Kent's responses to the Afro-American Newspaper Questionnaire

The Afro-American has crusaded for racial equality and economic advancement for Black Americans for 125 years. The Afro-American rose to national prominence while under the editorial control of Carl Murphy. The Afro-American’s status as a black paper circulating in several predominantly black communities endowed it with the ability to profoundly affect social change on a national scale.

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HBCUS: As an elected official, what will you specifically do to support Washington, D.C.’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

Ensuring Howard University’s success is to ensure success for the District of Columbia. HBCUs, such as Howard, on average have lower tuition rates and provide stable learning environments for students of color. Historic Howard University, located in Ward 1, is only a few short blocks to the south of where I live; and I consider myself to be a part of the greater Howard University community. Over the past 8+ years, I have witnessed Howard University and the community come together with greater collaborative efforts, particularly when it comes to long-term planning for both the campus and lower Georgia Avenue. 

Every two years Howard’s School of Architecture also hosts a review of proposed development in the area so that we, as a community, can strengthen our support for the University’s long-term planning process as well as the long-term vision for Georgia Avenue and the surrounding neighborhoods. I make it a point to attend, as it gives the community the opportunity to learn first hand of Howard University’s campus plan.

The primary area where Howard University needs support, and where the District Government can help, is around financing. When D.C. closed D.C. General, Howard University Hospital became the primary trauma center for the District of Columbia. This has had a negative impact on Howard as the City has shirked its responsibility and placed it on Howard University Hospital with no additional funding.

I will continue to work with Howard University to ensure that District laws and regulations do not negatively impact Howard’s goals and needs. Areas where I will work most closely include Zoning, building permits, and transportation. Specifically, I will work with Howard University to look for opportunities to enter into partnerships so that we can achieve our shared goals.

Washington’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities are one of the Districts most important assets when it comes to reversing the District’s income and achievement gaps. I fully believe that Howard University is best positioned to reverse this trend, provide opportunities, and achieve equity for the many life-long Washingtonians who have contributed so much to the character of our city and neighborhoods.

 

LAW ENFORCEMENT: As an elected official, what will you do to specifically improve the community’s relationship with Washington, D.C.’s police force?

As a growing community, we need and deserve a holistic and comprehensive approach to public safety and systemic violence that comprises many of the components of the NEAR Act. While we may always have a need for police in our community, our goal needs to be to put police officers out of work by eliminating the need for them. For safe and healthy communities, we need to recognize that there is a bigger picture that includes police, social service agencies, and others to collaborate for the benefit of all. In Ward 1, we have locations where threats to public safety are deeply entrenched. Despite overall neighborhood progress, some blocks have not changed in 20 years – blocks where poverty, substance abuse, and hopelessness lead to overdoses, shootings, and homicides. These locations are well known to MPD and they have done everything in their power to address them, however we are never going to arrest our way out of the problem. The cycle of hopelessness needs to be broken and that isn’t going to result from police action.

Public safety is important to me, and where I will be a strong advocate is in the following areas:

  • Community Policing and Police in the Community: We are fortunate that much of Ward 1 is served by the Third Police District. These officers are responsive and have proven to be good community partners. This is what we need throughout our neighborhoods. We must find ways for more police officers to afford to live and work in our communities so that we know them as neighbors, creating a stronger relationship and better understanding of community challenges. Our officers should be walking our neighborhoods, talking to the community, and getting to know us on a personal level. Our police officers also need to reflect the neighborhoods they serve for several reasons. Ultimately, I want to rethink the current model where many of Washington’s police officers do not live in the District or have a cultural relationship with the communities they serve. Even in the best cases, this can result in officers seeing residents as a job rather than a partner.

    While DC’s police force isn’t entirely where we need it to be, I’ve built strong relationships with police Chief Newsham and Commanders Emerman (3D) and Griffin (4D) who are collectively responsible for public safety in Ward 1. On several occasions I’ve invited these officers to come to the community to hear concerns and receive feedback directly from neighbors. Sometimes the conversations have been raw, but they have also been honest and direct. 

