied survivors of domestic violence seeking restraining orders against their abusers to court, I have seen the wretched cycle of violence firsthand. We must elect leaders who will advocate on behalf of these vulnerable populations, understand the role that violence and trauma plays in housing instability, and focus on the social services that protect survivors of violence. If elected, I would champion these issues with a comprehensive view that includes fighting for additional funding to create more beds in the District for women and children fleeing violence, investing in mental and behavioral health services, and supporting organizations providing legal services to our most vulnerable populations.

Ward 6 residents are tired of hearing our councilmember pay lip service to the importance of these issues while we have neighbors living in fear of displacement every day, families living in their cars, and tented communities sprouting up across the city. We just had an opportunity to use a budget surplus that could have improved our current homeless shelter, added educational, health and training programs, continued the process of closing DC General by expediting construction on other facilities, eliminated strict rules on admission standards and maximum stay requirements imposed on our shelters, subsidized construction of additional affordable housing, expanded programs that subsidize living expenses for low-income residents living in subsidized housing, or any number of other things. Any one of those policies could have helped people, but our DC Council decided to put that money into tax cuts for the wealthy. Homelessness and access to affordable housing are complex problems that cannot be solved overnight, but a good start would be immediately moving to repeal those tax cuts and use the money to help people who desperately need it. We have the money, we’re just choosing to spend it elsewhere.]

 

Under Trump, DC Immigrants Face Extraordinary Uncertainty; Let’s Help by Dedicating Additional Funds to the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Program

Those of us with the privilege of stable employment, U.S. citizen status, and English proficiency will likely never need to worry about access to immigration legal services, but there are many neighbors in our community who do. Attorneys are often unaffordable, and at times unattainable, for those who need them. For low-income immigrant communities in DC, access to immigration legal services and resources is made possible through the help of organizations, associations, and law firms that dedicate themselves to providing support to this community.

In January 2017, Mayor Bowser announced that the DC government would provide $500,000 to community-based organizations, private organizations, associations, and law firms that do legal work for immigrants in DC, through the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program. This marked an important step forward to ensure that DC’s immigrant population has access to critical legal services. The first round of grants was extended to ten organizations that included Ayuda, KIND Inc., Briya Public Charter School, and Human Rights First. Since receiving funds, the grantees have completed numerous Know Your Rights presentations, legal consultations, and immigration law trainings.

The work made possible through the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program has made a significant impact in the DC immigrant community, a community that continues to grow. According to a report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the percentage of immigrants that make up the DC local population has risen from 12 percent 30 years ago, to 23 percent today. The proportion of the DC area’s population that is foreign-born is greater than the national average, and continues to rise. As our immigrant population in DC increases, we must also recognize that the growing need for legal services outweighs the current capacity.

Mayor Bowser deserves credit for recognizing the ongoing need, and renewing the Grant Program by making an additional $500,000 available in fiscal year 2018. However, as the need continues to grow, ongoing funding for the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program under the current structure will need to be considered, and renewed, every single year, leaving the future of the program in the balance on an annual basis.  

Access to essential legal services for immigrants should not be up for debate every budget cycle, and our government should not be introducing uncertainty into the lives of already-vulnerable communities on an annual basis. We have a moral obligation to continue to help DC’s immigrant population in a way that is consistent, stable, and predictable.

After the program was initially announced in January 2017, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau introduced the Access to Justice for Immigrants Amendment Act that would build upon the existing program by expanding it through the creation of a sustainable, dedicated fund that would reinforce DC’s  commitment to access to justice for all its residents. This bill never received a vote.

It is long past time for the DC Council to reflect our city’s commitment to our immigrant community by establishing a recurring line item in the budget that guarantees funding for the grant program and triples the total funding. According to organizations like Ayuda and CARECEN, $500,000 is simply not enough. An increase in funding is necessary, and the program must receive dedicated long-term funding.

