Greater Greater Washington candidate questionnaire

I appreciated the opportunity to complete the Greater Greater Washington candidate questionnaire. I enjoy their work, and look forward to continuing to read their blog and engage with them on these and other issues. However, due to their longstanding financial ties to Charles Allen and his predecessor, I am not seeking their endorsement. Nevertheless, I have completed their questionnaire and included my answers below, because voters deserve to see them.

1. DC is amending its Comprehensive Plan. Do you support policies in the new Comp Plan to a) add housing in all parts of the city to meet the need, b) create and preserve much more affordable housing, and c) strengthen protections for tenants in affordable housing being redeveloped? How would you achieve these?

[The pressure placed on our neighbors to find affordable housing, let alone remain in it, is tremendous and at times inhumane. I support policies to add housing in all parts of the city, create and preserve much more affordable housing, and strengthen protections for tenants in affordable housing being redeveloped, but the recently-revised Comprehensive Plan does very little of this. The Comprehensive Plan is centered on the idea of an “inclusive city,” but in reviewing the proposed revisions and meeting with members of my community who are already struggling to remain in their neighborhoods, it does the opposite. It is clear that the amendments stand to drastically change DC and were written with developer and real estate interests in mind, rather than the interests of our neighbors. 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, while doing nothing to address the definition of affordability and what it currently means for people for whom affordable housing is unaffordable. 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 amendment 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 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.

I support a process that will support those who need our help. This starts by making sure all of 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. To date, that has not happened. 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, at the expense of many longtime residents.] 

2. Do you support dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes? Would you support them even if that required removing on-street parking in some cases? Can you give examples of locations you would or would not like to see a bus and/or protected bike lane?

[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.

There are certainly some neighborhoods, and streets, where eliminating parking spaces would have substantial consequences for the neighborhood and residents. 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.]

3. Do you support dedicated, bondable funding for Metro totaling at least $500 million a year including $178 million from DC? How would you achieve this? Do you require other steps (governance, labor, etc.) before you can support it?

[Yes. There is no reason 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 find 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.]

4. Do you support funding the DC Streetcar to extend east to Benning Road Metro in Ward 7 and west in dedicated lanes to Georgetown? What infrastructure to improve access by District residents to jobs, schools, and businesses would you support funding?

[I support letting 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 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, did 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. 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.

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. I also 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.]

5. Last year, the DC Council approved $36 million in tax-increment financing to subsidize 600 additional parking spaces at Union Market. Are you supportive of the way that TIF proceeded or would you like to see changes for future TIFs, regarding parking and/or in general?

[No, I strongly opposed the Councils vote on the Union Market TIF, and 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.

I was disgusted to see that my councilmember voted in favor of the Union Market TIF. Commercial developers in Washington, DC are doing just fine, and did just fine even as we moved through a recession, while many of our neighbors are struggling to stay in their longtime homes. As a matter of principle, I will always prioritize the needs of our low-income residents over the wishes of wealthy commercial developers. 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. 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. Its not who we are as a city, and its 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. 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. That’s not what this was.]

6. Nearly 20 percent of all property in DC is protected by historic preservation law - more than Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia combined. Do you think DC's historic preservation process is striking the right balance or needs changes to preserve our history without excluding potential residents from many neighborhoods?

[I am far less concerned about excluding potential residents from many neighborhoods than I am in ensuring current residents of many neighborhoods are able to remain in their neighborhoods, rather than being forced out due to the rising costs of home maintenance that can be a byproduct of living in a historic district. It is true that limitations imposed by historic districts will make it so many new families cannot buy homes and build additions that they would need to create sufficient space for their families, and that is a consequence that should be considered, but those considerations are dwarfed by the near-term consequence of expanding historic designations across the city – we are essentially evicting families from their longtime homes.

I fully support the spirit of historic designation, to the extent it exists to preserve the character and history of our neighborhoods. However, much of that character and history has become subjective, and does not mirror reality. The subjective rulemaking has led to skyrocketing maintenance costs, which many neighbors cannot afford. To the extent that historic districts are being expanded, these efforts should not be led by astro-turf organizations with pre-existing interests, but should be subject to the approval of the community as a whole, after public and transparent study, debate, and opportunity for comment.

