Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Anita Bonds

Development


My neighbor is an empty house, one of over 3,500 in the District. The DC Council wants to make it affordable housing.

Within one block of my apartment, there are three separate vacant buildings, with little sign of pending construction or development. They've been that way for years, and I live in Shaw, which is booming. DC Councilmember Anita Bonds has introduced a bill that'd let the mayor turn vacant buildings into affordable housing.


My neighbor, the empty building. Photo by the author.

DC wants to buildings to be used, not stay vacant

Vacant, blighted and condemned buildings are of no use to anyone, especially the city. While the property owner might pay taxes and penalties, there's an overall loss of revenue when you consider that occupants would be both taxpayers and consumers. And that's not to mention the negative effect empty or boarded up buildings have on neighborhoods.

Because of this, DC has laws and systems to try and get these units occupied and reintegrated into neighborhoods. The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has an entire unit, the Vacant Building Enforcement Unit dedicated to buildings around the District that are like the ones on my street. Its job is to compile these lists twice a year, identifying all of the vacant and blighted properties in the district, and then enforce penalties and taxes on the owners of each unit.

Here are the current numbers on vacant buildings

Just how many of these building are out there in one of the fastest growing "states" in the country? Thousands.

In her opening statement last month introducing a bill to address the issue, Councilmember Anita Bonds explained that as of November 2015, there were a total of:

  • 3,535 vacant buildings
  • 345 blighted buildings
  • 132 condemned properties
  • 67 vacant lots of 650 square feet or larger
That is a lot of potential space in a city fighting for every scrap of usable land.

To encourage owners to occupy or develop buildings, the District taxes vacant and blighted buildings at a much higher rate than occupied ones. While occupied units are taxed at around $1 per $100 of assessed value, vacant buildings are taxed at $5 per $100 and must meet certain maintenance standards. Blighted buildings (those is more serious disrepair) are taxed higher: $10 per $100 of assessed value.

When taxes don't work, the city uses liens. But what about when liens don't work?

At first, it seems illogical for properties to sit unused: DC needs more housing, neighborhoods want more retail, and property owners and developers want returns on their investments, not fines and taxes. But there are many reasons for a building to remain vacant even when developing it might serve the greater good.

Sometimes the culprit is an absent owner waiting to cash in when property values rise, often utilizing loopholes to get out of the tax penalties. Other times it is simply a case where accumulated unpaid taxes and penalties have amounted to such a high amount, the situation is stuck.

If I'm a building owner and I don't pay my property taxes, the government has the option to bundle what I owe into an investment called a tax lien that it can then sell to an investor. An investor can then come and buy that lien, making the government happy (they got their money), and now I owe my overdue taxes, interest, and penalties to this investor. If I still don't pay over a long enough period of time, that investor can foreclose on my building and take it away.

Sometimes, though, nobody buys liens. It might be that an investor doesn't want to buy the lien for a building that is falling a part and is not worth the investment. It might also be that the tax lien has become so high no investor will bite. The list of tax sales that went up earlier this year shows the wide range of liens available to potential investors, and just how high they can be: over $1 million for one particular property.


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

Anita Bonds wants to change that

Councilmember Bonds' bill, introduced after work with different housing advocacy groups, intends to target vacant properties which haven't or probably won't sell. The bill would allow the Mayor to transfer the rights of properties where the property tax debt is 50% or more of the assessed value of the property to a developer or non-profit. The new owner would have to meet strict affordability standards with their plan for the property:

  • For single family buildings, the new property must be affordable to buyers or renters at 90% AMI (Area Median Income)
  • For multi-unit buildings, one-quarter the new property must be affordable for buyers or renters at 80% or below of AMI, one-quarter at 50% or below of AMI, and one-quarter at 30% or below of AMI
The bill also mandates a 40-year affordability covenant on the property (ensuring the affordability rules above in the deed), and outlines a process for the selection of the profit or non-profit developers who would take over the property. Currently the legislation has been referred to the Committee on Housing and Community Development and the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs for analysis. The housing committee will probably address the bill in May.

Have an opinion? Send an email to the Councilmember Bonds, the chairperson of the Housing and Community Development Committee, at abonds@dccouncil.us, or to Committee Director Irene Kang (ikang@dccouncil.us).

In the meantime, know a vacant building you want turned into affordable housing? Call 311 or email vacantbuildings@dc.gov to report.