DC is a progressive community. As a woman who identifies as Latina and Jewish, it was instilled in me that we don't leave our neighbors behind regardless of where they come from or what their needs are. I believe strongly that our community agrees with that sentiment, and it’s time we elect leaders who reflect it on our DC Council.

 

Compassion, not Criminalization, for DC’s Sex Workers

The way sex workers are perceived by many in DC fails to take into account the struggle of sex workers in our community. Almost no one chooses sex work as their first attempt at employment. The issues facing this community is more systemic–and far more concerning–than a few scattered condoms on our streets.

Many sex workers in DC have previously faced employment discrimination that caused them to lose, or leave, their job. This is one reason sex workers in DC are overwhelmingly trans. Finding a job can be fraught with transphobic burdens–a recent study found that almost half of DC employers would hire a less-qualified cisgender candidate over a more qualified trans applicant. This bigotry is unacceptable, and harmful.

DC residents who turn to sex work in order to sustain themselves often have no other option: people with criminal convictions unable to find work elsewhere, young people forced from abusive homes, immigrants faced with a labyrinth of language, legal, and financial challenges, and people with disabilities of all kinds. On top of being disproportionately femme, female, of color, and homeless, these circumstances can often make sex work the only viable option for someone seeking to afford the ever-rising cost of living in DC.

Our city has failed sex workers before they even take a client, from allowing employment discrimination to sitting idly by as rents rise across DC, and wages fail to keep up. Too often, when sex workers try to work through those challenges, they’re criminalized. This only serves to exacerbate matters, by continuing a cycle of unemployment and an inability to secure stable housing.

Criminalization also endangers the health and safety of sex workers. Fearing arrest, workers are unable to report exploitation to authorities, even though 80 percent say they’ve been mistreated on the job. This creates an especially high risk of coercion at the hands of police, who can threaten legal punishment if workers refuse them. And sex workers are unable to negotiate for standards, like using protection or getting tested for STIs, while punitive measures loom over their heads.

That’s why I fully support the Reducing Criminalization to Improve Community Health & Safety Amendment Act of 2017, which should be passed as soon as possible. This would mean removing criminal penalties for engaging in commercial sex, while letting workers control their own financial regulations and choices. It’s the model that sex worker advocacy groups, like HIPS, have recommended. Under this proposal, all laws regarding human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and sex with minors would remain unchanged. These crimes are horrific, but we have sufficient evidence showing us that the solution to these problems isn’t to criminalize all sex work. Decriminalization would increase reporting and prevention of these abuses by facilitating a partnership with legal authorities and the sex work industry to maximize the community’s safety.

That means improving public safety, too. When sex workers have housing stability, they’re less likely to work on the streets, which means fewer children finding used condoms in public. This is also, of course, safer for sex workers, who would control the conditions in which they work.

Moving forward with decriminalization would signal a cultural shift, one that promotes dignity over repression. We should be focusing on improving housing and employment opportunities instead of incarcerating non-violent sex workers we’ve left without the support and services they need to seek other work. Above all, our city government should be attacking structural inequality and discrimination, not its victims. 

My Written Comp Plan Testimony

March 20, 2018

Re: Hearing Before the Committee of the Whole of the District of Columbia Council Regarding Bill 22-663, Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2018

Dear Chairman Mendelson and Members of the Council:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the amendments to the Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan). I’m here on behalf of myself, but also on behalf of the thousands of neighbors for whom this hearing could be the difference between whether they are able to remain in their longtime neighborhoods, or not. It is great that a 2pm hearing works well for those of you on the Council, who get paid to be here in the Wilson building anyway. But discussing our city’s future in the middle of the day, in the middle of the work week, doesn’t work so well for hourly wage workers who aren’t able to get time off to come here and defend themselves. Or residents with limited mobility who aren’t physically able to make the trip. Or for our limited- and non-English speaking neighbors who don’t feel as though they can be heard. These are the people whose futures in DC are on the line. They deserve a voice in this process, and they deserve leaders who understand who they are and why they matter.