    I’m please to share that we do have examples of officers who have taken initiative to be a community friend and protector rather than just the person who is unknown and present solely to arrests. For example, in the Third District, Officer Eastman worked the midnight shift for many years. He would not only police the community but become part of the community by distributing coats to those in need, largely unknown to anyone other than his coworkers on the midnight shift. When he passed in October of 2017, officers of the Third District held a coat drive to honor the memory of Officer Eastman. Officer Eastman’s children, who live in Howard County, also assisted MPD in a coat drive at their elementary school. This year’s first coat drive resulted in the collection of 140 articles of clothing, which have been distributed to those in need and to low-income residents in Faircliff, Urban Village, and Park Morton. This impressive grassroots effort should be occurring throughout the District to strengthen the relationship between MPD and the community.


     
  • Supporting Social Services: For us to have social service partners, we need to fund and staff the agencies that are best capable to engage on homelessness, addiction, and domestic violence. The Department of Behavioral Health, for example, is a small staff with limited funding – yet must serve the entire District. They do not have the support they need to make the difference in neighborhood safety they otherwise could. We must provide the support and staffing they need, and other agencies like them, if we are going to make the personal connections necessary to provide hope and a better life for those requiring support.

    Collaboration: We need to create a framework where calls for domestic violence, for example, result in both a police response and a social service response. It is impossible to tell which service is required more when calls come in and it doesn’t serve us well when we don’t have the correct support response. We also need to strengthen communication between the agencies, so that all who are engaged to improve a community’s public health have all the relevant information they need to do so. As a Councilmember, I will examine the challenges that are preventing our social service professionals from success and find ways to empower them for better outcomes.

 

TRANSPORTATION: As an elected official, what will you do to bring a 21st century transportation system to the
residents of Washington, D.C.?

My top priority for transportation will continue to be to invest in the infrastructure Washington must have to provide modern, reliable transportation to everyone who lives, works, and plays in the District of Columbia. My top three priorities as a councilmember would include:

  • Dedicated bondable funding for Metro: I heartily endorse dedicated, bondable funding for Metro. I regularly use public transportation that often includes including Metro. Rather than just provide enough funding to keep Metro on life support, we need to leverage additional resources to improve reliability of the public transportation that students need to get to class on time and seniors need for doctor’s appointments. We need to undo the damage of decades of deferred maintenance, improve the system with better infrastructure, new rail cars, and new connections between stations. Additional Metro funding priorities I will advocate for also include pedestrian tunnels connecting stations such as Chinatown and Metro Center and the construction of new exits from stations that improve access to neighborhoods.
     
  • Funding for an Intelligent Transpiration System (ITS) in DC: Currently, the District does not have a robust fiber optic infrastructure system as part of its overall traffic network infrastructure. This creates inefficiencies in our ability to manage transportation effectively adding significant time to travel time for residents, commuters, and bus service. Currently, the District’s outdated system required DDOT employees to be on site to adjust streetlight timing. To get the timing just right requires a significant amount of time and a fair amount of trial and error. By replacing the current infrastructure with a fiber optic network, these functions can be performed remotely at a centralized location and in real-time. This would significantly reduce traffic congestion.
     
  • Sidewalk infrastructure improvements: Many sidewalks in Ward 1 are not ADA compliant or age friendly. Special pavers on 14th Street between Columbia Road and Monroe Street are often broken, missing, or sunken creating trip hazards. Many of the sidewalks east of Sherman Avenue are narrow and have streetlight infrastructure placed so that they are unpassable for strollers and wheelchairs. Similarly, not all crosswalks are currently configured to meet current ADA standards. All these issues are important and must be addressed to create safe sidewalks for children, seniors and pedestrians alike. 

Over the past 8 years as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, I have been keenly involved with the District Department of Transportation in their cross-town transportation study and submitted a number of recommendations to improve local transportation. The cross-town study focuses on the area along Michigan/Irving streets, NE to Adams Morgan … so it requires careful planning. Improving the transportation corridor not only helps residents, but also the Washington Hospital Center and Howard University. I have and continue to be a strong supporter of creating and expanding a District-wide bike lane network, preferring protected bike lanes where possible. In July 2015, I introduced a resolution advocating that DPW maintain bike lanes in addition to parking lanes during street cleaning (see here: http://anc1a.org/Resolutions/2015/Bike%20Lane%20resolution.pdf) and in April 2016 I asked DDOT to conduct a feasibility study to create protected bike lanes on Park Place, NW (see here: http://anc1a.org/Resolutions/2016/Park%20Place%20Traffic%20Study%20Resolution%20OCI.pdf). I am currently working with DDOT as part of their cross-town implementation plan to incorporate these requests. It is critical that every Washingtonian have reliable transportation whether they drive, walk, bike, or take metro or the bus. Earlier this year, DDOT kicked off the new 59 limited-stop bus on 14th Street. This connects Takoma Park with the National Mall. While this new service is great, it can still be improved. I would advocate for it to be extended to National Airport. The route cuts through many neighborhoods without good access to Metrorail. Even when Metro is performing well, easy access to our airports will always be a great asset.

