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.