I’m here for my neighbors who see shiny new buildings everywhere, but can’t find anywhere affordable to live. For the single parents who apply for our limited multi-bedroom affordable housing stock and know they’ll lose out on the application because they don’t make enough money. For the longtime residents of Southwest who finally see their neighborhood receiving attention from the city, but know they’ll have to leave soon because they can’t afford to shop at any of the stores, dine at any of the restaurants, or afford any of the apartments. And for the DC residents who were promised well-paying jobs as a result of aggressive development, none of which have come to fruition. You’ve failed them. We’ve failed them. And, with these amendments to the Comp Plan, we’re on the cusp of doing it again.

The Office of Planning (OP) has proposed significant revisions to the Comp Plan as part of the 2018 amendment cycle, largely behind closed doors and in concert with the DC developer community. Among the changes being proposed are a loosening of the definition of density, and an emphasis throughout the plan that that the Zoning Commission need not consider the Comp Plan as binding when making decisions. If the DC Council chooses to approve the revised plan in its current form, you would be voluntarily ceding authority to the Commission, and telling the city that the concerns of our neighbors facing housing insecurity are subordinate to the concerns held by your wealthy donors. To move forward with these changes would be immoral, inhumane, and a true act of cowardice - the exact opposite of what our progressive community is demanding of you.

The Comp Plan is centered on the idea of an “inclusive city,” but the proposed revisions does the opposite. It is clear that the amendments stand to drastically change DC and bend to the whims of the developer class. Far from providing for an “inclusive city,” the proposed changes inject ambiguity, loosen definitions to key terms, and weaken the Comp Plan’s existing prescriptive power at the cost of further displacing our African American and Latinx residents. This is wrong.

Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the lack of transparency throughout the amendment process that OP has pursued. I have spoken with countless neighbors who rely on the Comp Plan process to provide them with a pathway to stability and security in their longtime homes and neighborhoods. They are worried that the downstream impact of the revisions posed by OP will result in new, imposing development that will push even more Black and Latinx families out of our community. These are individuals who have lived in our city for 50-plus years, who thought this process would provide them with a voice, due process, and a recognition by their city that their continued presence in and contributions to their community was valued, respected, and worthy of protection. In light of this revision process, that’s the opposite of what the DC government is telling our neighbors.

The deliberation and decision-making process leading to any revisions must be transparent, and available to everyone in the community who wishes to learn more about them. The revision and approval process must be driven by the DC Council, not the Zoning Commission, because decisions that have such profound impact on individual neighborhoods need to be made by elected officials who can be held directly accountable to the people living in those neighborhoods. Further, in order to ensure transparency, accountability, and trust in the process – things the DC government has been lacking in recent months – I urge members of the Council who have taken substantial money from developers to recuse themselves from this process, because I believe those who have taken tens of thousands of dollars from an industry that stands to directly benefit from these amendments have sufficiently conflicted themselves out of this process. This amendment process matters too much for our low-income families for it to be subject to the interests of your ultra-wealthy developer donors.

I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to stand up for DC’s vulnerable populations who are being displaced from our city by the thousands. Be transparent. Be accountable. Listen to their voices and learn about their lives. They deserve better than what they’re getting. They deserve to stay in their homes. For better or worse, they are counting on you until we can vote you out.

Very truly yours,

Lisa Hunter

Ward 6

DC NOW Questionnaire

To the DC NOW Community:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the DC NOW questionnaire.  DC NOW plays a crucial role in making sure the voices of women in our community are being heard. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that we as a community must stand up for each other, speak out when we see injustice, organize in support of progressive causes and candidates, and run for office when we know our representatives are falling short. That’s why I’m running. I am not a politician, I’m a mom who’s running because our current leaders are leaving too many of our neighbors behind.

