Ward 6 Candidates Answer the Public’s Questions

Candidates Respond to Queries Unanswered at the June 6th Forum Due to Time Constraints

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The first Ward 6 Race Debate was held April 30 at the Hill Center. The second Ward 6 debate,t he final in a four-part series for the 2018 election, will be held this Tuesday.

The three candidates for the Ward 6 Council seat, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D), Republican challenger Michael Bekesha and Democratic challenger Lisa Hunter, have submitted answers to a questionnaire submitted to them by The Hill Rag and Ward 6 Democrats consisting of questions were not asked in the June 5th debate due to time constraints. Here are their answers.

HOUSING

Do you support the recent TOPA changes for single family homes that reduced notifications and eliminated the ability to assign tenant’s right to purchase to a third party?

ALLEN: I voted to make it easier for owners of single-family homes, including long-time residents, to use their homes. Single-family home owners feared the old TOPA rules so much that they took homes off the long-term market and converted to short-term rentals like Airbnb, hurting affordability and access to stable housing for renters. The bill doesn’t affect tenants in multi-unit buildings and requires additional notice to tenants of single-family homes when owners intend to sell.

BEKESHA: I absolutely support the changes. Between 2009 and 2015, TOPA enabled less than five percent of renters to buy their homes. TOPA did not make housing more affordable or enable more renters to buy. It only prevented or delayed single family homes from going on the market, which decreased supply and increased prices.

HUNTER: No. If there were tenants who were misusing their TOPA rights, there was a narrower solution available that would have addressed that misuse without stripping an entire subset of tenants in DC of their rights. Unfortunately, it was voted down. In the middle of a housing crisis, we should be doing everything we can to protect renters. The pay-for-play policymaking we’ve seen by the Council to appease real estate donors stops with me.

Do you support legislatively exempting the affordable 595 units of housing owned by the United House of Prayer from residential property tax?

ALLEN: As Ward 6 Councilmember, I am proud to have helped lead the District in the creation of new affordable housing. Since I was elected, Ward 6 has created 1,500 new affordable homes and has another 2,100 on the way. Many of these are multi-bedroom and reserved for deep affordability. I’ve demonstrated I can lead and deliver on affordable housing for all our neighbors. And, I will always consider appropriate tools to do even more.

BEKESHA: Under current law, the Council cannot hold a hearing on – let alone approve of – any real property tax abatement or exemption without DC’s Chief Financial Officer first providing a financial analysis. The analysis, in basic terms, is to make sure that the abatement or exemption is necessary, and that the community will benefit from it. As Councilmember, I will not vote for any abatement or exemption the CFO determines to be unnecessary or does not have a community benefit. This includes real property owned by UHOP Properties, a national, for-profit developer.

HUNTER: If a church, or any non-profit organization, is providing low-income housing that the city itself refuses to provide, that service is not only in the public interest but also helps alleviate an affordable housing crisis that the city itself has refused to tackle. Tax relief should absolutely be considered in this circumstance, particularly when one considers how many hundreds of millions of dollars wealthy developers have been given to build condos that nobody can afford.

How can we help advise Build First residents that may not financially qualify for available units?

ALLEN: Build First is a concept I have championed for how the DC Housing Authority should approach any renovation of public housing. Rather than displacing neighbors and entire communities, Build First means new housing construction is phased and residents remain in their community during construction. I’ve brought the Council, Mayor, and communities into alignment with this better approach and will work with neighbors on transparency, income qualifications, unit sizes, and a public planning process.

BEKESHA: Build First simply means existing public housing residents are not displaced while redevelopment occurs. Ideally, Build First allows residents to move directly from their current home to their new home. In other circumstances, Build First may relocate residents on a temporary basis; however, the relocation would occur within the redevelopment or nearby. Build First does not change the level of affordability of the new homes. For example, the planned Greenleaf redevelopment will replace all existing homes at the same level of affordability and no displacement of current residents will occur. However, we need to make sure that Build First projects are recession proof, so projects are not stopped during a downturn in the economy, creating uncertainty for the residents.

