Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Muriel Bowser

Education


Shifting DC school boundaries promises real change

With education set to be a pivotal issue in the D.C. mayor's race, both of the leading candidates have rejected a plan to redraw school boundaries and feeder patterns. They argue that changing boundaries before improving school quality will drive middle-class families out of the system. But it may be that the best way to improve quality and retain middle-class families is to reassign students first.


Photo of change sign from Shutterstock.

There's only one neighborhood middle- and high-school feeder pattern that middle-class parents want: the Deal Middle School-Wilson High School one in Ward 3. Both schools are too crowded; other D.C. Public Schools are under-enrolled. The Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, which spent 10 months formulating its recommendations, has tried to correct that imbalance by shrinking the Deal and Wilson boundaries.

Not surprisingly, many families who have been cut out of those boundaries are up in arms. It was easy for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) to endorse the reassignment plan after he lost his bid for reelection. It's not as easy for those running for his seat.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in The Washington Post.

Education


Carol Schwartz bids to become the education mayor

Carol Schwartz has produced a detailed, thoughtful platform on a key issue in the DC mayoral race, education. It's unlikely to be enough to propel her long-shot campaign to victory, but right now her position is the one most likely to ensure stability in DC Public Schools.


Photo by David on Flickr.

Schwartz, a former at-large DC Councilmember, has some good ideas about things like lessening the focus on standardized tests and retaining veteran teachers. Her 15-page white paper is a far more comprehensive document than anything produced by either of the other candidates, and her positions align better with those of DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

Schwartz also has more education experience than her rivals, Councilmembers Muriel Bowser and David Catania. She first came to DC to teach special education, inspired by the experience of caring for her intellectually disabled brother. She went on to serve two terms on the now-defunct Board of Education, which governed DC's public schools (not to be confused with the current State Board of Education, which does not). And her three children all attended DCPS.

Schwartz's stances on hot-button issues like school boundaries and charter school growth suggest that a Mayor Schwartz would have a better chance of retaining the current DCPS Chancellor than either a Mayor Catania or a Mayor Bowser.

How important is that? It's true that the pace of progress under Henderson has been slow. And some DCPS policies, like the system for evaluating teachers, could certainly be improved. But it will be unfortunate if the mayoral election results in Henderson's departure.

Henderson is a smart and competent administrator who has demonstrated an admirable willingness to try new initiatives, some of which may be on the verge of bearing fruit. It would be a shame if those processes were disrupted and the pace of change slowed further, or possibly even reversed.

With those considerations in mind, some DC education activists have thrown their support to Bowser rather than Catania, despite Catania's greater expertise on education. As chair of the DC Council's education committee, Catania has acquired a detailed knowledge of the public school landscape, and he's brimming with ideas about how to improve it. Bowser's strategy on education, on the other hand, has basically been to say as little about it as possible.

But Catania and Henderson have had a testy relationship, and he hasn't said whether he would keep her on. It's not clear she would stay under a Mayor Catania even if he wanted her to.

Bowser, on the other hand, has said she'd like Henderson to stay, and she's been generally complimentary about the Chancellor's performance.

Bowser's opposition to new boundaries

But Bowser's recent statements on the controversial boundary plan adopted by Mayor Vincent Gray may have soured that cordial relationship. Henderson supports the plan, and Bowser, like Catania, recently came out in opposition to it.

What's more, for some reason Bowser added that she didn't anticipate involving the DCPS chancellor in formulating a substitute proposal.

As Gray observed, that doesn't seem like a wise move. Henderson wasn't in charge of the recent boundary process, but she was certainly involved. And that seems only appropriate for a process involving the boundaries and feeder patterns of the system she heads.

Not only is the move unwise substantively, but Bowser's remark seems bound to alienate Henderson. While the Chancellor hasn't said anything publicly about these developments, it's possible she'll decide that Bowser isn't someone she actually wants to work under.

Schwartz, for her part, seems to have struck all the right notes for retaining Henderson. Schwartz commits to allowing her to stay on for "the time she has stated she wants, which is one or so more years." (Henderson has said she'd like to stay until 2017.) And in one of a series of veiled digs at Catania, Schwartz says she would not "micromanage" a chancellor but rather would "partner with" her "in setting policy and goals."

Schwartz on school boundaries and charters

On the crucial issue of school boundaries, Schwartz suggests a few tweaks, such as increasing the percentage of set-asides for out-of-boundary students to maintain diversity. But she says she accepts the need for change.

