District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA)
In our recent oversight hearing, I asked DCHA about ongoing modernization and improvements at DCHA properties in our ward. Here's the information they provided:
Harvard Towers: Modernization is underway in 31 units in this building and an elevator upgrade will be completed this spring.
Kelly Miller: $500,000+ in improvements and a new elevator are in progress at this site.
Both Kelly Miller and LeDroit Apartments were scheduled to be Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) sites, but that conversion has been put on hold for now. The agency says they are studying build-first development at Kelly Miller on the current site of the LeDroit parking lot, which means they would build new housing on site before demolishing old housing, instead of displacing residents during housing construction. Build first is a policy I've championed because it keeps residents in place and keeps communities together. It's less disruptive and reduces negative impacts.
DCHA will complete the feasibility study in 90 days — they plan to award a master planning contract for the Kelly Miller site redevelopment by October of this year.
The agency noted that they've filled eight of the ten positions funded through last year's Homes & Hearts Act. These new positions were part of a transformational investment in housing here that I was proud to help pass — addressing delays and bottlenecks that made the process of securing a housing voucher lengthy and harmful. It used to be the case that an unhoused person with a voucher in hand could still wait months for a unit to open up. I'm optimistic that these new positions will shorten the voucher process and help provide the only true solution to homelessness: housing.
DC Public Schools/Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE)
Teachers, staff, and administrators have been on the forefront of the pandemic, especially for DC families. They shouldn't have to decode layers of guidance to do their job — they have enough to do. Instead, they should have consistent rules that keep as many people safe as possible.
In this oversight hearing I sought answers from OSSE on current and future COVID-19 safety guidance, especially with respect to different measures in community-based early childhood education settings and Pre-K 3 and 4 in school settings. They both serve children under five, but their pandemic procedures are often different. Sometimes very different. I wanted an explanation and a path to syncing their respective guidelines, with an eye towards safety for children under 5 — one of the last remaining groups to get vaccinated.
OSSE told me that a new round of guidance based on DC Health and CDC guidelines was coming that would bring them closer together, and that the agency was aligning with DC Health's guidance. But they also clarified that because of the different settings, the guidance for the two settings might never be the same. By nature, DCPS settings have more mitigation strategies in place.
With transmission rates where they are, and following CDC recommendations, Chancellor Ferebee notified us that masks are now optional for students, staff, teachers, and visitors at DCPS schools, offices, and OSSE-provided transportation. Full guidance is available here.
I'm going to be watching this closely, and should cases start to rise again, this oversight will prove useful in issuing consistent guidance that keeps children, educators, and families safer in all settings.
Department of General Services (DGS)
In an oversight hearing with the Committee on Government Operations & Facilities, I asked for updates on four big issues: washing machines for DCPS students; the 11th & Bark dog park; the DCUSA garage; and new facilities for the Board of Ethics & Government Accountability.
Washing Machines for DCPS Students: One frequent ask from students is washing machines and facilities at school where they can do laundry. And DGS apparently has machines waiting for installation, but needs water lines and other hookups to complete these projects at schools in the city. Director Anderson said this is a "conversation" between DCPS and DGS. I'm going to keep pressing it, if more funds are needed to put machines into use, we should work on that in our budget.
11th & Bark Dog Park: We've been pushing to make this park permanent and legitimate for four years. I found the capital funds to make it happen, even. But a lease with WMATA is still not done, and while the DGS team identified issues with WMATA and said that they were "back on track" to finish lease negotiations "in the coming weeks and months," I'm going to keep pushing them on it, because we've heard this for years.
DCUSA Garage: Anyone who's used the garage at DCUSA will tell you that it's laughably empty. Many people I talk to aren’t aware there’s a second level! There are hundreds of available parking spaces, and both Councilmember Robert White and I have asked the agency to reconsider the management contract for the garage and look into putting that excess capacity to better use: for nearby medical institutions and nearby buildings for seniors and low-income residents. This is especially smart with planned bus priority projects in Columbia Heights that will need curbside space to succeed. I first opened this issue with the agency in 2020.
DGS told me that we can't unilaterally allow public parking at DCUSA without going through Target and other tenants, due to the legal covenants around the garage and the leases worked out with DCUSA. I've asked DGS for full documentation on the ownership and structure of the garage so we can know how to proceed, and I’ll continue to advocate for better use of this publicly-owned space — because if it's being underutilized, we're wasting District resources.
Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) Facilities: It's been some time since an update on a planned facilities move for this agency. I last engaged DGS on this move during budget season, knowing that time was running out and the agency was eager to sign a lease.
Now, there's good news on this. Director Anderson said there has been progress here, and that they'd narrowed down sites and were negotiating a letter of intent on a potential property. Once the letter of intent is negotiated, they enter lease negotiations. The agency estimated that the move could be completed by July of next year.