Government


Cheh keeps oversight of transportation, but Jack Evans will sit on the WMATA Board

Mary Cheh will continue to oversee transportation in the DC Council next year, but will continue to not also represent DC on the WMATA Board; instead, Jack Evans will. Anita Bonds will chair a committee on housing, while David Grosso will take the education gavel from David Catania.


Photo by David Maddison on Flickr.

Council chairman Phil Mendelson just released his recommendations for committee assignments for the next two years.

When Kwame Brown took away Tommy Wells' transportation chairmanship in 2011, he gave the committee to Mary Cheh, but Cheh reportedly did not also want the board seat. Instead, it went to Bowser, but this created significant problems, as WMATA and DDOT then ended up in separate committees. This compounded the already poor coordination between WMATA and DDOT.

While Cheh and Bowser talked plenty, Mary Cheh was not even part of Bowser's committee overseeing WMATA while Bowser was not on Cheh's transportation committee. Evans, at least, will be a member of Cheh's committee, along with Charles Allen, Kenyan McDuffie, and either the Ward 4 or 8 member once they are elected. But WMATA oversight will still not be part of that committee; it will be in Evans' Finance and Revenue committee, which Cheh does not sit on.

Evans sat on (and chaired) the board in the past, which could make it easier for him to step into the role. And, actually, funding is one of if not the top issue for WMATA, meaning Evans could help steer new resources to the agency if he chose. Evans lives in Georgetown, which might get a Metro line if WMATA can get the money, and the line stretches through much of Ward 2.

On the other hand, his role could be bad news for bus priority, since Evans has been suspicious of any city move to dedicate road space to users other than private motor vehicles. Evans also is an opponent of the streetcar (along with Mendelson).

There also should be plenty of spirited debate on other bills before Evans' finance committee, which votes on tax breaks and tax policy. Evans generally strongly favors granting tax breaks to businesses, retailers, and developers, but a new member of his committee, Elissa Silverman, has often criticized DC for giving tax breaks out too readily.

The DC Council has an unusually small number of committees (seven) this period because there are so many new members. Current convention gives every member a committee but not in the member's first council period. Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Charles Allen (Ward 6), and Elissa Silverman (at large) were just elected this November, and there will be vacant seats in both Ward 4 (where Muriel Bowser is resigning to be mayor) and Ward 8 (where Marion Barry just died) until a special election in March.

Vincent Orange will chair a Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs, Yvette Alexander will handle Health and Human Services, and Kenyan McDuffie takes over the Judiciary post. McDuffie used to be a federal prosecutor in Prince George's County and a civil rights attorney at the US Department of Justice; he has shown a lot of concern over recent trends about police and prosecutorial overreach in DC and nationally.

That committee will likely again debate the issue of contributory negligence for bicyclists, where David Grosso, the bill's sponsor, will still not be a member, while Mary Cheh, the swing vote this past year, will remain on the committee along with Jack Evans and Anita Bonds. A Ward 4 or 8 member to be elected will join them after the special election.

Bonds' housing committee includes Silverman, a strong advocate for affordable housing policies, Brianne Nadeau, who ran with affordable housing as a strong part of her platform, Vincent Orange, and Bonds herself, who has championed tax relief for elderly homeowners.

Additional information has been added to this post as the information became available. At one point, an errant paragraph about the WMATA Board, written before the news about Evans' appointment was available, was near the bottom of this story. It has been removed.

Bicycling


Council postpones contributory negligence bill to next week

A DC Council committee unanimously agreed to postpone until November 12 a vote on the bill to reform contributory negligence.

Mary Cheh had said she wanted to speak more with trial lawyer representatives to ensure the bill doesn't harm joint and several liability. It's important now that the conversation happen in the next week so Cheh can make up her mind.

Hopefully she can find a way to fix the bill to her satisfaction and get on board. WABA has promised to make this a cornerstone of a new scorecard, and it would be a shame for Cheh to get on the (cycle)track for a low score since she is not a foe of bicycling.

That still leaves Anita Bonds, who according to commenter Greg Billing "suggested adding provisions requiring lights, helmets, and such"; and Jack Evans and Muriel Bowser, who haven't taken a position and weren't at today's session, as well. Pedestrians, cyclists, and other residents who want to see fairer treatment for victims in crashes can contact members of the committee to push them on the issue.

