Newsletter: We're Feelin' the Legislative Love
This year, along with Valentine’s Day, we get an extra day in February to perform a yearly ritual that all District residents should look forward to and participate in, if possible: performance oversight hearings! Throughout the past year, many of you have asked me when you can come and tell me and my colleagues the real deal on how an agency is delivering services and your suggestions on how we can do better. To that I say: The time is now!
Here is the schedule of hearings. This is part one of a two-part process in which we examine how we did in the past year and then use that information to inform the building of next year’s budget. At every community meeting I attend, I encourage residents to sign up to testify, or, if you can’t make it in person, submit written testimony for the record. It is influential to the thinking of Council members and included in the committee’s written report. Thanks to those who have already signed up. It is with your help that we will make the District a city of opportunity for all.
WHAT'S UP WITH OUR LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
TURNING VACANT PROPERTIES INTO PRODUCTIVE USE: The District has nearly 1,300 vacant properties that could be put into use as affordable housing, neighborhood-serving retail, and other community assets. My legislative team has been working hard to sharpen our city’s tools to put these properties to use. At the end of last year, I introduced a bill that shifted the burden of proof to the owner of a vacant or blighted property to demonstrate why that property should be taken off DCRA’s vacant and blighted list. Vacant and blighted properties pay a higher tax rate designed to incentivize owners to sell or improve their properties, but there is a loophole.
This is why I introduced the Vacant Property Enforcement Amendment Act of 2016 at last Tuesday’s legislative meeting. The bill closes the tax exemption loophole, requires DCRA to take more proactive measures to determine vacancy, and includes positive incentives for owners to comply with our vacant property laws. You can read here for more details.
Thanks to my nine Council colleagues (Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Nadeau, Evans, Cheh, Todd, McDuffie, Allen, May and Bonds) who signed on as co-introducers of the bill. I also want to recognize and thank Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner David Sheon for his leadership and ideas on this issue, as well as the Kennedy Street Development Association. You can follow the bill’s progress through the legislative process here.
SAFE, SUSTAINABLE, AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Last Thursday night, I heard from District residents about how they had to resort to heating their apartments this winter with kitchen ovens and space heaters because their complex’s boiler does not work. That wasn’t the only complaint. They also had to deal with mice infestation, bedbugs, mold, and broken locks—and the safety and health hazard list went on and on. These residents live in four buildings across from the Congress Heights station that their landlords, Sanford Capital, want to raze for a new development. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine believes this pattern of neglect was intentional and part of a deliberate strategy by Sanford to make life so miserable for residents that they had no choice but to leave. That is why Racine recently filed suit against Sanford. You can read the Washington Post’s coverage here.
No District resident should have to live in conditions like those we heard on Thursday night. Many residents who testified offered two concrete suggestions on how to address the issues at the Sanford properties and protect residents in similar situations: (1) strengthen our Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, known as TOPA, and (2) implement laws that prevent D.C. from doing business with so-called “bad actors.” My legislative team will be looking closely at these suggestions, and I want to thank these Ward 8 residents again for testifying.
KEEPING D.C. FINANCIALLY HEALTHY: Let me turn to some good news! Last week, we received the District’s CAFR, or Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. We had a clean audit for the 19th year in a row, and, for the first time in recent memory, our auditors found no significant issues with our internal financial controls. Kudos to Mayor Bowser, Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWitt, and City Administrator Rashad Young for their hard work to ensure our clean audit.
Several Council members, including myself, raised one issue with the CFO and City Administrator. Given our extremely healthy savings account, known as the fund balance, we might want to divert some dollars that have gone into savings to our most pressing needs, such as affordable housing. Experts in municipal finance opine that cities and states with stable and diverse revenue streams may not need to have as much in the bank, so to speak, as states with volatile tax sources. A good volatile example is Alaska, which receives much of its revenue from natural resources with fluctuating prices, such as oil and natural gas. CFO DeWitt said he would consider whether D.C. might fit into the less volatile category and whether we might adjust our best practice when it comes to our savings account. I look forward to working with the CFO on this issue.
WHERE I’VE BEEN AND WHERE I’M GOING
Kicking Off February: There are quite a few things in store for this month! February is both Black History Month and American Heart Month. Last week, we kicked off Black History Month with a festive celebration at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum and joined other Council members and staff in raising awareness about women’s heart health on #WearRedDay. We’ll be posting news about Black History Month and American Heart Month events coming up, so stay tuned on Twitter and Facebook.
Paid Family and Medical Leave: On Thursday, the Council will hear testimony from residents and public witnesses on the opportunity to secure paid leave for residents and employees in the District. We’ll be in Room 500 beginning at 4:00 p.m. if you would like to join in-person, or you can watch the live stream.
Strengthening Workforce Opportunities: There are a number of opportunities across the city to support workforce development planning and contribute ideas or feedback to current programs. Another chance is coming up on Wednesday, February 17, from 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. at a Council for Workforce Development public comment forum in Ward 8. Employers, residents, and service providers are encouraged to attend. You can RSVP and see event details here.
Happy Valentine’s Day!