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Development


DC has a program to help first-timers buy a house, and it may start giving more aid

DC has a program for helping people buy houses, but the money it awards doesn't line up with how much houses in the city actually cost. The program might start awarding more money soon.


Photo by C.E. Kent on Flickr.

Programs to support first-time home buyers help spur economic security and neighborhood stability across the US. In Washington, the Home Purchase Assistance Program has been the key tool for the District to support first-time homebuyers.

On January 7th, the DC Council held a hearing to consider raising the maximum amount applicants can receive, from $50,000 to $80,000.


The proposed increase in loan amount would increase HPAP buyers' purchase power and give them access to more homes on the market. The figures below are based on 38% front end ratio (the proportion of monthy income that would go to the full cost of the mortgage) and a 5.5% interest rate, so maximum purchase prices could be higher. Tables from the Housing Advocacy Team.

HPAP helps people jump one of home buying's biggest hurdles

When someone buys a house, they take out a regular mortgage loan from a traditional bank for the bulk of the home price. HPAP augments that money by providing what's known as a "second trust loan." HPAP money can also go toward a down payment, and the program offers an additional $4,000 to help with closing costs.

The actual amount that the borrower is eligible for is based on their income, with lower income households eligible for more assistance. Those receiving the highest loan amounts make 50% of the area median income or less. Participating owners receive both pre- and post-homebuyer education, and they pay back the second trust loan with zero interest starting in the fifth year of their mortgage.

Saving for a down payment is often the greatest barrier to owning a home. Many people already pay high monthly costs in rent and could afford the monthly cost of a mortgage and upkeep, but cannot also save tens of thousands of dollars towards a downpayment. In fact, according to the real estate website Trulia, it is 27% cheaper to buy in DC than it is to rent. Having a significant downpayment also lowers interest rates and monthly mortgage costs for the length of the loan.

A greater award amount would help buyers in a tougher market

Over the last decade, the maximum amount of money that HPAP awards a buyer has fluctuated greatly. That variation hasn't been based on housing prices, but rather DC's budget and spending pressures.

In 2008, the award amount was capped at $70,000. But when the recession hit, federal and local resources shrank, and the award amount dipped to $40,000 per purchase. While that rose to $50,000 in 2014, that jump paled in comparison to the rapid increase in the cost of buying a home here.

With HPAP's limits being what they currently are, most low-to-moderate income buyers could only afford homes under $300,000. According to Zillow, the median home price in DC right now is $502,600, and on average, between 2012 and 2014 there was 4.7 percent reduction in the number of condos and homes affordable to most HPAP borrowers.

MANNA, a nonprofit that has helped DC residents purchase homes for decades, crunched some of the numbers and put them into to charts:


As purchase prices have increased, the number of houses at prices affordable to HPAP buyers has dropped.

Should the DC Council increase HPAP's maximum award amount, houses in the $300,000-$400,000 range would be available to a lot more prospective buyers.

Thursday's hearing demonstrated wide interest in changing the award amount. Housing and Community Development Committee Chair Anita Bonds chaired the hearing and was joined by Councilmembers Nadeau and Silverman. All of the public testimony supported the increase, and Polly Donaldson, the Director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, which manages the program, expressed interest in increasing the award amount.

Roads


Proposed rules aim to get serious about road safety in DC

The DC government has committed to "Vision Zero," a goal of eliminating all road deaths. A detailed plan from the Bowser Administration will come out Wednesday, but in the meantime, legislators have been putting forth their own proposals for laws around safety.


Photo by Jonathan Warner on Flickr.

Four bills in the DC Council about road safety proposals were the subject of a hearing on December 8. Here's a rundown of what they will do.

Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015

This bill, introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson, would increase fines for people who repeatedly engage in distracted driving. Anyone with three violations within eighteen months would get his or her driver's license suspensded and points on the license.

Today, first-time violators who purchase a hands-free device do not face any fines; the bill would end that waiver.

