Kent's responses to the Greater Greater Washington Questionnaire

Greater Greater Washington is a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization that brings people together online and offline to discuss, organize, and advocate for an inclusive, diverse, growing Washington, DC region where all people can choose to live in walkable urban communities. GGWash believes people want to live and work in places with sidewalks, bike lanes, and frequent transit; with grocery stores, parks, and plenty of housing choices at attainable prices; that is accessible and welcoming to people of all income levels and backgrounds.

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1. DC is amending its Comprehensive Plan. Do you support policies in the new Comp Plan to a) add housing in all parts of the city to meet the need, b) create and preserve much more affordable housing, and c) strengthen protections for tenants in affordable housing being redeveloped? How would you achieve these?

Crafting stronger language for policy priorities into the Comprehensive Plan in support of equitable city-wide development, addressing housing affordability, resident displacement and strengthening tenants’ rights is the right thing to do and appropriate to the amendment process. Yet the Comprehensive Plan alone does not create more housing, make housing more affordable, or protect tenants’ rights -- but provides a planned framework and vision for the Washington we aspire to be. To achieve these goals, we also have to 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. 

Adept use of preservation law can also balance the desire to have historic and architecturally distinctive neighborhoods while increasing housing choices for families of all incomes, which is a big issue in my Ward. 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 creates 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). All-in-all, my understanding of the intersections of the Comprehensive Plan, Zoning regulations, and preservation law -- and knowing when to use each -- has resulted in my influencing and advancing projects creating 978 new housing opportunities that serve the Ward 1 community. This includes preserving or creating 468 affordable units in the housing pipeline.

2. Do you support dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes? Would you support them even if that required removing on-street parking in some cases? Can you give examples of locations you would or would not like to see a bus and/or protected bike lane?

Absolutely. In March 2014, I advocated for expanding the Circulator Bus system to connect the Petworth/Park View area with Dupont Circle/K Street part of town. (see resolution here http://anc1a.org/Resolutions/2014/Circulator%20Resolution.pdf) 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). Due to the difficulty of balancing transportation priorities, use of public space, and funding none of these have been accomplished to date. None-the-less, the advocacy does help and better informs DDOT in their planning process. We want reliable transportation whether we drive, walk, bike, or take metro or the bus. We need the right balance to make them all work – including parking. Having actively participated in DDOT’s east-west crosstown study, I know that trade-offs must be made. 

While I’m on record as wanting dedicated bike lanes on Park Place, one place I would like to see dedicated bus lanes considered is Georgia Avenue – and on every route where the Streetcar is being considered. Dedicated lanes would not make sense on corridors like Sherman Avenue unless the raised center median were removed. While the raised median is nice, it limits the efficient flow of traffic on a regular enough basis that in 2015 WMATA considered rerouting the 63 & 64 bus routes to 11th Street. I strongly advocated that WMATA not reroute the Sherman Avenue buses and they still operate on Sherman Avenue today. I would like to see the new 59 limited-stop bus on 14th Street extended to National Airport. It 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.

3. Do you support dedicated, bondable funding for Metro totaling at least $500 million a year including $178 million from DC? How would you achieve this? Do you require other steps (governance, labor, etc.) before you can support it?

As a regular rider, I think Metro is one of our City’s most significant transportation assets. Rather than just provide enough funding to keep Metro on life support, I heartily endorse dedicated, bondable funding. 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 funding priorities I would advocate for, are pedestrian tunnels connecting stations such as Chinatown and Metro Center, and the construction of new exits from stations that improve access to neighborhoods. 

4. Do you support funding the DC Streetcar to extend east to Benning Road Metro in Ward 7 and west in dedicated lanes to Georgetown? What infrastructure to improve access by District residents to jobs, schools, and businesses would you support funding?

Yes, I support expanding the DC Streetcar network, but not unequivocally. First WMATA must be fully funded to maintain the infrastructure we already have. Assuming we can have both, I recommend, pre-expansion:

  • A payment system whereby the same Metrocard used on Metro rail and bus is also used on streetcars;
  • Dedicated streetcar lanes, begun as dedicated bus lanes. This would not only improve service now but it would allow adjustments to be made in stops and routes in advance of expanding the system;
  • An honest understanding of what the streetcar expansion would cost and why the expansion of the system is a better use of funds than other forms of public transportation; and,
  • A broader vision for a more robust streetcar network that doesn’t just connect Washington neighborhoods, but also connects those neighborhoods to areas beyond the District’s borders. 

5. Last year, the DC Council approved $36 million in tax-increment financing to subsidize 600 additional parking spaces at Union Market. Are you supportive of the way that TIF proceeded or would you like to see changes for future TIFs, regarding parking and/or in general?

Tax-increment financing is an excellent tool for leveraging future expected tax revenue increases to reinvest into our communities. I support the Council’s decision to use this tool for Union Market. Of the $82 million TIF, $36 million is to fund parking for the market. This part was controversial in part because the Chief Financial Officer testified that the TIF was not necessary for this development. With this in mind, the amendment proposing to use $18 million of the TIF funds for affordable housing was a good idea which I would have liked to have seen more support from members of the Council.

I know many advocated for TIF money to be redirected from additional parking spaces to be used for a new entrance for the NoMa Metro Station to improve access to Union Market. While a new NoMa entrance is an excellent idea and a goal I fully support, it isn’t legally possible to use the Union Market TIF in this way as the station falls outside of the geographic boundaries defined in law by the TIF.

