The DC Office of Human Rights (OHR) is under-funded, and under-appreciated by our DC Council. With a budget of approximately $5m annually, OHR is tasked with enforcing the DC Human Rights Act, DC Family Medical Leave Act, and the DC Bullying Prevention laws, in addition to investigating discriminatory practices throughout the city and overseeing DC Language Access programs.
At present, OHR has trouble keeping pace with the number of complaints they receive. In 2016, OHR received over 2,000 inquiries, resulting in nearly $4m in settlement payments. The number of complaints has increased in recent years, and while Councilmember Grosso was recently able to secure a modest funding increase, OHR remains under-staffed and under-resourced.
The solution to an over-burdened Office of Human Rights isn’t fewer human rights for DC residents, but my opponent does not seem to agree. He recently justified his refusal to lift a block on a bill that would provide homeless neighbors with protections against discrimination by saying OHR had enough work to do, and shouldn’t be asked to do more.
Mr. Allen is wrong. The solution to an overburdened Office of Human Rights isn’t fewer human rights for the most vulnerable among us. The solution is mandatory funding from the DC Council so this critical office is able to meet our city’s growing need for its services.
By single-handedly blocking a bill that would afford our homeless neighbors with basic protections against discrimination, Mr. Allen is signaling tacit approval for current practices by some landlords to deny housing to rental applicants based on housing status. He is signaling support for harassment and forceful removal of homeless residents from public spaces, simply based on their housing status. He is asserting that these residents should not have an opportunity to bring a claim of discrimination against a landlord or a store owner, because we do not have the time or the staff to hear them.
The solution to the staffing shortage and backlog of claims at OHR is simple: the office needs additional funding based on the actual need, because every legitimate claim of discrimination deserves to be heard, investigated, and resolved. In recent years, we have used millions of surplus dollars in our budget to cut taxes for corporations and the ultra-wealthy, so I reject the claim that we do not have money to adequately fund our Office of Human Rights.