WASHINGTON — Mayor Muriel Bowser gave her State of the District address on Monday, outlining her goals for the year and addressing her proposed budget she will present later this week to D.C. Council.
Mayor Muriel Bowser stressed the need for affordable housing as protesters outside and in the audience did the same.
Ahead of her event at University of District of Columbia, protesters gathered outside to oppose gentrification, and the lack of affordable homes in Washington, D.C.
During her address, Bowser began to speak about affordable housing but was interrupted by protesters.
“This is our home, people over profits,” they chanted. “Stop the war on the poor.”
Bowser allowed them to chant for a minute before saying she understood many people aren’t sharing in the prosperity in Washington, D.C.
“There are residents who have a lot to say and we’re certainly always available to listen,” she said in response.
She moved on to discuss D.C.’s investments in affordable housing, including increasing funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund. That fund gives developers grants and loans to build affordable housing.
She also proposed working on existing housing for the “workforce,” citing workers like teachers, police, firefighters and the like.
“We know the number one issue on the minds of Washingtonians is affordable housing,” she said.
Bowser said they have driven homelessness down across the city by 17 percent, including a nearly 40 percent reduction in family homelessness.
“Imagine what that actually means for people who have experienced significant trauma in their life: it means that they have a door of their own that they can lock and a space to call their own,” she said. “Things many of us take for granted each and every day.”
Bowser also noted DC General – formerly a hospital then turned a homeless shelter – closed this past year.
“And tonight, Relisha may rest in our hearts and minds because together we closed DC General once and for all,” she said.
Relisha Rudd, 8, is one of the city’s most notorious disappearances in the last decade. She had been living at DC General five years ago - then a shelter – when a janitor there took her home and to several hotels, before the he and his wife both turned up dead. The wife murdered, the janitor, a suicide.
Bowser said she hopes to invest another $26 million into Homeward DC and $11 million into short-term family housing programs.
“Affordable housing isn’t just a problem for our most vulnerable residents, though—it affects our entire community,” she said. “What we’re talking about today is how we share that prosperity.”
She said she plans to ask “commercial property owners to share some of the upside’ of the city’s prosperity.
“With this budget, we will capture more from commercial real estate transactions and, therefore, be able to invest more in affordable housing,” she said.
Bowser announced Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) plans to introduce legislation to “fully convey the RFK Stadium Campus to the District of Columbia at fair market value.”
She said there is no deal to bring a sports team back to the site, and did not say RFK would even continue to be a stadium.
“Whether a stadium or sports arena is included in the re-imagined RFK Campus is a debate for a future date, which we as a city must decide for ourselves,” she said.
CIRCULATOR AND METRO
Bowser announced the DC Circulator bus will be free from now on during her speech. Earlier this year, DC officials made the Circulator free for the “Fair Shot” February initiative, then again in March.
“Over the past weeks, workers … have stopped me at the checkout counters, at dinner, telling me how much they appreciate the Circulator being free,” Bowser said. “We may not think about it too much, because it’s just a dollar, two dollars a day, but for a working person it adds up.”
Previously, rides on the Circulator were $1.
Bowser went on to call on D.C. Metro to reopen late night hours, which have not operated since June 2017.
“They are no replacement for Metro,” she said. “We’ve always prioritized safety and reliability and building the capacity of Metro. So now we need a firm commitment from Metro that they will return to late night hours and they will not become a system that only caters to white collar workers commuting from the suburbs.”
Last week, DC Metro announced they were seeking proposals to provide subsidized ride sharing on-demand transportation for workers who commute outside normal hours, with a $1 million, one year pilot program.
Bowser denounced the idea during her speech.
“we can’t move our region forward by further clogging our roads,” she said. “We need a Metro system that works as hard as our workforce.”
Bowser, who has been an outspoken advocate of DC statehood in the past, also used her platform Monday night to call on Congress to support the initiative.
She argued when U.S. Congress votes on common-sense gun reforms, there is “not a single vote representing D.C. values.”
Norton has more than 200 cosponsors for this session’s statehood bill.
“Working with Congresswoman Norton, Chairman Mendelson, our shadow delegation, and the DC statehood coalition, we will continue to demand our fundamental rights as American citizens,” she said.
BONUS: LOOKING AHEAD TO 2020
Bowser spent a good portion of her speech discussing the various Democratic candidates and lambasting President Donald Trump and his administration.
“I’ve tried in good faith to work with the current federal administration,” she said. “Sometimes it involves me sitting across the president himself and tell him who we are … I’ll sit across from the president so you don’t have to.”
She said she called on the president two years ago and asked for help on a list of issues but there has been no progress on any of them since.
"There is no doubt about it, in 2019 the state of The District is strong. But with a friend in the White House and a president who believes in the middle class, we can be even stronger,” she said.
The mayor did not throw her support behind any one candidate, other than to cite specific issues and the candidates’ platforms, like “opportunity zones,” using tax credits to reduce financial strain on the middle class, and support for D.C. statehood.