Development


Worried about DC gentrification? A new bill would speed it up and lose affordable housing

As housing prices rise, the few affordable units in booming neighborhoods become even more important. But a new bill in the DC Council would cut the period of time when such a unit has to remain affordable, removing affordable housing in some of DC's fastest-changing neighborhoods.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

Right now, when the city subsidizes a new housing unit for sale, that unit has to remain affordable for at least 15 years. If an owner wants to sell the unit during that time period, he or she must sell it at a price that another similarly low-income buyer can afford. After 15 years, the owner can sell it for any price.

But a bill by Councilmember Anita Bonds would cut that affordability period to five years in neighborhoods classified as "distressed," where the poverty rate is 20% or more. That includes neighborhoods like Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and Bloomingdale—areas that were affordable 15 to 20 years ago but have quickly become out of reach for low-income households without subsidies.

The 15 year limit helps maintain a stock of low-cost units for current (and future) low-income home buyers, and helps keep affordable housing in neighborhoods whose prices might rapidly rise.

If the bill passes, within five years much of the affordable housing being bought now in these neighborhoods could be lost. The existing affordable units cost less to build than they would today, meaning it's very unlikely the city could replace the lost units without major additional public money.

There might be specific DC neighborhoods where the housing market is so slow that residents need incentives to buy even affordable units there, but that's not the case in these areas. A good bill would carefully weigh the market conditions and how much affordable housing would be lost. This bill doesn't do that.

The proposed law would also give the nonprofit developer who originally built the unit the first right to buy the unit back, but after 5 years it would be at market rate. In any of these rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, that means the nonprofit would spend much more money to get the unit than it earned by building it. It would need an extra subsidy (on top of the original subsidy) to make the unit affordable to the next low-income buyer.

In these still-tough budget times, what jurisdiction can afford to pour brand new subsidy into the same units every five years?

Other cities and counties don't do this

The proposed change is out of step with affordability best practices across the country, and also with jurisdictions in our own backyard. It positions DC, which has in the past been a leader both locally and nationally in affordable housing policy and funding, to have some of the most lax affordability restrictions in the region when it comes to homeownership.

Arlington imposes a 30-year affordability restriction on units developed with its Affordable Housing Investment Fund. Homeowners using the mortgage assistance program (MIPAP) have to share the proceeds of a sale to help the next low-income buyer afford the property.

Montgomery County, which notably started out with 5-year restrictions back in the 1970s, has increased its affordability period to 30 years on many of the properties in the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program. According to a National Housing Institute report, the county had lost two-thirds of the affordable units it had created by the time it enacted the 30-year requirement.

The proposed DC change also breaks rank with other progressive jurisdictions around the country like San Francisco and Seattle (King County) that have typically been DC's housing peers.

What about truly distressed neighborhoods?

There may be places where long-term restrictions truly inhibit homeownership. Potential residents might refuse to buy a unit in such a neighborhood if they can't sell it for a substantial profit in a short period of time. But to find them should require a much more detailed approach than looking at the poverty rate.

Plus, poverty data can be as much as five years old by the time we get it. A gentrifying neighborhood could take more than a decade to stop being defined as "distressed." Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, and Bloomingdale above all began transitioning more than ten years ago. A better definition of distressed could look at current data about home values, sales price, and number of transactions.

Why have a restriction on resale at all?

Those pushing for this change argue that since a market-rate homebuyer can turn around and sell his or her house for more money when the market rises, so should anyone who purchases a subsidized unit.

If public subsidies were unlimited and the government could fund enough affordable housing for everyone, or there were enough naturally-occurring affordable housing to meet people's needs at any income level, then there wouldn't be a problem.

But in the real world where we have limited resources, it seems to make sense to say that if someone shares with you, you should share with the next person. In affordable homeownership terms, we call this concept "equity sharing."

Equity sharing models don't say that subsidized buyers walk away with no gain at all, but they don't get to walk away with everything either. Data and research from restricted homeownership models tell us that homeowners in these units tend to sell their homes at the same rate as other homeowners, within 5 to 7 years, and that about two-thirds of them are able to build enough wealth in the process to buy their next homes at market price with no deed restrictions. Brett Theodos explained this in more detail in a previous post.