Speakers at the hearing were broadly supportive. Many asked whether or not it went far enough. Both the District's Bicycle Advisory Council and Washington Area Bicyclist Association expressed interest in expanding a ban on driving while using a hands-free phone device (it's illegal for all road users to use a handheld phone). That ban now applies to school bus drivers and novice drivers; witnesses suggested adding drivers in school zones and construction zones, or preferably all drivers at all times.

Others asked that the bill include more provisions for education about distracted driving. (Disclosure: I am acting chair of the Bicycle Advisory Council and testified on its behalf for this bill.)

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015

Earlier this year, Mary Cheh, chair of the council's transportation committee, convened a working group of advocates to discuss potential changes to the law around road safety. The group reached consensus on a number of changes, which are in this bill. Some of the key provisions would:

  • Require the government to regularly publish data on crashes, sidewalk closures, citizen petitions for for traffic calming measures, dangerous intersections, and moving violations.
  • Instruct the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to create Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas (at least one per ward) with no right turns on red, lower speed limis, and more human and camera enforcement.
  • Let cyclists slow down and yield rather than stop fully at stop signs.
  • Write a Complete Streets policy into law. (DDOT has one today, but just as a directive of the DDOT Director which can be revoked at any time.)
  • Create a curriculum on safe cycling and walking for schools; require taxi and other for-hire drivers to go through training on bicycle and pedestrian safety.
  • Apply the laws for motor vehicle insurance to bicycle insurance, and allow bicycle insurance providers to require policyholders to register their bikes.
  • Impose larger fines on repeat violators (up to five times the fine for a fourth offense) for violations including speeding, blocking a crosswalk, and illegal stopping or standing including in a bike lane (sorry UPS!)
  • Allow aggressive driving citations for drivers who commit three or more or a set of violations (like speeding or improper lane changes). This which carries a penalty of $200 and 2 points and mandatory driver education.
  • Forbid using a phone in the car when not moving.
  • Require side under-run guards, reflective blind spot warning stickers, and either blind spot mirrors or cameras on all heavy-duty vehicles registered in DC. This is currently the law for District-owned vehicles.
  • Create a Major Crash Review Task Force to review major crashes and recommend changes to reduce the number of them.
You can read a complete list of changes here.

Much of the discussion for this bill focused on the fact that it does not lower the speed on residential streets, a proposal which the working group discussed but didn't reach consensus on. WABA had several proposals for ways the bill could go farther to create safer streets.

Some witnesses opposed pieces of the law. Several were uneasy about letting cyclists yield at stop signs.

The Metropolitan Police Department's representative argued that the law was primarily about convenience and might, in an urban environment, lead to more crashes. In response, Councilmember Elissa Silverman asked if there was any evidence that it might lead to more crashes, and MPD conceded that there was none. Mary Cheh cited a recent study showing that crashes dropped 13% in Boise following the passage of a similar law in Idaho.

Insurance industry representatives said that this law would need to be coupled with a dedicated education effort. One witness from the insurance industry also objected to regulating bicycle insurance.

Vision Zero Act of 2015

This bill comes from Mayor Bowser and is a companion to the forthcoming Vision Zero plan. Like the Safety Act, it would also mandate a Complete Streets system. Like the Distracted Driving Act, it would increase fines and add points for distracted driving violations.

In addition, it would enhance penalties for operating all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes on District roads and require ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders and high blood alcohol content (BAC) first-time offenders.

While supportive, WRAP, MADD and AAA all suggested that the bill instead require interlock devices for all DUI offenders, as 25 states do now.

Regulatory changes

In addition to the legislative changes mention above, both Cheh's working group report and the Vision Zero action plan recommended regulatory changes, some of which have been addressed by proposed rules that the Bowser administration proposed Friday.

