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Hear the candidates: Ward 6 on housing

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 6 on the DC Council. See all of the articles here.

Images from the candidate websites.

It's not that easy to find specific policy issues where Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson disagree. Both candidates vying to succeed Tommy Wells talk about affordable housing, jobs, seniors, and education.

Indeed, in their freeform statements about affordable housing, both cited the need to ensure housing for families as well as singles and roommates. Compare the candidates' initial statements on affordable housing:

The biggest difference between Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson is in their political paths. Allen worked as Wells' chief of staff and knows city policy backward and forward. Thompson also has a long record in public service, but at the federal level working for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; he has not been very active in local politics or policy in the recent past.

Thompson has been a quick study and has compelling values for the ward, though ones not very different from Allen's. Thompson said the ward needs "new leadership," but when pressed, did not articulate much in the way of specific objections to Tommy Wells' tenure, while Allen is running on the record he and Wells built.

When I asked each candidate about how DC would add the 41,000-105,000 new housing units it needs in the next 20 years, both cited Hill East as a place with substantial development opportunities. While continuing to emphasize the need for family housing, Allen also said we need to add housing by using existing buildings in "smarter or more flexible ways," like accessory dwellings:

We're a community full of alleys. We have a lot of homes that have carriage houses or they have alley access properties. To be able to allow those to be legal residences is important. It's important because it allows for that housing to be created.

It's also important because—I'll bring it back to affordability. If you have a property that has a carriage house, you're looking at rising costs in the city. Being able to have that be part of your rent is actually a great part of making your home help you in terms of achieving affordability.

In a subsequent email, Thompson said he also supports this proposal. He wrote, "With the growing rate of the population in our city, we need to provide more housing and this is a way to do that. Additionally, allowing homeowners to collect income on their property increases the affordability of owning their home, especially seniors on fixed incomes."

When I asked him about housing supply during the interview, Thompson also talked about being "smart," using the same word as Allen, but also said "we've got to make sure we don't overbuild," and that "there are developments on the table in Ward 6 that have split neighborhoods because residents didn't feel like they had the input."

Was Thompson talking about the Hine school development, the mixed-use project at Eastern Market Metro? Among other things, yes, and he had this to say:

Clearly something didn't go right. A lot of folks are outraged. I've talked to folks throughout Ward 6 and that part of Capitol Hill often, and folks feel like—some feel like it's too large. I think it's too large. I think under the current proposal we've got right now it's important we go back and look at this again.

Even talking about the affordable housing units that are offered, they're not like the market rate units. So we're creating housing for 2 different classes of people and making sure people clearly know that's what we did. That's not right.

We're talking about building something that's much larger than anything else in the surrounding neighborhoods. So I think, again, we should have proper community input; input that actually is meaningful and is adhered to before we sign off on projects. It's important. Lots of folks would like to see that project done, including myself, but not under the current proposal.

On this, Allen does not agree. I asked him over email for his view, and he wrote:

This is a project that will create a vibrant mix of housing, retail, office, market space, and important affordable housing in the heart of Capitol Hill and on top of a Metro station. Fitting the character and context of the community is crucial and I believe the Advisory Neighborhood Commission did an outstanding job of managing the complex array of issues and interests put before them.

In regard to affordable housing, a much needed mix of affordability will be created in both the north and the south buildings, including dedicated affordable housing for seniors to help ensure our city prioritizes successful aging-in-place within our neighborhoods.

The project has been the focus of countless community meetings, living room conversations, and many hundreds of hours of public work by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, neighbors, the project's Community Advisory Committee throughout the decision-making and zoning process.

To get the best sense of Thompson and Allen unfiltered, watch the whole 10-15 minute housing exchange I had with each. In upcoming days, we'll look at the two candidates' views on education and transportation.

We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Both locations are now in Ward 6 following the 2012 redistricting (but we talked to the Ward 1 candidates there, too). Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Thompson is clearly a good candidate. His only weakness is in addressing Ward 6 specific issues. So here's my question: What sense does it make for Thompson to challenge the strongest council candidate in the city? Why not run against Anita Bonds for the at-large position? She's not as strong a candidate, and you don't have to overcome the disadvantage of having to try to play an "away game" on her turf. It seems like a simple strategic error to try to make your inroad into city politics against a guy like Allen, who has probably been gearing up to run for this exact seat for years.

by Matt on Feb 18, 2014 2:28 pm • linkreport

the failure in understanding the Hine site's characteristics is a failure in communicating how to do planning. Sites at a Metro station, at a "100% intersection", that are commercial, aren't judged and evaluated the same way that a project on a residential block comprised of one- to three-story buildings is judged.

Most everybody commenting on the Hine project's "inappropriateness" are evaluating the site's conditions from an inappropriately applied set of criteria.

by Richard Layman on Feb 18, 2014 4:02 pm • linkreport

Thanks for running this. Just the statements on Hine (I live two blocks from the site) give me strong reasons both to support Allen and to not vote for Thompson.

I also learn that Allen, in addition to being sensible about Hine, sees some of the potential of the neighborhood's alleys.

