It's been a week or two (maybe even three, ack!) since my last update, so I wanted to focus on three major areas for you devoted readers: my office's efforts making our current housing policy work better so our neighborhoods remain economically diverse and inclusive; making next year's budget a roadmap for increased housing and economic opportunity for all residents; and explaining a difficult decision for me on a contract that has been in the news.
And let me just say that as we all get more and more incensed about the Republican efforts in Congress to spend their time supposedly serving their constituents by limiting our expressed desire to expand human rights, equality, and justice in our own community, it just makes me push even stronger and harder for these goals.
Goal #1: Making Our Communities Economically Diverse: Inclusionary Zoning
In the next weeks, the Council will be focused on the budget. My focus is ensuring that we adequately fund critical tools to keep housing affordable and within reach for all our residents, including the Housing Production Trust Fund and the Local Rent Supplement Program. It is important to remember, however, that our city has another powerful affordable housing tool, which can leverage private development without expending taxpayer funds: inclusionary zoning (IZ). I know it sounds wonky and impenetrable, but stick with me for just a moment: This approach has had a winning track record, including in neighboring Montgomery County. Basically, it mandates that when new development is built a certain amount of affordable housing must be a part of it; in exchange, developers get a bonus in how much they can build. Inclusionary zoning has had a slow start in the District. We all agree it is time to make it better and stronger here. At last week's legislative meeting, I introduced a resolution, and I was thrilled to get the support of Housing Chair Anita Bonds and eight other co-introducers, to instruct the Zoning Commission, which has authority over IZ, to make sure that we are getting the most out of the program by increasing affordable housing production, better targeting lower income households who really need help, and ensuring that developers get enough additional density allowance from the program to make the finances work. I've received hundreds of emails in support of this resolution, and if this is something you are interested in I urge you to testify at next Tuesday's public roundtable: April 28 at 2 pm. You can sign up to testify by emailing Cynthia LeFevre of the Committee of the Whole at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you care about an economically diverse and inclusive DC, I hope to see you there.
GOAL#2: MAKING SURE WORKING FAMILIES CAN LIVE IN DC (BUDGET BONANZA PART 2)
Let me tell you that testifying at the Council has an impact. Take a listen to the testimony of La Juan Brooks, who explained better than any policy white paper, think tank expert, or councilmember why a we need to fund a program that helps working families live in the District. It is called the Local Rent Supplement Program, and I guarantee you that the three minutes you spend listening to Ms. Brooks will be worthwhile. This program bridges the gap between what hard working families can afford to pay on their salaries and the cost of housing in our rental market, so they can stay in the city and live in decent, safe housing. I know many of you are busy so I will summarize this great testimony: Ms. Brooks, an LRSP participant, spoke passionately about how the program has allowed her to move out of emergency shelter, maintain a good job, and raise her kids in a stable home when rising rents would have otherwise priced her out of the city or left her family homeless. The mayor's budget requests some additional funding for LRSP, and I know that other members of my committee are committed to protecting that funding, and I hope to work with my colleagues to invest additional resources in this critical program. Later this week and next our office will be focused on Finance and Revenue, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Department of Employment Services. Please let me know if there are particular things you think I should ask about in these hearings!
The other big issue raised at last Tuesday's legislative meeting was a contract with Corizon Health for healthcare services at the D.C. Jail. This is a major contract, subject to approval by the D.C. Council, and in the end I joined with five of my colleagues to disapprove the contract because of serious concerns about Corizon's performance in other jurisdictions. I wanted to share a little bit of my thinking with all of you.
I put a lot of thought into this vote because I was concerned about inserting the council into the contracting process. I decided not to take corporate contributions in my campaign because I did not want to have contractors or lobbyists who work on behalf of contractors buy access or feel a sense of entitlement to my time or my staff time because of contributions to my campaign when they wanted a contract with the District government. As a reporter, I had seen this type of political influence peddling on small contracts, and I did not think it was good public policy and served the public interest in getting the best contractor and service for taxpayer dollars.
But as a new councilmember making a decision on a $66 million contract, in which I am deciding about our approach to public health in our correctional facilities, I had unanswered questions about Corizon. I had these questions because I read various stories about Corizon in other states, including in five that had recently cancelled contracts with Corizon—Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania--due to concerns about inadequate care and other human rights issues about access to health care during incarceration. New York City is currently considering canceling their contract due to problems at Riker's Island. When my staff and I asked for an explanation of how these kinds of concerns were reflected in the scoring process of the RFP I was given a lot of documents but I could not find satisfactory answers in those documents. Unity Health Care was the lower bidder, but Corizon won the contract based on the services they promised to offer. Given that the award was given for more robust services, I wanted to reconcile how some other jurisdictions felt these services were so deficient or harmful that they had cancelled or were considering canceling their contract.
We have serious health issues among those at DC Jail, and our health care approach is important to improving outcomes when it comes to AIDS, Hepatitis, diabetes, and other serious issues that impact not only individuals but their families and our community. I wanted to have confidence that these concerns about Corizon had been addressed. I did not. I voted for disapproval because I wanted a new council and executive branch, as well as our residents, to have that faith in their contracting process with this contract. I think it is possible with an RFP that clearly outlines our public policy goals and expectations with jail healthcare, and I hope we engage in that process now. Thanks so much. Elissa.