She also sides with Henderson on some issues that have emerged recently in the relationship between DCPS and the charter sector, such as joint planning between the sectors. While charter advocates are amenable to joint planning that is voluntary on their part, it's clear that Schwartz believes it would make sense to impose limits on such things as where new charter schools can open.

Charter advocates have resisted that as an infringement on their autonomy. But Henderson and others have argued, with some justification, that without those kinds of limits, charter expansion could easily undermine plans to improve DCPS schools.

Will any of this convince DC education reformers who want Henderson to stay on to switch their support from Bowser to Schwartz? Probably not, given the overwhelming odds against Schwartz. But perhaps they can urge Bowser to do whatever she can to mend the damage she may have done to her relationship with Henderson.

Beyond that, Bowser might want to flesh out her own skimpy education platform with some of the ideas that abound in Schwartz's white paper. Schwartz may never get a chance to implement those ideas herself, but it would be nice if someone did.

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 Bloomingdaleareas 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.

Public Spaces


Should there be a new indoor pool in the Logan Circle area?

Instead of a parking garage, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR)-owned land near 14th and S Streets, NW in DC could serve a recreational purpose. DPR seems to think so: its map of where the city needs pools seems to point right at this spot.


Wilson Aquatic Center. Image from DC DPR.

Now the agency may have a chance to follow through, as its budget will likely include funding for a study and community engagement around how to use this land for recreation, whether as a new indoor pool or something else.

DPR put out a "vision framework" in March which lays out specifically where there is the greatest need for parks, rec centers, pools, and playing fields. Maps show how wide an area each type of facility serves, and suggests general locations for new facilities.

For pools, DPR set a general goal of having a "splash pad" within 1 mile of every resident, an outdoor pool within 1½ miles, and an indoor pool within 2 miles.


Image from DC DPR.

The residents who are farther than this from an outdoor pool are in Upper Northwest, which has the greatest dearth of outdoor pools. Mary Cheh, whose committee oversees parks and recreation, funded an outdoor pool for that area, most of which she also represents.

DPR's map also suggests DC needs about six new "splash pads" in the northeast and southeast quadrants, three east of the river and three west. And as for indoor pools, DPR's plan says there are enough, except for in one area: the middle part of the city centered around 14th Street.


Image from DC DPR.

The locations of the asterisks showing needed facilities aren't supposed to be exact, but that yellow star looks like it's right around 14th and Q. It so happens that DPR has a large parcel of land just two blocks from that spot, a parcel which has plenty of room for an indoor pool and other recreation.

This is the spot where some area businesses have been suggesting a public parking garage, which would be a bad investment for the city. Should it instead get a pool or other recreational use? Is that what DPR has in mind?


Image from Bing Maps.

Cheh is intrigued, and allocated some money in her budget proposal for DPR to study what kind of recreational use could be appropriate here.

Square 238, located on S Street, NW, between 13th and 14th Streets, NW, is used by DPR as a parking lot and for maintenance and storage purposes. This location is precisely where DPR has identified a need for an indoor aquatic facility and other recreation needs.

Although some have proposed this site for a municipal parking garage, the Committee believes that this parcel is ripe for a new recreation facility. Therefore, the Committee recommends allotting $500,000 to engage the community in a design process to consider potential recreation uses for this site.

This parcel was also proposed as part of a possible land swap for a DC United stadium, but that deal is looking less and less likely with the Gray mayoralty heading into the sunset and substantial skepticism from councilmembers including Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser.

Is recreation the right use here? If so, should it be a pool? There are a lot more children (and a lot of other people) in the general vicinity of this spot than there once were. On the other hand, there are two private pools very close by which the public can access (for a fee): the DC JCC at 16th and Q and the new Anthony Bowen YMCA at 13th and W.

What do you think should go here?

Politics


In November, "concern" won’t cut it for Bowser

Muriel Bowser has won the Democratic nomination for DC mayor. Do you know what she stands for?


Photo by weeviraporn on Flickr.

Bowser, who represents Ward 4 on the DC Council, has won what's typically the District's highest-profile race while generally minimizing the amount of discussion on her vision for the city. Sure, she supports better education, jobs, lower crime, affordable housing and a functional government. But every other candidate in the primary backed those things, too.

Bowser was quite adept at citing facts and figures but also showed a real talent for framing issues in a way that sounded good to everyone. She generally praised many ideas in the abstract but remained noncommittal as they became concrete.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Politics


Will the next mayor build a new football stadium?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

There's a lot of popular support inside DC for having the Washington NFL team play its games in the District instead of Landover, Maryland. But at what cost, and is that worth it?