A Center for Housing Policy report about affordable homeownership strategies says that well-designed programs can both protect limited public resources while also giving buyers the benefits of homeownership. Through them, the city can both help low-income buyers build wealth and keep the unit affordable for the foreseeable future.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth and City First Homes, an affordable housing nonprofit, have weighed in with a full set of recommendations to make this proposed bill less harmful. Meanwhle, the DC Affordable Housing Alliance has drafted a sign-on letter to encourage the council to support these changes; email me to sign on as an individual or an organization.

Besides Bonds, the bill's author, cosponsors include Muriel Bowser (ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (ward 5), and Marion Barry (ward 8). Councilmembers will hear from the public about this bill on May 29th at 10:00 am. Contact Judah Gluckman to sign up to speak or to submit written comments.

Politics


Anita Bonds wants a "moratorium" on bike lanes

At a forum last night, Councilmember Anita Bonds advocated for a "moratorium" on any bike lanes in residential neighborhoods, and also for rules requiring all bicycles to have license plates. According to tweets by Keith Ivey, she opposes the lanes because of the impact on parking.

Bonds' campaign put out a few tweets in response, to say that this was "a plan that was announced to [the] public" as "a safety issue for cyclists." She would just block the lanes on "one-lane" streets until the city has a plan for a network of lanes across the city.

I emailed Bonds spokesperson David Meadows this morning but had not heard back by press time. I will update this article if I hear more. Update: Meadows responded with the following statement:

Councilmember Bonds supports bike lanes throughout the major corridors of the District. She is not in favor of dedicated bike lanes on narrow streets within residential neighborhoods. She believes we need to have an up-to-date compre­hensive bike lane plan that all residents are aware of. She is scheduling and is anxious to talk with Shane Farthing and others to continue the discussion.
The discussion last night came after a question about license plates for cyclists. Bonds also would support requiring license plates, while her main challengers Nate Bennett-Fleming and John Settles would not. According to tweets by Ivey, the question came from a member of the audience who was worried about being hit by cyclists.

It's definitely true that there are a few reckless cyclists who sometimes hit pedestrians, just as there are some reckless drivers, walkers, boaters, and so on. All should stop, and we need enforcement to ensure that roads are safe for everyone. But many people pointed out on Twitter that license plates will probably not do much to solve this problem; bike lanes, actually, do a lot more by giving cyclists a place to ride in the road that's not on the sidewalk.

Update: Bonds' office sent WABA another statement following the significant outcry from people dismayed at this news:

Councilmember Bonds has not called for a city-wide moratorium on the establishment of new bike lanes, she is pro bike and pro dedicated bike lanes. Bonds supports bike lanes throughout the major corridors of the District, however she is not in favor of dedicated bike lanes on narrow streets within residential neighborhoods until an updated comprehensive plan is drafted. Bonds believes the city needs to have an up-to-date comprehensive bike lane plan that all residents are aware of; likewise, she is aware that Move DC is working on a draft bike lane plan an looks forward to reviewing it and meeting with relevant stakeholders to continue this discussion.
See more of the tweets and arguments about this issue in this Storify:

Politics


DC Council race reviews: At-large and chairman

To choose our endorsements, we polled our active regular contributors and editors to hear their views. Sometimes, as with Ward 1 (Brianne Nadeau), Ward 5 (Kenyan McDuffie), and Ward 6 (Charles Allen), the consensus was clear. For other races, such as DC Council at large and chairman, our contributors were clearly divided or conflicted.


Split pea photo from Shutterstock.

For these races, therefore, we are not making an explicit endorsement. But many of you are not just looking for us to give you a name; you want information to help you make up your minds.

Therefore, here are a selection of comments that various contributors and editors made in the endorsement poll, to illuminate the various reasons to vote for or against various candidates.

At-large Councilmember

Contributors were unified in agreeing that Anita Bonds is not a good councilmember. She has had virtually no accomplishments in her year on the council, continues to pose a significant potential for ethical conflicts of interest as a paid employee of a construction contractor which does work for the DC government. See correction below.

However, they were just about evenly split on the question of who is the best alternative.


John Settles, Nate Bennett-Fleming. Images from the candidate websites.

Contributors largely split into two rough camps. Some have been engaged in progressive organizations and causes, know Nate Bennett-Fleming from them, and supported him. Many of those also participated in the endorsement processes of organizations like DC for Democracy, Jews United for Justice Action Fund, and the DC Sierra Club which have endorsed him.

Others formed their opinions based on public statements specifically around Greater Greater Washington topics at candidate events or on our video interviews; those contributors largely preferred John Settles and said Bennett-Fleming seemed to lack real ideas on topics like housing and transit.