HUNTER: In order for Build First to be anything other than a talking point, residents cannot find themselves in a position where they do not financially qualify for available units. The entire premise of Build First is to not displace residents, so until such time as it’s not displacing residents, it is a failing program. In order to be successful, the financial qualifications and requirements need to be tailored so they work for every low-income neighbor.

How can neighborhoods be protected from “pop up” construction, which threatens neighbors with lax DCRA code enforcement during construction?

ALLEN: I co-introduced legislation to reform DCRA and improve Code enforcement. For any project not allowed by current zoning regulations, the ANC, BZA, and DCRA can weigh in. I work closely with ANCs to ensure projects are reviewed properly and regulations are enforced. While the Council cannot directly amend zoning regulations, but residents and the Council will soon have an opportunity to make important and needed changes through the Comprehensive Plan, which greatly impacts zoning regulations.

BEKESHA: Like many issues facing our residents, the root of the problem is not the lack of law but the lack of enforcement. Lax or no enforcement can only be corrected by strong oversight of the government agency (in the case, DCRA) by the Council. Unfortunately, the Council does not take its oversight and accountability role seriously. As Councilmember, I will ensure that every agency is enforcing the laws as enacted. If they are not, I will hold hearings to determine whether the law is outdated or misplaced or whether the agency is simply not doing its job.

HUNTER: There are too many examples of laws on the books in DC that are not enforced, and for too long we have let our DC Council throw their hands up in frustration as though they are merely concerned residents just like the rest of us. DC Council members are paid government employees. They have oversight and budgetary authority over departments such as DCRA. They should be conducting rigorous oversight and demanding performance on our behalf.

EDUCATION

How can we make Early Childcare more affordable for low income and working families?

ALLEN: I strongly believe that high quality early childcare can be a key component of closing the academic achievement gap we see in our schools and is a necessity for working families. I am a co-sponsor and voted for the Birth-To-Three For All Act, now under consideration by the Council, to expand and improve access to quality, affordable childcare in the District by increasing the reimbursement rate for childcare providers and raising salaries for childcare workers.

BEKESHA: For pre-school age children, the Council should step in and prohibit the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s recently passed regulation requiring daycare providers to have a college degree.

HUNTER: Families in spend upwards of $32,000/year on childcare. Childcare providers earn $29,000/year. My philosophy on childcare is premised on ensuring childcare isn’t bankrupting families or resigning providers to poverty. The Council passed a one-time $1,000 childcare tax credit for families. It not only doesn’t make a dent in this problem, it also shows they don’t get it. Instead, we should reverse tax cuts given to businesses and wealthy residents and subsidize childcare for low-income residents.

What will you do to address residency enrollment fraud in schools?

ALLEN: I believe residency fraud has been a longstanding problem at many Ward 6 schools and we need a better approach to verifying residency at the time of enrollment. When fraud is reported, we need to ensure the District has the resources needed to investigate and pursue these cases. I have recommended reforms at OSSE and as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, I added a new attorney for residency fraud investigation at the Attorney General’s office.

BEKESHA: I will authorize and enable the Attorney General to initiate investigations and make decisions about whether to prosecute the matter. We need to make sure our public schools are available to DC students. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

HUNTER: This is another example of the DC Council being asleep at the wheel. We should not need to learn about government scandals that impact DC children and families from reporters, the Council should be conducting regular oversight, so these problems are identified before they become crises. To prevent this moving forward, we need additional dedicated funding and staff to proactively conduct audits and identify issues before they shut DC children out of schools, not after.

Does DCPS need further legislative reform?

ALLEN: Yes, more work is needed to ensure every child in DC has a great neighborhood school, and that includes both legislation and strong oversight by the Council. I co-introduced the Education Research Advisory Board and Collaborative Establishment Amendment Act to create a research collaborative to audit school data and conduct long-term education research. The Board will provide Council with much-needed independent analysis of DC’s educational achievements and spending to help guide further legislative reforms.

BEKESHA: Return spending authority of at-risk funds to principals; provide more autonomy to our schools and the community; require full accounting of how funds are being spent at each school as well as in the central office; authorize and enable the Attorney General to initiate investigations and make decisions about whether to prosecute residency enrollment fraud; and create an independent, research body that is walled off from political interference.

