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DC Council walks back monthly Metro stipend, to vote on Mayor's plan to rebuild Housing Authority Board

54 bills go before the DC Council Tuesday including several high profile proposals

WASHINGTON — DC is rethinking that major announcement to give each resident $100 a month to ride Metro Rail. 

District leaders said after talking to Metro’s general manager and members of their budget staff, they admit it would be far too expensive to keep that promise for now.

Though, the city is not completely walking back its promise. 

District leaders wanted to implement that subsidy in 2024. But, at the cost of $160 million a year, the council now wants to revisit that proposal in a few years. For now, they can offer those free bus rides which will only cost $43M a year.

The council is expected to vote on that proposal Tuesday. If approved, residents can ride buses for free as early as summer 2023. The bill also calls for expanded 24-hour service on 12 of the city's busiest bus routes. It also creates a fund to improve long-term bus reliability.

According to Metro, 176,000 people across the region ride Metro Bus every day. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said focusing on free bus rides right now will help many of those lower-income riders. Mendelson said skipping the fare will also improve service overall. 

“If you think about it, one of the delays in bus service is passengers have to pay when they get on the bus and that slows things down,” said Mendelson. “If it's free then people just get on and that means the loading happens quicker, that means the bus is more likely to stick to its schedule and might be a bit faster."

The "Metro for all" proposal is one of 54 bills before the Council Tuesday

Another big talker is Mayor Bowser’s plan to rebuild the dysfunctional DC Housing Authority Board. Advocates believe the plan disenfranchises public housing tenants by removing their elected representatives on the board of public housing. 

A federal report by HUD said members of the Housing Authority Board were ineffective, untrained, and contributed to the unsafe conditions in public housing. The Mayor appointed many of the board members. Her plan now is to rebuild the board by removing everyone but one current member who the DC Council appointed. 

Right now, 13 people make up the Housing Authority Board. 

Her plan calls for seven board members including long-time housing advocates and affordable housing developers. The advocacy group Empower DC held an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the Mayor’s proposal and encouraged the more than 75 attendees to call Council offices to ask them to vote the measure down.

“Since everyone knows that my tenure is ending, I have little reason not to be candid at this point,” Councilmember At-large Elissa Silverman told the group via Zoom. “This isn’t really about winning in terms of structural reform for the Housing Authority. This isn’t about making sure there is safe sanitary dignified housing in DCHA communities this is about winning political points (for the Mayor and the Chairman).”

“She’s really making a gangster move to silence the voices of the people who don’t agree with her agenda,” said a tenant.

“Who’s fighting for us? Because right now we’re scratching and clawing – fighting for ourselves,” added another tenant.

Mendelson said Tuesday he’ll introduce an amendment that adds two more people to the Mayor's seven, including a voucher recipient and a homeless advocate. He said since the Housing Authority is a partial governmental body, the Mayor is within her right to appoint members.

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