One could interpret this two ways. It could be that Settles is the best candidate, and Bennett-Fleming simply has built up more personal relationships with some contributors. On the other hand, it could also mean that those who know Bennett-Fleming well see beyond simply some weaknesses in talking about issues and know his deeper strengths.

Here is what contributors said for John Settles:

"My impression is that [Settles] has the best ideas on how to help solve the affordable housing issues. I think if that were the sole criteria, he would easily get the nod. I also think he would be aligned with smart growth principles like the zoning rewrite, although his standard response is that he's in favor of anything that will help with getting more affordable housing."

"I have met Settles many times and I like his openness to new ideas. He listens and has a good sense for smart policy."

"I was impressed with him in the last go round (during Let's Choose DC). He also had the most nuanced and complete answer in the video series."

Here are some of the contributor comments in favor of Bennett-Fleming:
"Nate is sometimes green, but he's a strong progressive voice and I believe he would be a quick study on the council."

"Nate has shown follow-through in his role as shadow-rep, and I think he can take it to the next level—not without some expected hiccups—as an at-large CM."

"Nate is young, smart and energetic and full of good policy ideas. He is a committed progressive focused on making DC a better place to live and work, mainly through proper public investments, and through higher wages, better labor laws, and more job training. He would work to combat poverty from multiple fronts and make living in the city more affordable, and he has good ideas on education such as smaller class sizes and investing in the arts."

What about strategy? Does one have the edge? Unfortunately, nobody seems to yet have polled this race. If one of the two turns out to be well ahead of the other, that could be a good reason to strategically choose that candidate.

For what it's worth (and money is far from everything), the DC campaign filings came out today. Settles raised $20,000 this period for a total of $48,000 in the race. Bennett-Fleming raised $5,800 to bring his total to almost $32,000. And Bonds brought in about $17,000 bringing her total to $61,000.

Pedro Rubio also impressed some contributors with his thoughts on the issues in our video series, but he seems to have garnered far less support (and cash, raising $7,500 for a cumulative total of about $10,000). Still, we hope he will stay involved in citywide local issues besides through electoral politics.

Chairman of the Council


Phil Mendelson. Photo by mar is sea Y on Flickr.
The question here is not really between two candidates. Incumbent chairman Phil Mendelson is the one for whom almost all contributors and editors, at least those who filled out the survey, will be voting. However, many are doing so with some definite reservations.

One wrote, "I'll be voting for Phil, but in general, I find him lackluster and a bit too reserved/conservative." On the other hand, another said, "Mendelson has been a solid chair. He has managed the Council effectively and gotten through some important pieces of legislation. He is a strong voice on environmental issues."

Several voted to make no endorsement (which was one of the options in our poll), with statements like these:

"Phil Mendelson, while being a reliable vote on a lot of progressive social issues, is actually quite conservative on issues related to smart growth."

"I have strong views against Phil for his continued actions in support of NIMBY causes; witness the continued and unnecessary hearings with OP and his appalling actions on opposing changes to the Height Act on the grounds the council and the citizens could not be trusted to make their own decisions. ... His scaling back of the medical marijuana initiative to make it extremely tough for those who need it to get it is shameful."

This is perhaps the most even-handed summary:
"Phil Mendelson has been skeptical of the zoning rewrite, streetcars, and more. But at the end of the day he has helped to push things forward despite a diverse and fractious Council. He takes a patient, measured approach to issues which has been helpful for DC."
Meanwhile, Calvin Gurley has waged numerous campaigns but none seem to have been very serious or built up any significant support.

So why not endorse Mendelson? We feel that any endorsement needs to factor in a balance of how good a candidate is on Greater Greater Washington's issues, how contributors might feel about the candidate based on other issues as well, and the likelihood a vote will ultimately sway the race.

Given that Mendelson is not seriously facing a challenge, it seems unreasonable this year to give him an endorsement simply on the basis of other issues and competence when he has only posed obstacles on the issues we follow most closely. His ability to do so is also greater this year since he gained oversight over planning in 2013.

Correction: The original version of this article said that Anita Bonds was still employed by Ft. Myer Construction, where she was working before being appointed and then elected to a seat on the council. According to Bonds, she stepped down from her position at Ft. Myer after being elected to the council.