 

HOUSING: The Washington, D.C. Housing Department has seen its share of problems over the past few
years. As an elected official, what steps will you take to improve the quality of the District’s low
and moderate-income housing opportunities?

I have been actively engaged in preserving and expanding housing, including housing for lowand moderate income in Ward 1, throughout my 8 years as an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, and especially during the past 5 years at the Commission’s Chair. I’ve built strong partnerships throughout the District agencies such as the New Communities Initiative and the District Housing and Community Development agency. I’ve also learned and developed a level of expertise allowing me to leverage the District’s Comprehensive Plan, the Zoning regulations, and the District’s historic preservation laws to work with developers to shape community compatible development resulting in more than 1,000 new housing units both delivered and in the development pipeline. Most importantly, the developments I’ve personally helped shape and fought for have accomplished the following:

  • No displacement!
  • 172 units of new housing at or below 60% AMI
  • 64 units of new housing at or below 50% AMI
  • 58 new units of housing at or below 30% AMI
  • 147 replacement public housing units at or below 30% AMI, and
  • 166 units of new senior housing at or below 60% AMI

While the above results are promising, there is still a lot of work to do. We need to craft stronger language for policy priorities into the District’s Comprehensive Plan in support of equitable citywide development, addressing housing affordability, resident displacement and strengthening tenants’ rights. We also need to make sure that the language in the Comprehensive Plan is implemented through agency action.

To achieve our goals, we must make sure that our laws and regulations are similarly aligned with the Comprehensive Plan. Affordable housing requires supportive laws and zoning regulations. Two of the 64 amendments I submitted for consideration to the Comprehensive Plan addressed sustained home sharing (Tracking numbers 0006 & 0007). We need to balance the benefits of services like Airbnb with those of homeowner and tenant rights, which I’m convinced can coexist.

As I have proven, adept use of preservation law can and has led to balancing the desire to have historic and architecturally distinctive neighborhoods while increasing housing choices for families of all incomes, which is a big issue in Ward 1. My ability to use the Comprehensive Plan, zoning regulations and preservation law simultaneously has produced exciting outcomes. The Arcade-Sunshine Laundry, Avingnone Freres, and William Sidney Pittman’s Trinity Church projects collectively create 329 new housing opportunities in Ward 1 by incorporating historic facades and buildings into new construction in a balanced way that did not require official landmark designations.

My approved landmark nomination of the former Hebrew Home building paired with a zoning map amendment is creating 187 new apartments in the housing pipeline with 80% of the units being targeted at 60% AMI or lower including 90 senior apartments. And understanding the interrelationship between the Comprehensive Plan, zoning and the development history of Georgia Avenue paired with experience in the Planned Unit Development process contributed to bringing another 462 apartments into the housing pipeline in the Park Morton redevelopment project, preserving 147 public housing units and creating another 155 apartments that will be at 60% AMI or below (including 76 apartments for seniors). I have been fighting for and alongside the residents of the Park Morton public housing complex since the Spring of 2013, and when the original redevelopment efforts faltered, I played a key role in getting the project back on track and finding the necessary land for the build-first site.

But, the District needs to do more to invest in affordable housing, including increasing Permanent Supportive Housing facilities for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. I support Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B’s ability to work with the City at Ward 1’s Rita Bright Youth Center. The proposal is to build thirty-five units of short-term housing for homeless families and 15 units of permanent supportive senior housing where a surface parking lot currently exists. We have many other opportunities throughout the District --- and in Ward 1 -- where new affordable housing and services for low-income families could be created.

  •  I am committed to creating a survey of District-owned property that is currently underbuilt and could support housing co-located on the site. Examples in Ward 1 include Engine Company No. 9 on U street and the 3rd District Police Station on V Street -- both are one to two story buildings in an area zoned for 50ft. tall mixed-use structures. We need to leverage properties like these for the additional stories and opportunities they can provide.
     