I understand that I’m up against a DC insider, but it’s a fight worth taking on because progressives have an obligation to fight for those in our community who can’t fight for themselves. That’s what I’m doing, and that’s why I’ve earned endorsements from progressive women-led organizations such as Run for Something, Vote Pro Choice, and The American Women’s Party.

Before moving to DC, I served in the Peace Corps as a literacy teacher in Guyana, and worked on the Obama campaign in 2008. I followed President Obama to DC after his election, hoping to make a difference and serve the public. Nearly a decade later, this city has given me everything: a career, great friends, a family, a dog, a home. In 2016, my husband and I became proud parents to our daughter JJ.

But even in a progressive community like ours, I see a troubling lack of empathy, accountability, transparency, and compassion in our DC Council. In Ward 6, I’ve heard stories from

  • Countless low-income neighbors terrified that they are weeks away from leaving their longtime community because housing has become so unaffordable;
  • Working families frustrated with the delays in implementing the Universal Paid Family Leave Act, zero funding for the “tampon tax”, and a severe lack of urgency when our city is facing a maternal health crisis and high infant mortality rates;
  • Young parents already making plans to leave DC after their kids complete elementary school because they lack confidence in our school system;
  • Restaurant workers who endure sexual harassment just to earn enough tips to pay bills;
  • Advocates working tirelessly to help homeless residents, immigrants, survivors of sexual violence, and other marginalized community, while watching the DC Council vote to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on corporate subsidies and tax cuts, while saying there isn’t enough room in the budget to support social services meant to support our neighbors.

These stories are too common. Simply put, the status quo is harming our neighbors, and leaving them behind. In a city that is majority female, women still make up only 30 percent of our DC Council. If elected, I commit to holding true to these values, engaging with DC NOW and advocates for vulnerable communities, and ensuring the progressive laws we pass are as strong as possible, sufficiently funded, implemented swiftly, and enforced.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to submit my response, and for your consideration.

With gratitude,

Lisa Hunter

_____

Candidate for DC Council, Ward 6

1. Education: On Nov. 21, 2017, the DC Council introduced the Student Fair Access to

School Act of 2017 (B22-05964) to minimize suspensions and expulsions in DC public

schools. If elected, would you support this bill and other efforts to eliminate the

school-to-prison pipeline?

[Yes. This legislation is common-sense; a system that lacks uniform definitions of basic punitive actions such as suspensions and expulsions and allows for automatic suspensions to be triggered is inherently unfair and has been shown to be discriminatory. Black students are seven times more likely than white students to be suspended in DC, a number that is twice as high as the national average. Moreover, when we seek to suspend or expel students for absences, truancy and uniform violations, we are inherently targeting our low-income students who most need our help, and when we remove them from a classroom setting we are causing them to fall further behind.

Students who already face severe disadvantages at home, and in the classroom, do not benefit from increased time away from the school setting where they will not receive opportunities for educational growth. Unfortunately, our city is home to some of the worst racial and economic disparities in the nation. Many of our students in DC face some of the same socioeconomic and behavioral challenges I observed in my students when I taught in the Peace Corps. In my community, Ward 6, we live among some of the wealthiest people in the city, as well as some of the poorest. Our low-income children face health disparities, food insecurity, undiagnosed medical conditions, unstable housing, and many other challenges that our high-performing students never need to think about. I have spent substantial time meeting with our low-income neighbors and learning about their lives; many of our low-income children live with no access to internet, books or school supplies at home, lack a space at home to concentrate on homework, and they are often insufficiently fed, making it even more difficult to concentrate or get a good night of sleep. Many students come to school having experienced trauma or prolonged periods of toxic stress.  We have learned from brain science that when students are in a heightened sense of stress response, it is incredibly difficult for them to learn. To inflict arbitrary punishment on these students in the form of suspensions and expulsions simply serves to widen the already staggering achievement gap we see in our city.