HUNTER: Yes. I’m the only person in this race with classroom experience and substantive policy and oversight credentials. DCPS currently lacks the dedicated resources to conduct proper internal audits and oversight, and there is a lack of transparency that makes it difficult for us to identify problems before they become crises. Legislation to provide additional transparency and oversight is needed. I believe we should consider whether Mayoral control is adequately serving the needs of our students.

What steps should DCPS take to address the achievement gap between African American and white students?

ALLEN: I have been a strong advocate for increased funding for at-risk students and resources for schools to improve the supports available to students in need. Efforts like my Books From Birth program work to prevent the achievement gap by closing the word gap early on with a focus on family literacy. A well-rounded curriculum helps level the playing field for at-risk students and high-quality out-of-school time programming is another important way to support student achievement.

BEKESHA: Currently, DCPS is misspending 60 percent of at-risk funding, which is money that is supposed to be used on our most vulnerable students, who are predominantly African American. When the law first passed in 2013, 90 percent of at-risk funds allocated by the Council were to be spent at a principal’s discretion. However, in 2015, the Council changed the law and took the authority away from principals and gave it to the chancellor. Because principals know what works best for their individual schools and children, we must go back to the original law, so the money is actually going to the students who need it most.

HUNTER: Ward 6 has the widest racial achievement gap in the city. As a former teacher and current parent, it’s shameful. Instead of modernizing Capitol Hill schools at the expense of others, we must close this gap by supporting students inside AND outside the classroom with adequate funding for special needs students; by prioritizing language immersion programs; and by scaling up the community school model linking families to health and social support services.

IMMIGRATION

Should DC be a sanctuary city? (Yes or No)

ALLEN: Yes. I strongly support Mayor Muriel Bowser’s reaffirmation of the District as a Sanctuary City, ensuring DC remains a place where all are welcome and can live their lives without fear of deportation. I’ve also led the Council’s action to provide undocumented neighbors the important pro-bono legal representation they may need.

BEKESHA: Yes.

HUNTER: Yes. I am the product of a Jewish father and a Mexican- American mother. One side of my family was forced to flee Europe, and the other faces regular persecution in southern Arizona to this day. Perhaps the most disappointing moment of this campaign was when Charles Allen chose not to attend the only immigration forum held in 2018. Ward 6 progressives should be demanding better than the literal disregard he has shown our immigrant communities.

JUSTICE

What are the three most effective reforms that DC can make to its juvenile justice system? (Bullet 3)

ALLEN: Expand court diversion programming like ACE at DHS and restorative justice mediation at the Office of the Attorney General, which I stood up last year. Full funding and implementation of the Youth Rehabilitation Amendment Act that I led through the Council, the most significant juvenile justice reforms since 1985. Develop a strategic plan for serving girls in the system, a growing percentage of involved juveniles who are more likely to be involved for non-violent offenses.

BEKESHA: Fully fund and re-establish the Youth Court of the District of Columbia; Reform the system so that juveniles are not held at the Youth Services Center but instead remain in the community; and Prohibit juveniles from being detained for status offenses, which are only offenses because the individuals who committed them were minors.

HUNTER: Full implementation of the NEAR Act, which could occur if we demand that the Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee holds MPD accountable for meeting deadlines and releasing data. Holding MPD accountable for aggressive policing that disproportionately impacts persons of color and transgender youth by holding hearings to publicly identify problems and demand accountability. Fully investing in housing, education, healthcare and job training programs that provide vulnerable residents with economic opportunity and stability.

How will you ensure that the NEAR Act is fully implemented?

ALLEN: The NEAR Act represents a public health-based approach to violence. When I became Chair of the Judiciary Committee, I ensured that every element was fully funded and is now in the process of being implemented. True implementation will require long-term and consistent oversight to ensure this approach is fully adopted. I have used my oversight role to expose when the Executive has not implemented and followed the law, and then forced them to take action.

BEKESHA: One component of the law has not been fully funded: the collection and study of stop and frisk data. This year, the Council has provided the Mayor with more money to ensure this last component is implemented. However, why are we conducting a study? Stop and frisk is bad policy and does not work. Instead, we should spend that $500,000 on combating violent.

