As a council member, what would you to address the issue of homelessness in D.C., particularly the growing number of homeless families?
Anita Bonds: We should increase the number of permanent supportive housing (units) available for the homeless and streamline the process of getting the homeless from the streets into the available housing. The permanent supportive housing application process should be more efficient and faster. I co-sponsored the bill 20-150 to do just that.
Matthew Frumin: We need to find a way to serve homeless families. The DC General situation is unacceptable, which is obvious to anyone. We can do better in meeting the needs of people who are homeless. But then we also really need to commit to serving those people in as thorough a way as possible, to bring them out of homelessness and give them a path to a more stable life. In a time of a $417 million surplus and in a time of strengthening economy and strengthening fiscal picture, we have the ability and the obligation to do that.
Patrick Mara: Part of my answer goes back to job-training and economic development. But here are some other issues that need to be taken into consideration. First, when women are battered and abused, often along with their children as well, they often become victims of homelessness, too. The District must always be available to support, intervene, temporarily house and protect victims of domestic abuse.
Second, many homeless people struggle with mental health issues. This is a challenge that has vexed society for ages. Again, we need to support non-profit organizations who have proven their ability to do good work in assisting people with mental-health issues.
Third, there are an increasing number of (formerly incarcerated) returning-citizens at risk of homelessness due to the challenges they face finding jobs. The District government needs to put its money where its mouth is. We are not hiring enough local residents. We also need to prepare returning-citizens for work while they are incarcerated.
Perry Redd: Investing in homeless services means not only people who are on the streets as we see them, but people who have to couch surf. Homeless services need to be extended to people who are in those precarious living arrangements. Those are homeless people we don’t count, folks who have an address but are truly homeless. I’m the first candidate in the race to call for a living wage ordinance in the city. I’m opposed to the Walmarts that are coming into the city. Some residents are blinded by the history of Walmart, and belief that jobs are a good thing. But Walmart treats its employees terribly. It’s sort of like slavery … That’s unacceptable.
Elissa Silverman: I think we need to have adequate resources, number one, to house families. I think that putting people at DC General is just wrong in so many ways. From an economic point of view, it’s expensive. From a human point of view, it’s a terrible place to live. From an investment point of view, it’s a bad investment because you have kids who don’t have a place to study, aren’t getting a good night’s sleep, and therefore when they’re showing up at school the next day, they’re not going to be productive learners. We need to put families into permanent supportive housing, into apartments, so they can stabilize their lives. We need to make sure those families have access to the resources they need. If they’re not on TANF but are eligible, they should get on TANF. The moms and dads should be assessed so we know why they’re in those circumstances, why they’re not working perhaps or why they lost their housing and how we can get them back into a more stable environment and stable conditions.
Paul Zukerberg: We need to have a cabinet level position of Director of Homeless Services. Each case of homelessness needs the attention of a wrap-around social services specialist. Money needs to be invested. If there are no affordable units, the causes of homelessness are beside the point. Right now we need affordable housing units and we need to add them quickly using part of the surplus.
The issue of cutting Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) by 25 percent for those who have been on the program for more than five years has been hotly debated in the Council. Do you support this TANF reduction? How would you change the TANF program as a council member? What programs or policy changes do you support that you believe would help move current recipients of public assistance who can work into jobs?
Anita Bonds: We should do everything we can to incentivize people to get off TANF, although I recognize that a small percentage of families and individuals may not have the ability to find work. I do agree with the policy, and I think individuals should come before the government and provide a plan to get off TANF and we should move these people into job assistance programs when appropriate.
We need to foster a better relationship between job training programs and community colleges. We should support community colleges; provide assistance to students who want to attend them and bridge the gaps among these training programs and the workforce. This will be a relative small cost with great economic benefits, in the form of increased tax revenue.
Matthew Frumin: I think we need to work to make sure that people are prepared to get off of TANF, and until we’ve sorted out and provided the kind of engagement we need with TANF recipients, we have to be very careful about taking people off of TANF without an alternative for them to get by. I am for having TANF be temporary, but I think we need to commit to helping people to have the skills and access to jobs, to address where it can’t be temporary, to follow through on the plans that have been put in place to improve TANF, and to make sure that we’re providing all the opportunities necessary.