Her LinkedIn page still lists Ft. Myer as a current job, but her spokesperson David Meadows says that has not been updated. The DC Board of Ethics and Government Accountability says that all councilmembers are required to file a form listing outside income, but because Bonds was not a public official for 30 days in 2012 (she was appointed as an interim member in early December), she does not have to file that form until May 15, 2014.

Bonds also said that the reason her campaign never responded to our requests to include her in the video interview series was because a lot of messages that went to the contact person listed on their filing with the Board of Elections never reached them. She said that they didn't receive a number of organizations' issue questionnaires for the same reason.

Politics


Get ready for Greater Greater politics coverage

Perhaps you've heard: there is a primary in DC on April 1. Over the next few weeks, Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education will be posting a series of video interviews with the candidates for DC mayor and the DC Council Ward 1, Ward 6, and at-large seats.


Photo by Larry Miller on Flickr.

I spoke with almost all of the candidates over the past 2 weeks, and Martin Moulton recorded the conversation on video. We'll divide it into a series of topical posts for each race, looking at what each candidate for a particular contest said about housing, transportation, education, and more.

As we post each portion, this post will include a link to that segment. Below is the list of races, candidates (arbitrarily, in the order they spoke to me), and topics for posts.

Ward 6 council: Charles Allen, Darrel ThompsonWard 1 council: Jim Graham, Brianne NadeauCouncil at large: John Settles, Nate Bennett-Fleming, Pedro Rubio (and see note below)Mayor: Tommy Wells, Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, Muriel Bowser, Andy Shallal (and see note below)All races:How did we select the candidates to speak to? We polled contributors on which candidates they wanted to hear from, and included anyone that contributors nominated.

Mary Cheh is unopposed for re-election in Ward 3. Kenyan McDuffie's Ward 5 re-election contest appears unlikely to be competitive, and contributors did not feel they needed to hear more about that one. There are no competitive primaries for mayor or council outside of the Democratic Party. Finally, we did not include races for Delegate, Shadow Senator or Shadow Representative, or state party.

Besides the candidates listed here, we reached out to Anita Bonds, Vincent Orange, and Andy Shallal. Shallal was scheduled to speak with me on Thursday, February 13, but the interview was canceled due to the snow and we have not yet been able to reschedule we were subsequently able to talk with him.

Orange returned one voicemail and expressed interest in the interview but never followed up from multiple subsequent attempts to reach him. We never received any response from Bonds to any of our inquiries. We would, however, still be happy to speak to any of these candidates before the relevant interviews go live.

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.

Parking


Survey suggests DC residents are open to parking reform

DC residents say they rely on street parking, don't have a lot of competition for street parking, and are open to reduced parking requirements, according to the results of a recent survey from Councilmember Anita Bonds.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

On Tuesday, Bonds released the results of her survey about parking in DC. Respondents answered questions about how many cars they owned if they owned any, their experiences finding street parking, and their opinions on proposed changes to the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) and Visitor Parking Permit (VPP) system.

Some of the results are a little surprising, while others seem to confirm suspicions about street parking in the District. But we still have a very incomplete picture of DC residents' experiences with parking.

One question asked how many cars are in your household. 51% of respondents said they had only one car, while 25% had two cars and 18% of respondents do not own a car at all. This suggests car owners were disproportionately represented in the survey, because the number of car free households in DC is closer to one-third.

Since the survey was mainly about parking permits, it makes sense that someone who is car-free wouldn't fill it out. But the council should also try to learn about how car-free individuals feel about parking, since it's part of an overall traffic policy that affects everyone.

It appears that changes to on-street parking will affect a lot of people. Over 70% of respondents said that they either solely rely on street parking or a mix of private and street parking. Half said they have permit parking on both sides of their street, while one-third said they don't have permit parking on their street at all.

However, respondents don't consider parking availability a major issue. More than half of the respondents said that they "rarely" or "never" feel that "businesses, corner markets, churches, or other non-profits interfere with [the] ability to find adequate street parking" near their homes. 28% said that they "sometimes" feel that it happens, while only 13% said it "always" happens. It would be interesting to know where the respondents who said "rarely" or "sometimes" live, and if they're concentrated in certain parts of the city.

Results on the Visitor Parking Program (VPP) are more mixed. Half of respondents said they had used VPP in the past six months, and 57% received their pass in the mail instead of going to the police station to pick it up, as was the case before. 70% said that they would prefer continuing to pick up their passes in the same manner. This suggests that the city should give people lots of different options for getting visitor permits.

