Priorities Funded: Now We Need To Spend Money Wisely

budget_chat.jpgLast Wednesday was an eventful day in the District!

As many of you know, the D.C. Council gave preliminary approval to a budget for next year that puts meaningful and significant investments into our priorities: making the District a city that is affordable to all ages and income levels; ending chronic and family homeless by moving those without shelter quickly into stable, permanent housing with appropriate supportive services; improving our public education system by having additional funds go directly into the schools of our most at-risk students; moving thoughtfully forward with body-worn cameras for officers to create better communication and transparency in public safety; and creating opportunities by piloting innovative approaches to adult job training, entrepreneurship, and community development.

And also yesterday, we learned that this budget approval might be "preliminary" for a slightly different reason than in the past: A ruling announced yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals gave new life to a budget autonomy voter initiative overwhelmingly passed by D.C. voters in 2013 to spend our local dollars without seeking Congressional approval. I want to offer my thanks to two friends who have worked tirelessly in a pro-bono capacity to make this case for our city: Karen Dunn and Brian Netter. Karen and Brian are an incredibly talented wife and husband team who are dedicated to making D.C. a more just and equitable city. 

I am also extremely proud of the efforts of my colleagues in the Silverman Council office, working tirelessly to push for our priorities in the budget. This includes our entire team, including our legislative staff, our constituent staff, and our expert scheduler and mom-in-chief, Charnisa Royster, who is relentless about getting the important meetings in place for the work to happen. I can't thank them enough. I also want to thank Chairman Mendelson and the Council's budget office for working so patiently and effectively with us.

Here's a quick rundown of where I think we really had impact in the budget:

TACKLING OUR HOUSING AFFORDABILITY CRISIS

  • Working in coalition to secure $100 million to fund affordable housing production (and avoid proposed cuts to existing funds) -- with 40 percent of the units built going to our lowest-income residents -- through the Housing Production Trust Fund. Chief of Staff Kitty Richards and Legislative Director Ari Weisbard worked with the Committee on Housing and Community Development, pushing right until the budget vote! Now we'll be focused on working with Mayor Bowser, Housing Director Polly Donaldson, Housing Authority Chief Adrianne Todman, and our colleagues to make sure we get that money out the door and get that housing built so our residents will benefit. The work is just beginning!
  • Successfully advocating for an additional $5 million above the mayor's request for our incredibly effective local rent supplement program to get working families into permanent apartments they can afford on their salaries. This is so important because it gives our families stability, allows kids to concentrate on school instead of where they will sleep at night, and saves money on motels and shelter.
  • Putting nearly $1 million toward repairing public housing units through an agreement between the Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development. 
  • Helping to make the case for an additional $1.8 million above the mayor's request to help people within the homeless services system to transition to permanent, appropriate housing with wraparound services.
These key investments will not only save lives but save our city significant dollars. Instead of millions spent on expensive motels and ER visits, we'll spend a lot less providing stable, safe housing.

CREATING JOB OPPORTUNITY WHILE SAFEGUARDING RESIDENTS THROUGH EFFECTIVE REGULATION
  • Working with Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen to put $500,000 toward creation of career pathways grants to get residents into living-wage jobs. This is an innovative approach to job training that has been effective in other cities and we need it here!
  • Once again working with CMs Nadeau and Allen to bolster the troops at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs by adding two illegal housing construction inspectors, encouraging the agency to hire staff to cover nights and weekends. We heard from you about the hazards of illegal construction that has a detrimental impact on our residents health and safety, and that the bad guys often do the work after 9 to 5 on weekdays. We also added an additional permit reviewer to speed the permitting process.
  • Funding a program evaluation of this summer's expansion of the summer youth employment program to 24 years of age. Our office is working with D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson to evaluate the outcomes of this year's program. It was a big debate at the council. I want to be sure that we are using this program to connect our young people to education, training, and jobs that lead to living wage careers. It is a start in my push for a comprehensive look at our workforce development system. 
  • Working with CMs Nadeau and Allen to fund two additional lawyers for the Office of the Tenant Advocate. These legal eagles are on the front lines helping residents protect their rights. 
  • Working with CM Orange and his staff to fund a law preventing discrimination against pregnant workers and a law preventing hiring discrimination against the unemployed.
  • Supporting funding for our city's clean teams, which provide jobs, help businesses, and keep our neighborhoods safe.

IMG_0690.JPGSPENDING OUR MONEY RESPONSIBLY

In both the finance committee and the full council, I pushed to make sure we are balancing our budget and being clear and transparent about our spending and funding. Remember, the budget is just the beginning! Now the next part of the work begins, doing the effective oversight and accountability to make sure we get a great return on investment!

I can't wait to work on this! 

Finally, thank you for all your emails, your personal testimony, and your phone calls. I know that there were issues that you were concerned about that I couldn't make as much traction on, but the first budget was a learning experience. Your input made a difference, and it will continue to do so. An active citizenry is what makes the sunlight shine and good government happen!

Thanks again.
Elissa.