I live in a historic district. My husband and I are well aware of the economic consequences and, more importantly, we knew what they were prior to purchasing our home. When we replaced our windows, we were required to purchase fully-wood windows, because the city would not allow us to purchase vinyl windows with wood caps. There is, literally, no aesthetic difference between what we could have bought and what we were required to buy, but there is a difference in energy efficiency and in the number of years they will last. As a result, our energy bills are higher than they could be, and our windows will have to be replaced approximately ten years earlier than they otherwise could have been.

With policies like these, we are placing a tremendous burden on low-income families. The unintended consequence is that many of our neighbors, particularly elderly neighbors who live on fixed incomes, put off necessary home repairs since they cannot afford expensive wood windows or authentic hand-cut slate roofs.  Surely, we can find a policy that retains the character of our neighborhoods, limits inappropriate development, and allows our neighbors to afford to remain in the neighborhood, and the home, they love.]

7. The District continues to face significant income inequality. What specifically do you think the District should do to close this gap? Relatedly, what you think the District should do to support those who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness?

[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.

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 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.] 

8. How would you support using the District's current budget surplus? If in the future the District falls into recession creating budget gaps in the $200-400 million range, what would you propose doing then?

[I would use the budget surplus to fund construction of and subsidies for safe, affordable housing for our residents who are currently being ignored. In addition to facing a shortage in stock, our public housing buildings are in need of long-overdue repair. I have spent substantial time getting to know neighbors in Ward 6 public housing, and without exception I have met great, hardworking, caring people, who are dedicated to their community and to their city, but whose city government doesnt appear to be dedicated to them. Its time for that to end.

I would also use the surplus to fund basic public health programs that are not being funded. The DC Council regularly passes legislation, and celebrates themselves for doing so, but then fails to fund the law, implement it, or conduct oversight to ensure compliance. For example, it’s long past time we spend an estimated $3 million per year to fund the tampon tax exemption law that was passed in 2016, the delay of which harms thousands of low-income women throughout the city. It’s long past time we fully fund the DC paid family leave law, and seek to expand the policy from 8 weeks of leave, the amount the business community would settle for, to 12 weeks of leave, which is the amount doctors recommend. It’s long past time we dedicate meaningful funding to address the maternity health crisis in our city, rather than simply earmarking $80,000 to study a problem we already know exists.

During the last recession, our low-income neighbors took the hit, while the business interests in our city continued to thrive. Construction continued at a rapid pace, greatly exceeding anything seen anywhere else in the nation during that time. Business and restaurants opened on a daily basis. If we were to face a similar economic downturn, my priority would be protecting residents, and if a budget gap needed to be closed, I would propose an increase to the corporate and estate taxes, and a freeze on taxpayer subsidies for commercial development, in order to do so.]

FOR CHAIRMAN CANDIDATES ONLY: Due to their length and midday time, many residents other than retirees and people being paid to attend can't realistically participate in most DC Council hearings. Budgets which come from the chairman with substantial changes the night before the vote don't allow for much public participation. How would you improve council processes and/or technology to improve public participation?

[I understand the procedural reasons for this question being limited to Chairperson candidates, but I reject the notion that the obligation to make our DC Council, our government, and our democracy by extension, begins and ends with the Council chairperson. Every member of the DC Council should be asking themselves, every day, what they can do to be more transparent, reach more constituents and provide more access to information. Unfortunately, the Ward 6 incumbent does not prioritize any of the above. When it comes to transparency, his efforts to hide the contributions he takes from business and developer executives are becoming increasingly well-documented. When it comes to reaching constituents, I’ve heard from too many voters that he shows up at the same meetings, in the same locations, at the same times, which means he only reaches constituents who live a certain life. There are too many members of our community who have never seen or heard from their councilmember, because in his twelve years working in the DC Council, he has not found the time to come to their neighborhood and learn about their lives.

Additionally, everyone on the DC Council has a fundamental obligation to make information accessible, and they are falling short. 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 and information. To truly achieve public participation, this legislation must succeed.]