These rules would:

  • Require side underrun guards for certain vehicles.
  • Require drivers to clear damaged but operational vehicles from the travel lanes.
  • Require drivers to yield to buses merging into traffic.
  • Designate certain streets as neighborhood slow zones with a maximum speed limit of 20 miles per hour (and near high-risk areas like playgrounds, as low as 15 mph).
  • Add points for several offenses such as overtaking another vehicle stopped at a crosswalk or intersection for a pedestrian.
  • Increase fines for infractions such as driving more than 30 mph over the speed limit (including possible jail time), running a stop sign, driving on the sidewalk, unsafely opening a door into traffic, or striking a cyclist.
  • Break the violation for parking in a bike lane into two categories, one for commercial vehicles and one for non-commercial vehicles, and raise the fine from $65 to $300 and $200 respectively.
Since these changes are coming in regulations from the Bowser administration and not a bill in the DC Council, there is some conflict about whether the increased fines will be effective, and whether they're even allowed.

Mary Cheh told the Washington Post she wanted to make sure "the mayor has authority" to raise the fines and asked, "Is there data that supports that this is something that will deter people from speeding? Otherwise people would think this is just a money raiser."

What else could be done?

In addition to formal changes to the law and regulations, the working group recommends other steps District agencies could take to improve safety. Some of these recommendations include:

  • A universal street-safety education program for all elementary school students (which has already gone into effect).
  • More automated cameras for enforcement.
  • Greater "no right turn on red" restrictions in bike and pedestrian priority areas.
  • Distributing more free bicycle lights.
  • Equipping large District-owned vehicles with audible turn warnings.
  • Providing more information about bicyclist insurance.
After becoming a campaign issue in the last mayoral election, District leaders have been busy this year, through multiple efforts, in working towards that goal.

Bicycling


Letting cyclists yield at stop signs won't lead to chaos

An "Idaho Stop" is a law in some states that allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as if they were yield signs. DC Councilmember Mary Cheh recently proposed adopting the law in DC, but some people say it would turn traffic law on its head.


Photo by Shawn Hoke on Flickr.

There are a few reasons to support the Idaho Stop:

  1. It's important for cyclists to conserve momentum, since starting up a bike requires muscle power.
  2. The most dangerous place for bikes is at intersections with cars, so giving people on bikes permission to go through intersections when there are no cars nearby rather than forcing them wait (while one might pull up behind them) makes intersections safer for everyone. It also makes it less likely cars will get stuck behind bikes.
  3. Since bikes move at relatively slow speeds, people using them have plenty of time to gauge oncoming traffic. That means there's less need to stop and look around at every intersection; you can look around while moving slowly.
At yesterday's DC Council Transportation Committee hearing, in response to Cheh's proposal, police officers and representatives from the insurance industry said allowing Idaho Stops would lead to confusion. Specifically, DC Insurance Federation executive director Wayne McOwen said he thinks allowing Idaho Stops would confuse children.
We teach our children when the light is red we stop. We teach them when they see a sign that says stop to stop. We teach them to look both ways before they cross the street. We teach them to cross at the crosswalk. Now we are beginning to say follow those rules except if there's no one around, you can run across the street anyway.
Brian McEntee, a GGWash contributor who also writes the bike column Gear Prudence, explored McOwen's statement and the different situations that drivers face on the road.

Others pointed out that people walking don't have to stop at stop signs and that children aren't allowed to drive until they reach an age where they can think more critically. One Twitter commenter noted that the law already allows cyclists to proceed when the light is red and they are following the pedestrian signal.

Whether cyclists should have special rules is always a heated debate. For one, there are some cyclists who ride very fast and can keep up with drivers, while others tend to go at a slower pace.

At the hearing, cycling advocate David Cranor noted that allowing cyclists to yield at stop signs would send more cyclists on slower, safer, residential streets.

The Idaho Stop debate was only one part of the Transportation Committee hearing. If you want a good recap, Dave Salovesh live tweeted the hearing and posted a Storify of the twitter conversation.

Politics


A chat with DC Council candidate David Garber

David Garber, a former Navy Yard ANC commissioner and author of the And Now, Anacostia blog, is running for the at-large DC Council seat currently held by Vincent Orange. Already a popular voice of the District's revived urbanist crowd, Garber says he wants a more sustainable, inclusive, and safe city.


David Garber. Image from the candidate.

Really, Garber is running against Orange in the Democratic primary, which isn't until June. But his schedule is already packed with everything from visiting urban farms in Ward 7 to sharing his views on the RFK Stadium redevelopment. He recently set some time aside to chat with Greater Greater Washington about some of the issues facing the District.