As this bill moves forward, we need to be conscious of what other cities have experienced with respect to unintended consequences around in-school suspensions. Since in-school suspensions are generally under-reported, some cities have seen a rise in instances of such disciplinary action as a response to a required decrease in out-of-school suspensions. If this occurs in DC, we are not solving the problem this legislation sets out to solve. The bill should be amended to place a greater emphasis on counseling and other behavioral services, and to explicitly require that any in-school suspensions be documented and reported to the city, and that appropriate educational services be provided in that setting.]

2. Housing: Intimate partner violence and housing insecurity are closely linked; the 2017

DC Women’s Needs Assessment Report revealed that almost one third of women in the

study cited violence as the cause of their homelessness or housing instability. Do you

believe that victims of domestic violence should be required to prove their residency in

the District in order to be eligible for shelter?

[No. I was horrified when I learned that my opponent, Charles Allen, recently supported legislation that would place strict eligibility requirements on those who seek access to our DC shelter system. The promise we as a society make to provide safe shelter to our homeless neighbors, victims of domestic violence, and all of the most vulnerable among us, is not contingent on their ability to navigate our bureaucracy. It’s about morals, values, safety and basic human dignity. I will always commit to fighting for vulnerable residents, particularly women. I believe this is reflected in my record of service, which is why I’m proud to have received endorsements from progressive, women-led organizations such as Run for Something, Vote Pro Choice, and The American Women’s Party.

When our elected officials place barriers between our neighbors and their access to shelters, they are making a conscious choice to proactively harm women. The law reflects an embarrassing lack of understanding of how violence impacts women, particularly as it relates to self-reporting. To think that victims should be expected to have paperwork, or even identify themselves as a survivor to a stranger in order to gain access to a roof over their head, is inhumane. A survey conducted last year revealed that DC shelters turned away approximately two thirds of families seeking emergency shelter. The complete lack of empathy and compassion for women and families reflected in our current DC shelter policies are shameful, inhumane, and heart-wrenching.

Recent coverage of a report by the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness revealed that three out of four women in the District who are homeless and living without children are survivors of violence. Based on a survey of 882 homeless women living alone in the District, at least one third said that violence is the cause of their homelessness or housing instability, with 29 percent reporting they had engaged in “survival sex” to obtain money, food, alcohol, drugs, a place to stay or other goods. These are horrifying statistics.

I have worked in women’s shelters, staffed a sexual assault and rape crisis hotline, and accompanied survivors of domestic violence seeking restraining orders against their abusers to court. I have seen the wretched cycle of violence firsthand. We must elect leaders who will advocate on behalf of these vulnerable populations, understand the role that violence and trauma plays in housing instability, and focus on the social services that protect survivors of violence. If elected, I would champion these issues with a comprehensive view that includes fighting for additional funding to create more beds in the District for women and children fleeing violence, investing in mental and behavioral health services, eliminating barriers to access, and supporting organizations providing legal services to our most vulnerable populations.

Ward 6 residents are tired of hearing our councilmember pay lip service to the importance of these issues while we have neighbors living in fear of displacement every day, families living in their cars, and tented communities sprouting up across the city. Our current leadership cites a lack of funding when they seek to create barriers to our shelter system, yet those same leaders just passed a corporate tax cut and an estate tax cut that benefitted a few hundred of DC’s wealthiest residents. We just had an opportunity to use a budget surplus that could have improved our current homeless shelter, added educational, health and training programs, continued the process of closing DC General by expediting construction on other facilities, eliminated strict rules on admission standards and maximum stay requirements imposed on our shelters, subsidized construction of additional affordable housing, expanded programs that subsidize living expenses for low-income residents living in subsidized housing, or any number of other things. Any one of those policies could have helped vulnerable women, but our DC Council decided to put that money into tax cuts for the wealthy. Homelessness and access to affordable housing are complex problems that cannot be solved overnight, but a good start would be immediately moving to repeal those tax cuts and use the money to help people who desperately need it. We have the money, our DC Council is just choosing to spend it elsewhere.]