HUNTER: I am encouraged that the NEAR Act has finally received full funding, but am incredibly disappointed that implementation is not complete, and that MPD has not met deadlines to release data. I believe Charles Allen deserves much of the blame, because he alone has held oversight authority. As the Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, he has refused to hold MPD or the Mayor accountable when they’ve fallen short. That needs to change.

Is there anything that can be done legislatively to provide more services for homeless victims of domestic violence?

ALLEN: Yes. I work very closely with the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and am a leader at the Council in providing more resources and supports to these survivors. I have also proposed, and the Council adopted, new funding of $2 million each year to create new housing for domestic violence survivors and their families. I have also increased funding for legal services for victims of crime, including domestic violence victims.

BEKESHA: Amend the law establishing the Interagency Council on Homelessness to: specifically require assessment of the need for services for domestic violence survivors; and require the creation of a Women’s Task Force committee.

HUNTER: Yes. We start by repealing policies that Charles Allen voted for, which require “proof of homelessness” to enter shelters and eliminate the potential for private bathrooms for victims of domestic violence. Imagine a family fleeing from violence and needing to bring “proof” in order to enter a shelter, then being told to share a bathroom with strangers. These policies reflect a disgusting lack of empathy and concern for victims and must be fixed immediately.

METRO

Do you support the recent tax increases to fund Metro?

ALLEN: I am a strong supporter of Metro and of dedicated funding. Metro, and Metrobus in particular, is the backbone of our transportation infrastructure. I am working closely with my Council colleagues to ensure that the taxes used to fund Metro allow DC to continue to have the most progressive tax code in the country.

BEKESHA: No. The increased sales tax will hurt all DC residents as well as our small businesses, and the increased commercial property tax will hurt our business as well as our workers. The 500 percent tax increase on ride sharing will hurt residents throughout the city. Often, Uber or Lyft is the only safe, reliable, efficient, and affordable mode of transportation. We also should be encouraging less cars on the road. So, why not have a tiered system for solo rides versus pool rides? Also, what about our workers who do not work 9-5 jobs? Why are we punishing them by increasing the cost for them to find safe rides home after Metro closes?

HUNTER: I understand the need to raise revenue to fund Metro, but I do not fully support the way it was done. I support increasing the sales tax for hotel rooms and rental cars. I do not support raising the general sales tax across the board; it’s regressive tax policy that disproportionately impacts low-income residents. I would prefer to fully reverse the corporate and estate tax cuts that Charles Allen voted for last summer.

Do you support protected bike lanes on Sixth Street, NW, in Shaw and on Second Street in SW? Please address concerns of implications for nearby churches and parking?

ALLEN: Yes. I have supported and will continue to support the expansion of protected bike lanes – even if that requires removing or moving on-street parking in some cases. As a regular bike commuter, I not only know that these investments can improve transit choices, I live it, too. As we look to meet the needs in the District for safe and convenient bike infrastructure, protected bike lanes are necessary to create strong cross-city connections.

BEKESHA: Yes. A protected bike lane on Sixth Street is needed, and a majority of the community support it. The process needs to be more transparent and inclusive of the entire community, however. This includes making sure sufficient parking spots are available for our residents and parishioners on nearby streets. A protected bike lane on 2nd Street, SW between T Street and P Street is probably most needed during the 17 DC United home games and other events at the new stadium. We should look into creating temporary, protected bike lanes during these events to ensure parking is available for residents on an everyday basis but also ensure that, when large events occur, we have the infrastructure in place to handle them.

HUNTER: I support protected bike lanes and believe they serve our city’s interest. However, there are unique concerns specifically as it relates to local churches. Our housing policies have displaced thousands of residents who used to walk to church, and now are forced to drive. Additional bike lanes eliminate parking and will keep some residents from their places of worship. I believe that is the type of consideration that should matter to us, as a community.

CAMPAIGN LAW

What improvements should be made to current campaign finance laws?

ALLEN: As the first candidate in DC to win an election by refusing corporate contributions, I have been an effective and progressive leader on campaign finance reform. In addition to leading the Fair Elections reforms through Council, I am also authoring the District’s most comprehensive campaign finance reform package that stops government contractor pay-to-play; coordination between campaigns, PACs, and independent expenditures; and constituent services funds, among other topics. Strong, proactive campaign finance enforcement is also essential.