  • SROs like La Casa in Columbia Heights that can be used to keep individuals from becoming homeless, and as a first step to permanent housing for those that were homeless.
     
  • Many new housing projects should include the opportunity for some residents to have an equity stake in the project (rent to own units, in addition to those set aside as affordable rental options).

FUNDING: Given the limited resources of government, what are your top three funding priorities if elected
and why?

  • Housing: As local housing prices continue to rise; the District must do all it can to fight displacement and create more housing. By not creating opportunities for new housing to be located in our commercial corridors, and by not leveraging District-owned properties to include new housing that is available to low- and moderate-income families, we fail our neighbors most in need of housing and hasten displacement. I don’t want a single family to leave the District due to rising rents, increased taxed, and a lack of housing affordable to families making between $30,000-$60,000 a year. Therefore, housing must be a high priority.
     
  • Metro and Transportation: Dedicated funding for Metro and supporting public transportation must also be a high priority. This is especially true for low- and moderateincome families who rely on public transportation to get to work and earn a living. Furthermore, many of our children rely on public transportation to get to school. If we do not support a strong and well-funded public transportation system, we deny families the opportunity to work and thrive in the District of Columbia.
     
  • Infrastructure, maintenance, & repair: Continuing to improve our public buildings are resources – from streets and alleys, to school buildings, to playground equipment and recreation buildings – is essential for an inclusive city. Public resources are shared by every single resident equally, making them a good investment. We also must spend money on maintaining our public resources rather than deferring maintenance, as it is fiscally smart to keep our resources well-maintained and serving the community than it is to raze and replace. Our goal should never be a ribbon-cutting, but rather maintaining public resources that are in good repair, well-loved and used every day. 

 

CLOSING STATEMENT: Share any additional comments you have about your candidacy or issues. 

I have lived in the Georgia Avenue community for eleven years; and while not a native Washingtonian, I believe I share many of the same values of lifelong Washingtonians. I have a deep love and respect for my neighbors and our history. Having spent many hours learning about Ward 1’s history – while sitting on porches and talking to seniors, digging into the Washingtoniana collection, and researching past issues of the AFRO American – I know and value the culture and hard-won victories of the past and present.

In 2011, when I was first elected to serve on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A, I became one of a small group of commissions representing a community that was majority AfricanAmerican (only three of 19 census tracts in Ward 1 are majority African-American). I have earned the overwhelming support of my constituents; sending me back to the ANC for four terms. This is because I represent everyone fairly and have made myself available to all. The results of this includes securing funding for the Park View Recreation Center in 2012 to construct a new basketball court for one of the few remaining summer basketball tournaments in DC and successfully advocated for $12.3M in the city budget to rebuild the Park View Recreation Center in FY2023. The District must serve our communities of color and I am a fighter when it comes to delivering for my community.

Among my other commitments to preserving African American history in Ward 1, I have successfully nominated five sites to the African American Heritage Trail, have ensured that important buildings, such as William Sidney Pittman’s 1905 Trinity AME Church building at 777 Morton Street are preserved and incorporated into new housing developments rather than being razed, and authored the book Park View (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Pub., 2011). I have also written 12 successful landmark nominations for sites important to the history of both Washington and the Nations – with a notable example being preserving the Park View Playground which recognizes the powerful history of African-American’s who fought to break down the barriers of racism and segregation by challenging, and winning, the fight to desegregate Washington playgrounds. My work to recognized the African-American history of the Park View Playground and fight to restore its historic field house was recognized by with a District of Columbia Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation Award in 2017 (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJRcIN50Vxo) Being inclusive is not a goal for me, it is a way of life, and something I’m mindful to bring to every decision I make for the benefit of all.

Lastly, in addition to the priorities outlined above, if elected to the Council, one of my first priorities will be to support our local businesses and the jobs they create. I will focus on reducing or removing unnecessary financial and legal barriers that make owning a small business in the District of Columbia much harder than it needs to be. Having worked with many small businesses owners as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, I understand their challenges and the important role they play in maintaining a vibrant and inclusive neighborhood. I will continue to support our local Main Street organizations and work to establish dedicated revenue streams to support them. Lastly, I will be on DCRA like a dog with a bone to reduce and repurpose vacant store fronts in mixed use buildings. Our strong small business community has played a large part in the growth and desirability of the District, and many of the jobs they create employ District residents.