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.
Candidate for DC Council, Ward 6
Candidate Name: Lisa Hunter
Vision for the District:
- 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:
- Addressing DC’s affordable housing crisis and burgeoning homelessness population'
- Empowering all DC workers so everyone can earn a stable living wage, and
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.]
- 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.
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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.]
- 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
- 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.]
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.]
- 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.]