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,