I think that we need to focus on creating jobs for our unemployed. There is high unemployment in parts of the city. We need to press for increased job training programs that will give them the skills necessary to fill the various jobs, and we need to approach our education system as a berth to workforce and actual life-long-learning system.
Patrick Mara: In 2010, Mayor Fenty and the D.C. Council worked together to pass legislation that would bring the District into compliance with federal welfare reform laws dating back to The District planned to gradually reduce benefits for recipients who have been receiving TANF for longer than five years. Shortly after Mayor Gray took office, the District reduced TANF benefits by about 20 percent. Mayors Gray and Fenty as well as the Council were right to pass TANF reform laws; I support them, too. We need to make sure that TANF recipients are aware that the benefits they are receiving are not permanent. 3,300 District residents have moved from welfare to work, but we need to increase that number dramatically.
As a councilmember I will be dedicated to bringing more jobs to the District. We need to cut through the red tape and bureaucratic barriers that make the District unattractive to employers.
Perry Redd: I’m for an increase in TANF benefits, and the reason being that in order to move someone out of poverty, you cannot further impoverish them. Simply put, we have a great wealth disparity in this city. My role on council is to speak to those issues and to speak for those people who are the most vulnerable, the most disenfranchised in the city. Raising TANF monthly benefits is important to sustaining life in this city. We live in the fourth most expensive city in the country, and so to reduce TANF benefits is criminal.
What I would do to change it is to strengthen our job training programs. I have a job training structure in my proposal for returning citizens, those who have been previously convicted. I call it RECAP – Returning Citizens Assimilation Program. We train specifically for jobs that employers tell us are open. That same structure would be used in other areas, like TANF recipients.
Elissa Silverman: I don’t support cutting people off right now because I don’t believe the program has done a good job in assessing families and assessing moms and dads in their barriers to employment. Right now, the Department of Human Services is implementing a new assessment process, and I think until all the folks who are on TANF are properly assessed, we shouldn’t take punitive measures. Obviously we want to encourage those who can work to work, but we need to be realistic that the TANF program hasn’t had a good jobs component. It’s improving, and we need to give it time. Part of the assessment process is to determine who is employable and can get into jobs quickly, and who needs some barriers to be removed. I think that, for example, Mayor Gray’s “One City, One Hire” is a good program to help match people who have the skills to work with employers. But there also might be other barriers. Obviously if you’re on TANF, you have kids, so we need to make sure that things like childcare are funded, that people have good access to transportation.
Paul Zukerberg: I don’t support the TANF reduction because the effects will be felt most sharply by children, who are already, even with TANF, living below the poverty line. Twenty-five percent less support means kids will go hungry, and I would never support anypolicy that harms kids.
Barriers to employment need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. What has worked to date in getting people off public assistance? Can we multiply what has worked to include more people? What are the barriers facing those still on public assistance? Is it child care? Is it literacy? Is it homelessness? We have made progress, but much more needs to be done.
What would you do to improve access to affordable housing in DC?
Anita Bonds: Establish a permanent oversight committee to deal with the issue of affordable housing and allow experts to determine the best method to address the issue. There are a few solutions floating and we should study these ideas closely before enacting, but I would consider extending rent control policies more aggressively. We should also do targeted outreach to categories of the workforce who do critical city work but don’t make enough money to afford living in the city.
Matthew Frumin: One is strengthening the Housing Production Trust Fund. Another thing we can do is make it a line item in the budget. I’ve also proposed an approach to making housing in the city more accessible to teachers, firefighters, and police as a pilot program, to encourage more people to live in the city and make housing more affordable to them. If that works, maybe it can be broadened to others as well.
Patrick Mara: Money meant to support the Housing Production Trust Fund must protected. We cannot build affordable housing when politicians steer the money to other programs. We must also preserve and strengthen rent-control laws. Additionally, no developers should get a tax break if they aren’t setting aside units for low- and middle-income families.