On transportation: bike and bus lanes, the Streetcar, and cars

On transportation, Garber envisions a multimodal future where everything from improved buses to better dedicated bike and pedestrian infrastructure and cars has a place in the District.

"When we talk about actually putting dollars towards infrastructure, we have to remember that we get the city that we invest in and we get the modes that we put real dollars into," says Garber. "I know that there's interest in spreading [investment] to modes and infrastructure upgrades that promote a more efficient, healthier, and stronger city. And getting to that more sustainable place requires more investment in a built environment and in transportation modes that get us there."

Bus, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure are examples of such modes, he says.

"I think it's really important that we invest in things like better dedicated bus service and 16th Street NW is a great example of that," says Garber. "That's a corridor where improvements to the current status quo have been discussed for a number of years now and a lot of people have asked for more efficient bus service. It's one of those types of projects that feels like it gets studied and studied without actually ever moving forward. I'd love to see leadership take initiative to make it happen."

Better bus service on 16th Street may actually move forward before the 2016 election. DDOT announced that it was studying a variety of options, including dedicated bus lanes for the corridor, earlier in October.

Asked his view on DC's delay-plagued streetcar, Garber says: "[The streetcar] is something that I've been a supporter of and excited about but, unfortunately, like a lot of people around the city, I've been disappointed with the roll out and the way that it has been built. I don't think there was as much planning early on as could have happened."

"That said, I don't think that the hurdles and hiccups are a reason to not do more of it in the future," he adds. "Just that we have to take a step back, rebuild the public trust, and learn lessons for next time."


Maybe we'll get the next one right. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Garber is supportive of dedicated bike and pedestrian infrastructure but feels the District could take more of a lead in developing these amenities in outlying neighborhoods.

"With any changes to infrastructure, you often have the lead with real investment before people take a chance on it or believe in it," he says. "People feel safest taking a chance on a new transportation mode when the infrastructure is in place and they feel protected in it. And if we're truly committed to upping the sustainability ante, we have to be consistently investing in the infrastructure that will get us there."

While a clear advocate of transit, cycling and walking, Garber contends that personal vehicles have a place in the city's transportation infrastructure.

"A lot of communities east of the river and closer to the city's edges are less dense, have fewer local amenities currently than areas closer to the center of the city and a lot of people do rely on personal vehicles," he says. "I think [it's important] that we consider that there are a lot of different types of built environments, that this is a diverse city, and that for many, vehicles are a big part of the equation when we're thinking about the city as a whole."

On changing neighborhoods and housing supply

Housing affordability is an ever-growing point of contention in the District. While new construction continues apace, well-established communities are increasingly being displaced by newcomers as prices rise driving fervent calls for more affordable housing in popular neighborhoods.

"The city's growing and I've been a big booster of a lot of that growth, as long as it's done well," says Garber. "But if we grow as a city and we don't take care to include the diversity that exists [today], and don't, from an economic development perspective, invest equitably across the entire geography of the District, then we'll have failed at the end of the day."


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

Putting more money into the city's affordable housing trust fund and making sure a variety of affordable units are included in new developments are two examples of ways to maintain the city's diversity, he says.

Garber is a big proponent of making sure affordable housing goes into neigborhoods where people want to live. He cites the new development at 965 Florida Avenue NW as an example of affordable housing being included in a new development in popular neighborhood.

"These places are attractive because they're close to transit and they're close to amenities," he says. "Too much of the time we only put affordable housing where it's least expensive to do so... We need to do a better and more intentional job of spreading housing for earners of all levels across the city."

The neighborhood-supported 965 Florida Ave project has also been a point of contention for the DC Council. Earlier this year, the council dragged its feet approving the project due to the cost of the affordable component.

"I do think that in some circumstances it's worth exploring the possibility of selling some of our District-owned properties and parcels outright and using that money in more targeted ways for affordable housing across the District as long as, via a comprehensive analysis, we're able to get more money for affordable housing at the end of the day," says Garber.