I may volunteer for Allen. I will certainly send him a contribution (as I did for my representative on the ANC that Allen credits with "an outstanding job of managing the complex array of issues and interests" in the Hine matter).

by A Streeter on Feb 18, 2014 4:35 pm • linkreport

I heard Thompson on the Politics Hour a few weeks ago. He really couldn't have been much worse. I would encourage everyone to listen to that. He kept saying how he was born in DC and later returned after living in Baltimore. Tom Sherwood asked him how old he was when he moved away from DC and why he thought that having been born in DC made him a better candidate. The guy would not answer when he moved. Sherwood asked him 3 or 4 times and all he got were meaningless talking points. It was maddening.

by TakomaNick on Feb 18, 2014 5:26 pm • linkreport

I am the ANC Commissioner for the SMD that includes the Hine development. I don't begrudge Darrel's opinion about the project being too big. But his claim that "we should have proper community input; input that actually is meaningful and is adhered to before we sign off on projects," is simply outrageous. I believe there were more than 100 public meetings on this project. The Zoning Commission had about 9 hours of public testimony, the HPRB had at least three public meetings, the Council has had multiple votes and hearings, the ANC had more meetings on this than any other topic and probably more than all other topics combined during our process.

There is a difference between not liking the outcome and actually understanding the process and the reality of what happened. Either Darrel doesn't understand what the process is on these cases and was in this case, or he is happy to play politics with this to get himself elected. Either is unacceptable in my opinion.

As to the idea that we should start again, this also suggests a highly frivolous or uninformed view. If we start again that means a new proposal has to go through every level of City review that I just described and the whole process all over again and in all likelihood puts us 4 or more years away from any action on this site. Already the law suit by a dozen neighbors is costing the City and estimated $4m a year in lost revenue as the project is delayed I hope Darrel is prepared to really back up his assertion that we need to start over and understands what that means because doing so as a casual / political comment in the campaign is pretty serious stuff.

Ultimately Darrel says we need new leadership in Ward 6. Well, we are going to get it one way or another. The question is whether we will have experienced leadership that understands the issues in this City and this ward and treats them seriously. I am firmly convinced that Darrel is not ready to meet that standard.

And just so people are clear on the politics of this - in addition to a very intense and engaged public process, the ANC action on this was followed by an election where the two incumbents who supported the project moving forward were challenged by opponents of the project in a campaign that was largely about this project. The opponents were well organized but lost - and handily. The new commissioner adjacent to the project also supported the project in the election and won that open seat against an outspoken opponent. Why does this matter? Not because any one of us has the right or wrong answer about how big or small this development should be, but because elections matter.

For someone who wants to represent this area to come in without having been engaged at all in the process and try to play politics with is is immensely disheartening.

by DCIvan on Feb 18, 2014 5:48 pm • linkreport

Thanks for doing these. It's hard to find too many ways in which they differ so it helps me decide. I'll be really curious for the education one; it seems both candidates both live in the part of Ward 6 that is zoned for Eastern and that gives them little incentive to push for the part of Ward 6 that's currently zoned for Wilson to stay that way. Allen told me he would be happy to see them go to Eastern, but I don't know Thompson's position yet.

by sbc on Feb 18, 2014 5:51 pm • linkreport

Thompson's absurd and pernicious answer to the Hine question is a dealbreaker for me. I'll gladly support Allen. Anybody who believes an 8-story building, on one of the widest streets in the District and directly across from a Metro station, is "too big" doesn't belong anywhere near DC government.

by Jermaine on Feb 18, 2014 11:01 pm • linkreport

I am not a Democrat so approach this without a dog in the fight, but just because the planning process for Hine is over doesn't mean that we can't look back and realize that the whole process from beginning to end is a net loss for the city. The Hine site should have been retained as an educational campus for DCPS to create the new, world-class Middle school Capitol Hill needs. We can build office buildings up and down N Cap, M Street etc but we will never get another chance to build a public school next to a metro station and cross-city bus line.

by Mike on Feb 19, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

I like Thompson and I don't like Allen. Reason being Thompson position about Eastern High School was spot on and extremely well-thought out and researched. Allen's take on Eastern was so web-site reveiwed that it was embarrasing. Thus the case about don't believe everything you read is quite accurate about Allen. This need to be the "homeboy" of DC is vain attempt to woo what voter? I used to live in DC it wasn't because you had a choice Allen, it was because you were a child. Someone will need the vote and someone will get the vote needed because of the mere fact they are the best candidate and not just the best "used to be" resident. Sheesh!!!

by MLR on Feb 19, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

Can I vote for the baby or wife of the white dude? If not, then why are they in the picture? To show the he does not physically abuse them?

by Jasper on Feb 19, 2014 12:14 pm • linkreport

Thompson's stance on the Hine development is amateur and clearly shows how out of touch he is with his would-be constituents. After reading this, I'm all for Allen. Thanks GGW for this series, and for helping me make up my mind!

by Eastern Market Resident on Feb 19, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

Jasper, much to my dismay, I'm going to quote Gallagher.

"He's tired of sc---ing her and he'd like to try us for awhile."

I like Charles Allen, but that's a good joke.

by David C on Feb 19, 2014 1:29 pm • linkreport

@MLR- I don't understand your comment. Do you have your candidates reversed? Darrel Thompson is the one who has a talking point about having been born in DC, not Charles Allen. Which points about Eastern are you talking about? Where did you hear them?

by Todd on Feb 19, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

I second DCIvan with regard to Hine, Darrel Thompson is way off the mark. However, I met him when he first started canvassing, and I was impressed by his command of the issues that affect the city. For that reason, after Darrel loses this election, I would advise him to pick up the pieces, and target the next open at-large seat. The intervening time will allow him to reach out to the broader city and get some exposure.

I'll be voting for Charles Allen for Ward 6. I worked with him extensively, he knows the Ward backwards and forwards, and there are few issues where we don't agree.

by Will Handsfield on Feb 20, 2014 9:32 am • linkreport

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