Perry Redd: I think all of us as candidates say the same thing, in terms of the Housing Production Trust Fund. What we don’t agree on is the numbers. Mayor Gray proposed $100 million for affordable housing, but he didn’t say it would come from the surplus. I think that’s weak-kneed. I think the current council being silent on it is sorry at best, and so I would propose at least, of the $417 million surplus, at least $150 million into affordable housing. If I was elected to council I would shore up and protect, by legislation, the Housing Production Trust Fund. I would raise the ceiling on it for homeless services, in particular the shelter that’s on the brink of being closed at 2nd and D streets. The lease there, at the Mitch Snyder Shelter, expires in 2016 and nothing has been said about that.
I would invest in that shelter – everything from retrofitting, upgrading, creating single units, family units, units for single mothers. I would move families out of DC General. I find that criminal as well.
Elissa Silverman: I think one way is to build more. We obviously need more supply. I would put more money into the Housing Production Trust Fund so that we can produce more affordable housing, so that we can maintain the affordable housing we have, and also provide rental assistance to renters who need it. When we’re doing development deals with developers who are building these nice condos, we also need to make sure that our inclusionary zoning law is being enforced. And if we need to improve it or tweak it, we should do that.
- Help people stay in the homes they already have, by increasing the homestead tax deduction and denying rate increases for PEPCO, Washington Gas, Verizon and the rest.
- Require developers to pay into the Affordable Housing Trust when they want exemptions from building restrictions.
- Make sure that the money we are spending on affordable housing goes to the housing, and not to politically connected insiders with sweetheart contracts.
The District recently announced a $417 million budget surplus. How do you think the city should use that money?
Anita Bonds: I think the money should go directly back to the community with a particular emphasis on seniors. We should continue to provide tax incentives to seniors and endorse policies so that seniors can stay in their homes and live comfortably. Secondly our city’s schools will need more money. More children our going into our public schools and we will need to pay for more teachers and fund more programs to make sure our children get a proper education. We also have to fund the efforts to make sure housing in the city is affordable.
We are still looking at the plans to make this happen but the Trust Fund for Affordable Housing should be funded.
Matthew Frumin: I think half of that money should go into the “rainy day fund.” The current call is that all of it go into the “rainy day fund.” That money is one-time spending. It’s not programmatic spending, you can’t commit it for programs, but you can make capital and one-time investments. I think we should make investments in affordable housing and the Housing Production Trust Fund. I think we should be making investments in things like parks, and libraries, and focusing on serving the homeless in this critical period.
Patrick Mara: My opponents have talked a lot about the $417 surplus. Here is the real talk: by law, the $417 surplus must be put into savings. That is the law. Anyone who tells you how it can be spent does not know what they are talking about. With regard to future surpluses, we need to do a better job projecting revenue. Surpluses aren’t a government slush fund.
Surpluses are taxes and fees that were taken from residents and local businesses. When we “over tax,” we take money out of the economy that helps to create jobs. We also lose our competitive edge to Virginia, where many employers prefer to set up shop to avoid the high taxes and fees imposed on them by District government. We also burden middle-income families in the District with tax bills, fees, parking ticket fines and other penalties that are higher than they need to be.
Perry Redd: I’m never for outright spending an entire surplus. I do support Mayor Gray’s effort to shore up the general fund, and even by law we have to do it. But I am even more in favor, and if I were on council I would propose, spending $217 million of it on programs that support affordable housing, our homeless programs, programs that support seniors like home foreclosure tax relief, programs that support returning citizens—which 10 percent of Washington’s population are previously convicted people. The supportive services there are in dire need. I would invest in our city residents who are the most vulnerable, those who are being driven out of the city through gentrification, through economic development.
Elissa Silverman: Right now the law says that the money has to go into our savings account. I think the council should change that. I think it’s important to save for a rainy day, but I think it’s also important to make investments for the future. I think a great one-time use is putting half of the money into the Housing Production Trust Fund, [for] both new housing and also to maintain affordable housing through aintenance and repairs, as well as giving rental housing vouchers to residents. I also think it should go for capital needs—like if MPD needed new cars, or if the fire department needed to replace fire engines.
Paul Zukerberg: The D.C. council must amend the law to allow a portion of these funds to go to the neediest. While the most privileged have prospered, the neediest have grown more desperate. I know that some of this money must go into the “rainy day fund.” But for some, it’s already raining, and they need help now.