Respondents disagreed on whether the city should eliminate parking minimums, but are interested in the idea. The Office of Planning originally proposed removing parking requirements throughout DC, but will only recommend doing so downtown. At least a third of city residents support the idea outright, while 25% are still unsure, but say they could be open to it.

The survey doesn't tell us everything. Many of the questions rely on feelings instead of more quantifiable measures. We also don't know how many people took the survey. I've asked Bonds' office what that number is, but they haven't responded. Since the survey was taken only by people who chose to, there's a self-selection bias, so these results should be taken with a grain of salt.

However, the survey shows that residents' opinions on parking are fairly mixed, and that they may be open to changes. It indicates the potential for greater support for serious parking reform, which conventional wisdom says would face significant political obstacles at the DC Council. With this in mind, it's time to collect even more detailed and rigorous information about how and where DC residents park their cars.

Parking


For parking reform, ask better questions

As the District debates changing the way it distributes parking permits, Councilmember Anita Bonds is surveying DC residents about their experiences with on-street parking. But if we really want to understand how parking works, the Council needs to ask the right questions.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Previously, District residents could purchase ward-restricted residential parking permits (RPPs) to park on their street and automatically receive visitor parking permits (VPPs) for their guests. The city was going to require residents to apply for a VPP, but after public outcry, the DC Council decided to keep the existing arrangement.

While it's good to know what people think about the current parking program, it's important that a poll strive to be very clear about it's aims while avoiding unnecessary or potentially misleading questions. Bonds' survey conflates issues about parking in general with the specifics of the current permitting process.

The poll begins by asking whether you live in a single-family house or an apartment, how many automobiles are in your household, and whether you own a bike, scooter, or motorbike. The questions also ask if you use on-street parking and if the street you live on has ward-restricted parking. These are good questions to ask to begin to learn how many people would be affected by any changes to on-street parking.

Then the survey begins asking broader questions about parking. Question 7 asks if the respondent "feels" that "businesses, corner markets, churches, or other non-profits interfere with your ability to find adequate street parking near your home?"

The way someone feels about parking isn't an objective measurement. Feelings can mean many things to many people, and can be interpreted differently by each survey taker. Someone may be okay with parking 2 or 3 blocks away from their home, while another person may feel like that anytime they have to park in front of their neighbor's door instead of their own is asking too much.

Question 6 asks if respondents feel that there is enough parking for them and their neighbors on their block. But "enough" parking means different things to different people? It's hard to know what the value of parking is unless we have a quantifiable standard. A good follow up question would be to ask someone to estimate how far they park from their house 75% of time.

While businesses, corner markets, churches, and other non-profits may take up a lot of parking, they also aren't the only things that affect parking on a block. Your neighbors obviously affect your parking as well. The survey should ask respondents how many garages are on their block, whether they normally see the same cars day after day, or if their neighbors have alternative parking arrangements. These questions help create a more complete picture and allow us to understand what factors influence the way people "feel" about their parking situation.

The next few questions focus on the specifics of VPP and whether survey takers have used the current system. It's important to know what people think of the current system before taking any changes into account.

Question 14 simply asks if respondents believe in eliminating parking minimums in new developments. There are two issues with this. One is that the broad question of how to allocate street parking in the District is totally separate from how the city should handle VPP. And second, the proposal to eliminate parking minimums in new development is now limited to downtown. The Office of Planning (OP) has backed off eliminating parking minimums outside of the downtown area.

This question can lead people to assume that there is a policy in the works that doesn't actually exist. Bonds may be better served by having a separate poll about RPP as a whole or simply taking time to explain that different solutions may exist for resident and visitor parking.

While the survey is about the availability of parking in different neighborhoods, the survey totally ignores the price of parking, which has a huge impact on its availability. Right now, the price of a RPP is just $35 a year. That covers the administrative costs of the program, but it doesn't reflect the value of the land a parking space consumes or the external impacts on that block, the city, and the region as a whole.

Bonds or anyone else on the council shouldn't ignore this element. Most people wouldn't like the prospect of paying more for something, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have to pay a fair price for parking.

However, there is one question that the survey gets right. The final question allows survey takers to say whatever they wish about any parking issue in the District. So if you do support the elimination of parking minimums for new development, or believe that residential and visitor parking permits should be overhauled, you can let Councilmember Bonds know.

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