BEKESHA: Simply put, we need nonpartisan elections. Starting in 2018, we will be publicly financing partisan activities, and taxpayer dollars should not be spent on partisan campaigns. Also, nonpartisan elections will allow for more residents (at least 110,000 residents) a meaningful voice in elections. Such changes would provide residents with more power at the polls and allow for greater accountability of our candidates, especially the incumbents.

HUNTER: I’ve proposed mandatory disclosure of all donors who are owners or executives of companies that lobby the DC Council or receive public benefits. Charles Allen opposes this reform. Current law caps business and individual contributions at $500, so candidates can take more from executives than from the business, while saying they don’t take business money. It’s like refusing money from the Trump Organization but taking checks from Ivanka, Eric, Jared and Don Jr as individuals.

Do you support open primaries? (Yes or No)

ALLEN: No. In our party-based electoral system, the point of a primary election is for each party to nominate a candidate. Parties are open to all who wish to join them, and it’s fair that only party members have a say in choosing who will represent them in the general election.

BEKESHA: Yes.

HUNTER: Yes. Closed primaries and arbitrary party registration deadlines are a form of voter suppression.

SOCIAL ISSUES

What do you think of the Mayor’s plan to close DC General?

ALLEN: I strongly support the Homeward DC plan to close DC General and replace it with dignified, short-term family housing (STFH) sites across the District where families in crisis can receive wraparound services, be connected to permanent housing programs, and get back on their feet. I am proud to have helped lead the Ward 6 STFH site selection process, resulting in broad community support and the inclusion of a modernized health clinic for the Southwest community.

BEKESHA: I agree 100 percent with the Mayor that a smaller, ward-based shelter system is a more humane solution. The issue is implementation. The Mayor still plans to close DC General before all the shelters are ready. This should not happen. DC General should close, and all the families relocated only after the ward-based shelters are open and ready to house families.

HUNTER: I support closing DC General but am incredibly disappointed by the way it is being done. I have spent a lot of time at DC General during this campaign, and it’s clear our neighbors who live there have no idea where they will be asked to go next, or when. It’s wrong, and inhumane. Charles Allen is exacerbating this problem by refusing to tell voters whether he supports Amazon HQ2 being built on that land.

Do you support a sales tax exemption for women’s hygiene products and diapers? (Yes or No)

ALLEN: Yes. I co-introduced the Feminine Hygiene and Diapers Sales Tax Exemption Amendment Act and was proud to support the funding of the feminine hygiene tax exemption in the just-passed Fiscal Year 2019 budget. I will continue working with my Council colleagues to fund the diaper tax exemption in the next budget cycle.

BEKESHA: Yes.

HUNTER: Yes. DC lags behind comparable cities when it comes to this progressive policy. The tampon tax is an unfair burden on low-income women and families throughout DC, who pay an estimated $3 million per year in tax on essential hygiene products. DC is choosing to profit from products that are considered medically essential to keep women and children healthy, by instituting a regressive tax that does not apply to any other necessary preventive healthcare service.

Do you support DC legalizing sports gambling? (Yes or No)

ALLEN: No. I don’t think sports betting is necessary in the District.

BEKESHA: Yes.

HUNTER: Yes. Following the Supreme Court decision, Delaware has already implemented Vegas-style sports betting, and New Jersey is not far behind. Moreover, analysts expect sports betting to be legalized in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other surrounding states within the next five years. The reality is that DC has a choice between legalizing sports betting and capturing some of the revenue as a percentage-based tax on revenue and winnings, or ceding this revenue to neighboring states.

STATEHOOD

What steps have you taken or need to be taken to make statehood a reality?

ALLEN: I organized the Hands Off DC town hall to protest congressional interference in local law and organized the DC rally before the March for Our Lives to highlight the impact of federal gun legislation on District residents. I joined DC Vote Hill lobby days and have testified supporting statehood. I will continue to defend DC’s laws from congressional interference, lobby Congress to pass statehood legislation, and work toward full local control of our justice system.