3. Economic Opportunity: The One Fair Wage ballot initiative seeks to fully eliminate the

sub-minimum wage by raising the hourly tipped minimum wage (currently $3.33 in the

District) incrementally until it matches the full minimum wage by 2026. When voters

support the ballot initiative at the polls this year, will you commit to all of the following: 1.

Respect the will of voters by defending One Fair Wage when it goes before council; 2.

Commit to reducing sexual harassment in District restaurants by enforcing One Fair

Wage; 3. Fight for tipped workers to remain the rightful owners and stewards of their tips

regardless of their base wage.

[Yes, I fully support eliminating the tipped minimum wage and if the upcoming ballot initiative fails to pass, I commit to immediately introducing legislation that would do so. My opponent, Charles Allen, opposes eliminating the tipped minimum wage, and in 2016 he cast the deciding vote to kill the bill. One of the many abhorrent statements that he has made since he was elected was in 2016, just after casting the deciding vote against eliminating the tipped minimum wage, when he told DCist that “[d]oubling the tipped credit has a very significant impact on the bottom line.” His first thought was to protect the financial interests of his wealthy restaurant donors instead of protecting low-wage workers.

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington lobbied hard against the increase and Mr. Allen, who has received substantial campaign contributions from restaurant owners throughout the city, voted against the proposed increase. Mr. Allen’s vote, and his position, is immoral, and his position on this issue reflects the interests of his wealthy business donors, not the values of our community. It was an inexcusable vote for many reasons, but is particularly unconscionable given the readily available data on how an increase in the tipped minimum wage increases the economic security and workplace safety of women in our city.

Seventy percent of tipped workers are women, and over 90 percent of those women have reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.  This is unacceptable and horrifying. Studies have shown that there is an inverse correlation between wages and workplace harassment in restaurants. According to the Food Labor Research Center, women who earn just a few dollars an hour from their employers are forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior, comments, groping and assault, in order to secure the tips they need to pay their bills and support their families. A woman who is paid a higher wage is less likely to be harassed, because she is less likely to be dependent entirely on tips from her harassers.

Seven progressive states have addressed this issue, and raised or eliminated the tipped minimum wage. In those states, the rate of reported sexual harassment in restaurants is half that of the 43 states that have not increased the tipped minimum wage. Experts believe this is because an increase in the tipped minimum wage allows servers to pay their bills, and as a result empowers them to stand up to predatory customers.

I know our community values the safety of women in the workplace over the interests of wealthy restaurant owners and their predatory clientele. It’s disappointing our current councilmember feels the opposite and votes accordingly. We deserve better.

I am also disappointed by the complete lack of proactive effort on the part of the DC Council to protect tips from falling into the hands of employers, particularly in light of the recent federal efforts by the Trump administration to strip away employee rights and allow tips to be pooled. I have held several listening sessions with DC restaurant workers who tell me that the problem of tip theft is very much alive and well in DC, and there is little if any recourse. This theft primarily impacts women and minority populations, but this is an issue that my opponent will never take up, due to his deep and longstanding financial ties to wealthy restaurant owners in DC. It’s shameful, and I look forward to being a fighter on the DC Council for these workers, because they deserve our support.]

4. Public Safety: The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act passed the DC

Council unanimously in 2016 and was fully-funded in 2017. Despite full funding and

tremendous support from the DC community, most of the provisions in the NEAR Act

have not been implemented and there has been a lack of transparency from the DC

Council, the Mayor’s Office, and the Metropolitan Police Department regarding

implementation. Do you support the full implementation of the NEAR Act and all

provisions? If so, how will you help ensure it is implemented successfully and with better

transparency?

