Nadeau Opening Remarks at FY 24 Proposed Budget Hearing
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OFFICE OF COUNCILMEMBER BRIANNE K. NADEAU
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Nadeau Remarks at Council Budget Oversight Hearing
WASHINGTON, D.C. — D.C. Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau made the following opening statement during the Council’s Friday briefing on the Mayor’s Fiscal year 2024 proposed budget:
Thank you, Mayor Bowser, Mr. City Administrator, Madam Budget Director and Mr. CFO. Congratulations on a balanced budget in a very challenging year.
I’m glad to see investments in Ward 1: I look forward to cutting the ribbon with you for new housing at Park Morton and Bruce Monroe, recreation centers at Rita Bright and Park View, a revitalized Columbia Heights Plaza, and a new landmark for housing and culture right at 14th and U streets, not to mention continued historic investments in bus and bike lanes on U Street, Columbia Road, Georgia Avenue, and more.
But I’ll be honest, the big picture of this budget is disappointing. Some of that is simply the reality of the financial deck that’s been dealt. But that scarcity reveals a lot of preferences for what we deem important.
Is our goal to tighten our belts and generate revenue for the city or is it to make the government work for its residents, our neighborhoods, quality of life and safety?
Scarcity does not have to come with a scarcity mindset.
Those who have followed the Council, know that I have always been an advocate for our most vulnerable residents.
Using the lens of our most vulnerable residents, this budget falls short in so many ways.
Just a few, that were immediately apparent:
- Cuts to permanent supportive housing
- Taking the Emergency Rental Assistance Program from $43m to $8m, when in fact the need is $80m – and then also cutting the legal services that help people when they are under threat of eviction.
- Cuts to services for victims of crime
- Cuts to violence prevention
- Underfunding schools, and leaving out needed supports for teachers
And those are before we even take a deeper dive into the budget.
We've been told we all have to sacrifice in a lean year, but DC's Comeback Plan turns out to be carried on the backs of our neighborhoods and our neighbors, while property and business interests are getting a gift basket in the form of:
- A $41M abatement for downtown, along with a TOPA exemption
- Delay in compliance for green building laws, and parking benefit alternatives
- And we discover more as we peel back the layers of these budget books.
Does that make government work for its residents, our neighborhoods, quality of life and safety?
I have a fundamental disagreement with the way this budget attempts to achieve economic development and fiscal responsibility.
Remember when Ohio put ads all over the Metro telling people to move there because it’s cheaper? There should be ads for DC in Ohio saying “Move to DC – you can make a living as a service worker, having a child won’t bankrupt you, you have paid time off to take care of a loved one, you have strong tenants’ rights, you can take the bus for free and don’t need to pay for a car.”
Instead, these investments are always, always the first things to go.
The logic of this budget seems to be this: DC residents need to make sacrifices now so that we can subsidize enough growth downtown to get people to move there, so that in 5 or 10 years’ time, those people will contribute enough new tax revenue to allow us to afford the things we want to invest in.
That strategy is based on a lot of speculation, because it’s not clear what the market for residential conversions will bear. Right in Ward 1, as a matter of fact, we’re already going to see the largest office-to-residential conversion to date, 600 units right on Connecticut and Florida Avenues, with inclusionary zoning and family-sized housing. This is happening before any new influx of incentives.
So, we’re basing this supply-side economic strategy on what we’re told is needed by builders.
On the other hand, our residents, including those who receive ERAP, are just as significant a part of our economy as any downtown business. They produce, spend, and pay taxes in the District—and there are more of them than there are companies. Rather than seeing social services as a budgetary drain, we should view them as investments in residents, enabling them to fully participate in our economy. We've given property owners what is effectively a handout; surely, we can grant the same sort of generosity to programs, like ERAP, that we know work for our residents.
Does anyone remember the NoMa Tax Abatement from 2009? It allocated $50 million to the development of housing in NoMa, as if it wouldn’t have happened on its own, as it did in so many other neighborhoods, like Navy Yard, for example, around the same time.
Does anyone think NoMa would be a housing desert had we not given the abatement? It seems unlikely.
We know in 2023 that the market was already shifting in 2009 to favor mixed-use developments. Similar areas of the District got plenty of new housing around the same time without the abatement that NoMa received. I feel like we’re stumbling into the same mistake in this budget.
We can provide incentives to developers and businesses without giving away the bank. To give an example from the Public Works and Operations committee: Last year, the Council passed CM Pinto’s sweeping licensing reforms to make starting a business cheaper and easier. To me, that’s a far better way to encourage growth than to throw more money at an inefficient system.
What if we took the same approach to downtown – for example, relaxing zoning to make it easier to convert buildings, rather than giving huge abatements?
I want to be clear: I am aware of the revenue reality. And I appreciate the difficult challenge the Mayor and her team have faced. I recognize that they’ve even made cuts to programs that she has championed.
I started my remarks with a question: Is our goal to tighten our belts and generating revenue for the city or is it to make government work for its residents, our neighborhoods, quality of life and safety?
For me, making government work for our residents, many of whom are already tightening belts, is how we achieve sustainability.