BEKESHA: Statehood will only become a reality if we start acting like a state, have a governing system like a state, and have a strong multi-party system. First, we need to stop acting like we are the child trying to sit at the adult table. Instead of complaining about Congress, we need to work with Congress to ensure our legislative and fiscal independence. Instead of complaining about needing stronger national laws, we need to work with our neighboring states as if we are also a state. Second, we have a Council that acts like a city council but has the responsibility of a state legislature. Why don’t we reform our Advisory Neighborhood Commission system to empower our commissioners to handle our most local matters? Third, the one-party system must go, and one way to solve this is to hold nonpartisan elections where all DC voters can vote.

HUNTER: I admire the work Delegate Norton has done to advocate for and increase support of statehood in Congress. As the only person in this race who has worked in our federal government, including in Congress, I understand the challenges that keep this from becoming a reality. I believe we need to commit to electing leaders who reflect competent local governance free from scandal, deception, or criminal behavior, and who understand how to work with Congress.

EMPLOYMENT

What can be done to decrease minority unemployment?

ALLEN: Many District residents encounter barriers to employment from their criminal records. Some studies have placed the number of District residents with arrest records at 1 in 8. I support aggressive enforcement of and education relating to our ban the box laws, and I have introduced legislation to reform how we consider criminal histories in occupational licensing. I also host twice-year career fairs that have connected hundreds of residents, including returning citizens, seeking jobs to employment.

BEKESHA: Remove barriers created by occupational licenses; create a DC Work Opportunity Tax Credit; hire DC residents to work DC government jobs and enforce agreements requiring companies hire DC residents; strengthen and invest more in our apprenticeship programs; ensure our schools are preparing students for both college as well as careers; grow and strengthen our technical school program; and repeal Ballot Initiative 77 if it passes on June 19

HUNTER: Local job training and skills development programs are lacking and are woefully underfunded. Moreover, the Council must conduct oversight when it comes to enforcement of local hiring laws for construction and new development, regardless of whether executives are political donors. I’m also an advocate for providing DC residents with District government jobs.            DC government should be staffed primarily by DC residents; this would not only increase local tax revenue, but it would improve city services.

How would you create opportunities for our returning citizens?

ALLEN: This requires investments in many areas, but recently within the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, I have waived fees for birth certificates and driver’s licenses, increased funding for grants for reentry organizations, created a new board to review clemency applications, approved funding for a Portal of Entry at the Department of Corrections and advocated for the Bureau of Prisons to send inmates back to the District’s custody earlier to facilitate successful reentry.

BEKESHA: Remove barriers created by occupational licenses; create a DC Work Opportunity Tax Credit; provide our not-for-profit and advocacy organizations with additional resources and funds to work with returning citizens on acquiring the skills necessary to enter or re-enter the job market and workforce.

HUNTER: For returning citizens, we must provide new mandatory dedicated funding to MORCA so additional case managers and key staff can be hired to provide services for everyone in need; build on the current structured program available to those who require it within 180 days of release; and expand programs to link returning citizens to existing housing, health, counseling and jobs programs throughout the city. Long-term, we must also establish greater control of our prison system.

How do we ensure there is equal pay for equal work for women and minorities in the District?

ALLEN: An important way to ensure equal pay for women and minorities is to ban the use of past wage history during the hiring process. I co-introduced the Fair Wage Amendment Act, under review at the Council now, to do just this. Leaving a job due to unjust pay shouldn’t create a cycle of diminished opportunity. This bill will help women and minorities fight persistent pay inequities and get a fair shot at a fair wage.

BEKESHA: Prohibit employers from asking for salary history of prospective employees during the interview and hiring process; require full pay transparency; and incentivize our business community to enable their employees to both raise a family and continue working, such as paid family leave and supported childcare.

HUNTER: We start by rejecting DC insiders who are beholden to special interests and electing progressive women and people of color to office. DC lags behind most progressive cities when it comes to enforcement and oversight of equal pay laws, and I’ve come to learn that Charles Allen doesn’t understand many of these issues because he’s never had to face them. We need to elect leaders who understand and have empathy for everyone in our community.