At market rate, the land at 965 Florida Avenue was appraised at nearly $27 million dollars. A law requiring 20-30% of units in public land deals to be affordable to people making 30-50% of the Area Median Income brought estimates of a fair price down to just under $6 million (the difference going to affordable units that the District would otherwise be building), but the city wound up selling the land for only $400,000.

The DC Council approved the project in September.

On fighting the surge in violent crime, and supporting police

With the alarming rise in deadly shootings in the District over the summer, residents have taken a renewed interest in public safety in the city.

"I've had a lot of conversations with residents and community leaders, and I've spent a lot of time around the District riding along with police officers, and there are a couple of things I consistently hear," says Garber. "Leadership could probably do a better job at listening to the on-the-ground experiences of the officers that are working in neighborhoods across the District and implementing strategies based on that input."


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Garber wants to bring back plainclothes vice units around the District, attract new officers to the force especially as retirements climb as well as improve and increase access to vocational training for city residents, a campaign video shows.

"On council, I would absolutely be having a conversation with the mayor and the [police] chief about whether or not that is something we need to look at again," says Garber on disbanding the vice units. "I do think it's important to have people in positions of public safety around the city who are really tied to the specific communities they're working in. If everything's centralized, you lose some of that institutional knowledge of who the players are in a community, where the hotspots are, and creating a culture of safety."

There's a long road ahead

Garber faces a tough campaign. Vincent Orange, who has been on the council for more than a decade 12 years (though non-consecutively), will likely be a formidable opponent despite his admonishment by the ethics board for intervening to stop public health officials from shutting down a wholesale food business with a rat infestation in 2013.

Orange won his last primary in 2012 with just a 42% plurality of the vote while respected councilmembers Sekou Biddle and Peter Shapiro, along with other opponents, split the remaining votes.

Outside observers fear a repeat of the split vote, especially if Andy Shallal and Robert White enter the race. Garber is, so far, nonplussed at the prospect.

"Right now I am just focusing on my campaign," he says. "I know I'm going to run a viable campaign and I've gotten a lot of enthusiasm and support from all corners of the District."

Asked why he decided to run for the at-large council seat, Garber says: "I want to take more of a leadership role citywide so that I can serve the District as a more effective advocate on issues that really matter to people from the council level."

"I loved being in the position of an ANC commissioner," he continues. "It really taught me a lot about getting community input and feedback, and it engaged me with a lot of the issues that neighborhoods go through when they're growing or changing. I'm running for council because I'm invested in taking that same communities-first focus city-wide."

Poverty


DC's family leave bill may need work, but kneejerk reactions won't make it better

DC's proposed Family Leave Act, if adopted, would be the nation's most ambitious paid leave program for workers. The Washington Post recently published a kneejerk opposition to it that's based on several flawed understandings of the bill, and it's important to set the record straight.


DC's Family Leave Act would help make sure little ones like these don't become regular fixtures at the office. Photo by Jen Kim on Flickr.

Last week, the Washington Post editorial board said the bill, drafted by Councilmembers Elissa Silverman and David Grosso, would go unnecessarily further than similar bills around the country, that jobs would leave DC because of it, and that it wouldn't help those who need it most.

In brief, the proposed paid leave program would replace all or part of a worker's salary for up to 16 weeks for leave associated with certain qualifying circumstances. The most obvious qualifying circumstance would be maternity or paternity leave, but leave to care for a sick or elderly family member would also be covered. The program would provide up to $1,000 per week to match a worker's salary up to $52,000 a year. Salary above that level would be matched at 50% up to a $3,000 per week cap.

The bill proposes to pay for the program from a fund generated by a .5%-1% payroll tax on employers for all their employees (not just District residents). It would operate much like unemployment insurance: When you go on leave you would apply for benefits, which would be paid from the fund. Your employer would not be obligated to pay you.

There are a lot of questions that still need answers regarding how the program will work and what changes the proposed bill might need. How would it interact with existing paid leave programs offered by private employers? How would "double dipping" be prevented? Would the fund be solvent?