[Yes. As someone who has worked in Congress and in a federal agency subject to strict oversight, I know firsthand that the best thing we can do to ensure that critical laws like the NEAR Act are implemented in full by an administration is to leverage the legislative power of rigorous oversight. Mr. Allen, the current Ward 6 councilmember, chairs the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. He has had an opportunity to put public pressure on the Mayor to fully implement the law by using this committee to continuously highlight the ongoing issues in our communities that could be directly addressed by provisions of the NEAR Act should they be prioritized and implemented. Mr. Allen has stated that he supports the NEAR Act, but he has declined to use his committee to conduct any oversight activity or encourage quicker implementation, so it would seem as though the most impactful step we could take in furtherance of more aggressive oversight and implementation of the NEAR Act would be to replace Mr. Allen as chair of the committee.

I am encouraged that the NEAR Act has been fully funded, and the release of the first dataset required under the law is a positive step. The release shows that we have a lot of progress to make on things as simple as following a criminal offense from arrest through prosecution and sentencing. It should also be a signal to DC leadership that implementation needs to happen quickly, which has not been the case since the law passed in 2016.

Addressing the root cause of crime and focusing on preventive and other health services rather than incarceration makes our communities safer. Investing in new offices that will provide access to treatment for residents with mental illness and substance use disorder will save lives. Our MPD officers are to be commended for the work they do in our communities, and they will benefit greatly from the opportunity to gain additional resources for training and data collection. Improving police interaction with residents for whom English is not their primary language, or for those with mental illness or substance use disorders will improve the safety of officers and our citizens. 

The specific concerns around the creation of an Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement do not seem to be borne out by data, as the program it was modeled after seems to have been proven effective in Richmond, CA, both in reducing the number of firearms on the streets and reducing the number of reported shootings. It is a relatively new and innovative policy, which means it is inherently controversial, but the fear of unintended consequences appears to be unfounded. Initial results have been promising, and the homicide rates have dropped consistent with predictions. Of course, the program should be subject to rigorous ongoing oversight to ensure that we are making the progress the Council sought when passing the law in 2016.

We also need to do more to protect our limited- and non-English (LEP/NEP) speaking population. There are very real and dangerous consequences when we fail to provide comprehensive language assistance across all of our city services, and these consequences invariably impact the most vulnerable populations in our city. Non-English speakers are less likely to report instances of domestic violence in their homes because of the language barrier between themselves and MPD officers responding to calls for help. I have spoken to advocates and legal assistance providers who have shared stories about MPD mistakenly arresting the victim of a crime, rather than the perpetrator, due to confusion created by a language barrier the arresting officers were unable to overcome.]

DC works well for some of us, but we're leaving too many neighbors behind.

We face significant economic inequality in our city for many reasons, and in recent years the problem has been exacerbated by a DC government that too often works for its business and developer donors, rather than for its people. It takes one look at our recent funding priorities to see why our racial and economic disparities continue to grow.

It has long been said that budgets are moral documents, and the decision of our DC Council to take a budget surplus and distribute it to corporations and the ultra-rich is a statement of morals and values that I will never support. As a Democrat, I was beyond disappointed when the DC Council passed some of the same tax policies in 2017 that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan moved through Congress, and I was dismayed that the current Ward 6 councilmember voted in favor of these cuts. His votes don’t reflect the views or values of my neighbors in Ward 6, they reflect Republican votes that were taken at the behest of wealthy campaign donors.

In concert with his votes to cut the corporate tax rate, slash the estate tax, and give hundreds of millions of tax-payer subsidies to developers, the current Ward 6 councilmember has voted against eliminating the tipped minimum wage, and against new funding for programs that serve those experiencing homelessness and the need to bring new, affordable housing. As a result, in Ward 6 there are shiny new buildings everywhere, yet few truly affordable housing units in sight. Our ward has fewer rent-controlled apartments than any other ward in the city. We welcome fancy new restaurants and stores almost daily, none of which are bringing jobs that are hiring our local workers and paying them a living wage. Our ward is rapidly gentrifying, and while the political establishment remains comfortable with the status quo and cozy with their long-standing developer and business interests, we’ve somehow arrived at a place where we will turn a blind eye to the displacement of our Black and Latinx neighbors simply because there’s a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for us to shop at. We are better than this. A continuing failure to acknowledge the problem with displacement of our neighbors is why economic and racial inequality continues to grow in our city.