Closer to home, I would advocate for the District to consider Neighborhood TIFs in Ward 1, especially in areas like Columbia Heights and lower Georgia Avenue. Both have newly established Main Street organizations that would benefit from a reliable revenue stream, allowing them to do more for our neighborhoods and small businesses, as I expressed in my Letter of Support for District Bridges Main Street application (see letter here: http://www.boese2018.com/sites/kentboese/files/Georgia%20Ave%20Main%20Street%2 0Recommendation%20Corrected.pdf)

6. Nearly 20 percent of all property in DC is protected by historic preservation law - more than Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia combined. Do you think DC's historic preservation process is striking the right balance or needs changes to preserve our history without excluding potential residents from many neighborhoods?

I’ve successfully worked with developers and the District to preserve the most important character-defining features of historic buildings in our ever-changing city, with 12 successful historic landmark nominations that were approved by the HPRB to my credit. I believe these make our City stronger. I’ve also worked collaboratively to repurpose structures without designating buildings as historic (e.g. Alsco-Linens of the Week. and Morton Street Mews).

In the case of the Hebrew Home for the Aged, having the vision to protect the historic building years before development occurred resulted in more community support to develop the property, putting 187 new residences in the new housing pipeline, with 80% at substantially below market rents, including 90 apartments for seniors. I have never or would I ever support using DC’s preservation law to stop development.

DC’s preservation law is not incompatible with the needs of a dynamic city. Nor is it my opinion that it significantly excludes potential residents. But two things are needed:

  • Thoughtful members of the Historic Preservation Review Board; and
  • DC Council members who are willing to pass legislation that gives residents additional options than currently exist.

While one or two members of the Council today understand the value of preservation, we currently do not have a single Councilmember working on legislation that would help balance the values of preservation, development, and growth. This is especially true in Ward 1.

Ward 1 has some of the oldest and densest neighborhoods in DC. We frequently need to find consensus when competing values come into conflict. The present hands-off approach (e.g. Sun Trust Plaza debate) has hindered progress rather than lead to desired outcomes.

I am a strong advocate for the creation of Conservation Districts (aka Legacy Districts) – a choice where neighborhoods could embrace the general architectural character of their community without the detailed review for window replacements and smaller projects that some consider to be expensive and overly burdensome. I urged the Office of Planning and DC Council to introduce and pass legislation to do so in October 2014. While draft legislation existed, neither the Office of Planning or DC Council acted.

(Link to my 2014 resolution asking for conservation districts here: http://anc1a.org/Resolutions/2014/Conservation%20District%20Resolution.pdf)

Our process needs to focus on “How” to construct new buildings and expand existing housing in century-old neighborhoods, not a binary “yes” or “no”.

7. The District continues to face significant income inequality. What specifically do you think the District should do to close this gap? Relatedly, what you think the District should do to support those who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness?

Income inequality in the District is constantly cited as being the highest in the United States. Equally alarming, the District has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. 26.7% of children in the District are living in poverty, and the percentage in Ward 1 is 21%. This all has a negative impact on education and the achievement gap, thus creating a cycle of poverty that is difficult, if not impossible, to break.

We need 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 where this approach could be replicated.

  • We need 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 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).
  • Councilmember Robert White introduced legislation to grant a tax credit for businesses hiring residents that have been unemployed for 27 weeks, and the District is offering Amazon $7,500 relocation assistance per employee, why not offer a $5,000 tax credit for hiring District residents that offsets the cost of Paid Family Leave and an increased minimum wage? Why not make District residents a truly valued commodity for employers?

A focus on equitable development is also necessary. I’m proud of the work I’ve put in to rebuilding the Park Morton public housing complex and its preservation of the 147 lowincome apartments. This effort will also create 155 new housing opportunities for working families and housing for seniors. But even with a guarantee that Park Morton residents have a right to stay, not all residents may choose to do so.

No city has succeeded at producing enough below-market housing for those who need it. We need a stronger commitment to adult education, especially vocational, paired with jobs so our residents can afford to stay. I support programs like Youth Build which does just that.

Additionally, we need to take steps to grow small businesses and the jobs they create to increase the employment prospects of families that struggle the hardest to make ends meet.

8. How would you support using the District's current budget surplus? If in the future the District falls into recession creating budget gaps in the $200-400 million range, what would you propose doing then?

Easy: invest in infrastructure. I’d start by replacing lead water service lines -- all the way to the house. Currently, DC Water only replaces lead service lines up to the private property line -- the section on private property must be funded by the owner. This is unacceptable.

I was initially encouraged when I learned that a bill was in the works in 2017 to address this issue. Upon seeing the bill, I was deeply disappointed by its failure to actually address the problem. As introduced, at best it only brings back an old idea of providing grants to low income families who wish to replace lead lines on private property. I believe we can do better, and no amount of lead in our water system is acceptable.

In December 2017 I introduced a resolution from ANC1A advocating for full lead line replacement across the entire District. The resolution passed unanimously. I sent copies of the resolution to every single Councilmember advocating for them to take action. Councilmember Cheh’s office was the only Councilmember to respond.

(Link to resolution here: http://anc1a.org/Resolutions/2017/12_2017%20Full%20Lead%20Service%20Lines%20 Replacement%20Resolution.pdf)

Following this, I met on January 5, 2018 with a member of Councilmember Cheh’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment to discuss this issue in depth. Based on that conversation and subsequent communications I believe there will be significant improvements in the final bill when the full Council eventually considers it.

My approach to the budget -- in good times and bad -- will always be focused on where our money can do the most good for the greatest number of people. We need to look for efficiencies and eliminating government waste today, so that we have the money we’ll need when less prosperous times arrive.