Photo by Aaron G Stock on Flickr.

Mayor Vincent Gray thinks so. He said,

I think it's got economic development potential. We've seen it with the baseball stadium. There were those who were very skeptical about whether the baseball stadium would have any catalytic effect at all. ... We can see what's happening there and I think the stadium and the team both are a factor in that.

And then I think it's something as straightforward as civic spirit.

There are people who believe our Washington team contribute to the psychic healthespecially when they winof the city. And all these years later, the team has been gone now 16, 17 years maybe longer, but I hear people constantly, constantly say to me, "Hey Mayor, when are we going to get the Washington football team back in to the city?"
Gray also believes locating the stadium in the city would lead to more players living in the city, as he said has happened with the Wizards and Capitals: "Far more of those players live in the city than would otherwise be the case if they were practicing outside the District of Columbia," he said.

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 councilmember who is also running for mayor, talked about his vision to rebuild RFK stadium as a new, 75,000-seat retractable-roof stadium.

When you mention the football team, people want the team back in the city. And even people in the suburbs want the team back in the city. ... What is a good location for it? Obviously the RFK site makes the most sense ... keeping in mind that it is federal land. ... The law states the only thing that can be constructed on that land is a stadium.
I pointed out that, in fact, the law simply says it should serve a recreational use, not necessarily professional football, but Evans still favors a football stadium.
In the metropolitan region, that is the best site for a football stadium, barring none, because of the transportation. You have the subway right on site, and a bunch of access roads. When then Nationals were playing at that stadium when the Yankees came to town, and we sold out 50-some thousand people at that stadium. We were able to get people in and out very quickly. That's the model you would use for a 75,000-seat stadium: The access, the location, there's so much benefit there. One could argue you could use it for something different, but if you're going to put a stadium in the metropolitan area, that's where you would put it.
Evans also said that the stadium would bring in development, "like we're seeing around Nationals Stadium or over at the Verizon Center." He called the idea a "big economic driver."

Meanwhile, Ward 6 council candidate Charles Allen doesn't think a stadium is the best use of the RFK site (which immediately abuts Ward 6):

I think building a stadium for 8 days out of the year is a bad idea. When you look at that site right now, it's an ocean of asphalt.

There's an amazing proposal called the Capital Riverside Youth Sports Park. We need to have more green space. I want to rip up all that asphalt and replace it with this concept, and have it run all the way to the Anacostia.

It's also an environmental justice issue. Every time we have a storm, every time we pile up snow and call it Mount Fenty, we have a devastating impact on the Anacostia River.


Sketch of proposed Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park. Image from CRYSP.

Allen's opponent, Darrel Thompson, would like to bring the team back to DC, but not at the RFK site. "RFK is not the best site," he said. "We should find another location. ... You've got an awful lot of residents that don't want to see that. We have to make sure we've been listening to the residents."

But, I asked, any potential site would likely have residents opposed. Is it realistic to say the team should come back to the District but not at RFK because residents don't want it there. "We've got to look at all the different options," he responded.

At-large DC Council candidates John Settles and Pedro Rubio would like to see alternate uses for the site, possibly including housing. Settles said, "I look at RFK, and I see too much opportunity. I'd like to redevelop that. It could be a great mixed-use village that has everything from housing to entertainment space to fields to green space."

Rubio said, "As much as I want the Redskins to play in DC, with the traffic that comes with it, the space that's needed for affordable housing, I like them where they are right now. We can use the space for affordable housing, for nonprofits, colleges and schools."

Brianne Nadeau, who is running for council in Ward 1, isn't totally opposed to a stadium deal, but doesn't see it as very realistic to find a deal that's actually good for DC.

I don't think we have a football team owner that's particularly amenable to working with the District in a way that we would benefit. If that changes, I would rethink that. The other thing is with a football team, they take up a lot of space. There's so much parking lot area. ... I think we would have to be creative if we were ever going to do [a stadium]. How do we use it for the other 8 months of the year, and make sure it's the best use of space?
Her opponent, incumbent councilmember Jim Graham, would wait and see if there is every a real proposal. He said, "Dreaming is very important. I think people should continue to have [dreams]. ... When there's something there to hold onto, let's talk about it. There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip in that regard."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Vincent Gray:

Jack Evans:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Brianne Nadeau:

Jim Graham:

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