There should certainly be a productive conversation between policy makers, the public, and business owners to refine the bill into its final form. All of these questions are more must be addressed before the final bill is adopted and—in some ways more importantly—before the regulations go into effect. Unfortunately, the Post editorial detracts from the potential for future discourse.

The DC Council is not out of control, nor is it crazy for proposing this

The opening premise of the Post editorial is that the DC Council is deep into a bender of naively progressive legislation that is overwhelming the District's business community. But there isn't all that much evidence to back this stance up:

Witness the burst of legislation in the past three years requiring employers to pay higher salaries, provide new benefits and face new regulations . Now, with the ink barely dry on those laws, a majority of the council wants to put an additional burden on employers with a tax that would allow workers to take up to 16 weeks of paid family leave annually.
If you click on those examples, the first is a link to an article on the District's newly-higher minimum wage (a change the Post editorial board itself admitted was necessary, even if it disagreed with the timing and degree).

The second link is to an article about the Paid Family Leave bill itself, and the third is to a proposal to require personal trainers to register and meet certain certification requirements. Notably it was a proposed regulation, not a law, and one that was gutted before adoption.

The above is all the editorial could come up with to demonstrate how out of control the Council is.

The Post actually doesn't have its facts straight

The end of the excerpt really shows how flawed the board's position is. The proposed bill will not allow workers to take up to 16 weeks of family leave per year. They already have that right. Since 1991, under the DC Family Medical Leave Act DC workers have been entitled to take the 16 weeks. The only change that the new bill would make is that people without the economic security of, say, a law firm associate, will actually be able to afford to take the leave they already have the right to take.

Which leads to another baffling argument that the editorial makes:

this broad-brushed approach doesn't target resources to the workers who are most in need. Low-income and minority groups have the least access to paid leave options, so it would be far more sensible for the city to design a program that helped them most. That would be the truly progressive option.
The proposed bill would provide 100% income-replacement for workers making $52,000 or less. How does that not target low-income and minority groups? Would they prefer the program pay people even more than their salaries on leave? How in the world can the editorial criticize the bill for being alarmingly radical and yet not progressive enough in the same breath?

Poverty


I'm an employer, and I support DC's family leave bill

Employees who work in DC could soon be entitled to 16 weeks of paid time off for the birth of a child, to care for a sick family member, or recover from illness, under a bill introduced this week.

As someone who runs a small nonprofit that will soon employ three people, I think this is a great idea. As someone who writes about the forces that affect where people live, I also think it's a great idea.


This isn't easy. Working mom with infant photo from Shutterstock.

I want to give employees family and medical leave

Greater Greater Washington started out as an all-volunteer project, but as we've grown, we've developed into a nonprofit organization with full-time staff. We have one employee now, our staff editor, and thanks to a grant we received this summer, we're working to hire two more employees.

If one of them were to have a baby or get very sick, I'd want them to be able to take time off. Unfortunately, we just couldn't realistically afford to do that right now. Our grant just barely lets us hire all three of them, and we need to raise more money on our own as well. (If you want to help, you can contribute here!)

To lose our editor for up to four months but be able to pay someone else during that time would put massive strain on our ability to run the blog; to lose one of the two people we're hiring and not have the money to use for alternatives would make it very hard to achieve the goals we've set in our grant. It would be difficult to do without them no matter what, for sure, but much harder if it also cost us money.


This is not how it should have to be. New mom working photo from Shutterstock.

People should spend time with their children

But being able to have time off for the birth of a child shouldn't be just a luxury (and certainly isn't luxurious). When our daughter was born, I took about two months off, and my wife, who works for the federal government, was able to use her vacation and sick leave and then take a small amount of unpaid leave to have four months to spend with her.

We're fortunate that her agency is flexible and that we could afford the short time without pay, because caring for our daughter was all-consuming. As any parent can tell you, it was exhausting and massively frustrating while also being enormously joyful.

Contrary to some portrayals, a new parent is not lounging around while the baby sleeps all the time. Many babies might sleep during the daytime, but they're up every few hours all night.

The chance to bond with a new life in this world isn't a life experience parents should skip, and the work of caring for this helpless person is not something they can easily delegate. Besides nobody else being able to handle nighttime feeding, it's not that easy to get into a daycare within a few months of birth in many parts of DC.