I am frustrated by the myopic lens the current Ward 6 councilman uses in addressing the needs of income inequality and chronic homelessness. It is short-sighted and unsympathetic. He will tell you that he’s invested millions of taxpayer dollars in creating affordable housing units across the Ward. Unfortunately, he won’t tell you the number of longtime Ward 6 residents displaced from their homes in order to create such “affordable” housing. He won’t disclose that those new units are made with sub-standard finishes, and that residents using vouchers to live in them are denied amenities available to non-voucher residents (e.g., the Hine project at Eastern Market). I am deeply troubled by the number of stories I’ve heard about developers coming into communities to bulldoze existing housing for longtime residents, promising newly-built affordable units to those same residents upon completion, only to expedite the displacement of our neighbors without any intention of helping them return. That’s wrong, and yet there is little incentive for my opponent to conduct oversight or even enforce the laws that would protect these tenants, because many of these predatory developers are high-dollar donors to his campaign.

We must address these issues by electing leaders who are committed to elevating, strengthening, and empowering all Ward 6 residents, regardless of whether they can afford to donate to campaigns or attend fundraisers. This starts by electing those who are unencumbered by their relationships to corporate interests. Leadership means engaging in difficult and honest conversations about the realities of a rapidly gentrifying community. It means showing up, and not waiting for people to come to you for support when it’s too late, but anticipating the needs of those who are at risk of homelessness and working tirelessly to help those experiencing homelessness get achieve economic and housing security as swiftly and compassionately as possible. It also means making significant investments in affordable housing programs like Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH), Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) tenant vouchers for families, and expanding the Rapid Rehousing program.

We have to stop talking about homelessness and housing in a vacuum, and focus on the bigger picture to truly effectuate change in our communities. Recent coverage of a new report by the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness revealed that three out of four women in the District who are homeless and living without children are survivors of violence. Based on a survey of 882 homeless women living alone in the District, at least one third said that violence is the cause of their homelessness or housing instability, with 29 percent reporting they had engaged in “survival sex” to obtain money, food, alcohol, drugs, a place to stay or other goods. These are horrifying statistics. As someone who has worked in women’s shelters, staffed a sexual assault and rape crisis hotline, and accompanied survivors of domestic violence seeking restraining orders against their abusers to court, I have seen the wretched cycle of violence firsthand. We must elect leaders who will advocate on behalf of these vulnerable populations, understand the role that violence and trauma plays in housing instability, and focus on the social services that protect survivors of violence. If elected, I would champion these issues with a comprehensive view that includes fighting for additional funding to create more beds in the District for women and children fleeing violence, investing in mental and behavioral health services, and supporting organizations providing legal services to our most vulnerable populations.

Ward 6 residents are tired of hearing our councilmember pay lip service to the importance of these issues while we have neighbors living in fear of displacement every day, families living in their cars, and tented communities sprouting up across the city. We just had an opportunity to use a budget surplus that could have improved our current homeless shelter, added educational, health and training programs, continued the process of closing DC General by expediting construction on other facilities, eliminated strict rules on admission standards and maximum stay requirements imposed on our shelters, subsidized construction of additional affordable housing, expanded programs that subsidize living expenses for low-income residents living in subsidized housing, or any number of other things. Any one of those policies could have helped people, but our DC Council decided to put that money into tax cuts for the wealthy. Homelessness and access to affordable housing are complexproblems that cannot be solved overnight, but a good start would be immediatelymoving to repeal those tax cuts and use the money to help people who desperatelyneed it. We have the money, we’re just choosing to spend it elsewhere.