Sure, many people do without parental leave today, but people should not have to choose between covering basic living expenses and being there for a new child. Nor should they have to neglect an ailing family member.


This should happen. Fathers walking photo from Shutterstock.

How this bill works

The bill, written by at-large councilmembers Elissa Silverman and David Grosso and cosponsored by Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Charles Allen (Ward 6), and LaRuby May (Ward 8), would set up a fund where employers pay on a sliding scale up to 1% of an employee's salary.

When the employee needs to take leave, the fund would cover the first $1,000 a week of salary and half of the next $4,000. Basically, an employee making $52,000 a year would get 100% reimbursement while an employee making $156,000 would get 2/3 of his or her salary covered.

It would apply to non-federal DC employers and their employees, regardless of whether those employees live in the District. DC residents who work for the federal government or employers outside DC would be required to pay into the fund and be covered.

For Greater Greater Washington, this reduces a lot of our risk. Sure, having the employee out would be difficult, but at least we would not be using up as much as 1/6 of our grant money for it at the same time. If one of our staff were out for four months, it wouldn't be easy and maybe impossible to find a replacement, but it's a better alternative than either of the current choices: Offer leave and maybe lose a lot of grant money, or be a crummy boss.

Yes, it will cost us and we don't have a lot of budget to spare, but for that hypothetical $52,000-a-year employee (sorry, we're a nonprofit; again, you can help grow our budget), this "insurance" costs about $400-500 a year. That's doable.

I don't know what it's like to run a restaurant, or a dentist's office, or one of a thousand other kinds of small businesses. People who run those will surely speak up in the time to come. But for myself, I don't want to have to put our employees in the position of having to miss a child's infancy or care for a sick parent if they want to keep working here.

Without this bill, though, to be perfectly honest, I'd have little choice right now given our small organization and tight budget. That's why I hope it passes as soon as possible.


In real life, people juggling work and kids don't look this relaxed (or have professional makeup). Working mom photo from Shutterstock.

This bill is good for strengthening urban communities

From a broader urbanist standpoint, this bill is also smart policy. Proponents argue that there are other cases where the value will sway an employer's choice as well. They suggest that working for DC companies will be more appealing for workers who have many choices, making it easier to attract talent to the District.

However, this is just one of many factors that could attract or repel employers. I just don't think many employers choose to locate in DC because of the level of taxes. If just looking at pure costs, a suburban sprawl office park is going to beat out a walkable urban place almost every time, as it did for Northrop Grumman. Those office parks are cheaper, but less pleasant for employees, and they push a lot of costs onto the publicly-funded transportation network (and on employees directly).

Many employers are seeing things differently. They want to be in DC, or Arlington or Bethesda or Silver Spring, to attract workers who want to live in urban places and don't want a long slog in the car every day. They want employees to have appealing choices for lunch. They want to be in a place with some energy. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson wants to move the company's headquarters to a Metro station area for that reason, not to the cheapest office space he can find.

The same applies for costs beyond real estate. DC is not going to compete with other jurisdictions to be the lowest cost, but rather, the highest value. Meanwhile, a lot of low-wage work that doesn't need to be in DC already isn't; a telemarketing call center already isn't in DC, and isn't even in Virginia or Maryland, probably. A store or restaurant has to be where it is for the customers.

Certainly there are employers on the margins where this will make a difference. But we also just can't allow every issue to be a race to the bottom. Everyone deserves to be able to take some time for their health and for their families. A bill that reduces the cost to an employer when this happens is a good idea.

I have one request: Please, DC government, make the paperwork as easy as possible. Maybe it can be combined with the existing unemployment insurance forms or some other filing, so that we don't have to fill out any new forms? Thanks. And pass the bill.

Corrections/updates: The initial version of this post had an error in the way it described what happens to DC residents who work for the federal government or non-DC employers; they would have to pay into the program and would be covered. Also, the wording of a paragraph about the impact on Greater Greater Washington of losing staff has been edited for clarity.

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