We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 6 on the DC Council. See all of the articles here.
It’s not that easy to find specific policy issues where Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson disagree. Both candidates vying to succeed Tommy Wells talk about affordable housing, jobs, seniors, and education.
Indeed, in their freeform statements about affordable housing, both cited the need to ensure housing for families as well as singles and roommates. Compare the candidates’ initial statements on affordable housing:
The biggest difference between Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson is in their political paths. Allen worked as Wells’ chief of staff and knows city policy backward and forward. Thompson also has a long record in public service, but at the federal level working for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; he has not been very active in local politics or policy in the recent past.
Thompson has been a quick study and has compelling values for the ward, though ones not very different from Allen’s. Thompson said the ward needs “new leadership,” but when pressed, did not articulate much in the way of specific objections to Tommy Wells’ tenure, while Allen is running on the record he and Wells built.
When I asked each candidate about how DC would add the 41,000-105,000 new housing units it needs in the next 20 years, both cited Hill East as a place with substantial development opportunities. While continuing to emphasize the need for family housing, Allen also said we need to add housing by using existing buildings in “smarter or more flexible ways,” like accessory dwellings:
We’re a community full of alleys. We have a lot of homes that have carriage houses or they have alley access properties. To be able to allow those to be legal residences is important. It’s important because it allows for that housing to be created.
It’s also important because — I’ll bring it back to affordability. If you have a property that has a carriage house, you’re looking at rising costs in the city. Being able to have that be part of your rent is actually a great part of making your home help you in terms of achieving affordability.
In a subsequent email, Thompson said he also supports this proposal. He wrote, “With the growing rate of the population in our city, we need to provide more housing and this is a way to do that. Additionally, allowing homeowners to collect income on their property increases the affordability of owning their home, especially seniors on fixed incomes.”
When I asked him about housing supply during the interview, Thompson also talked about being “smart,” using the same word as Allen, but also said “we’ve got to make sure we don’t overbuild,” and that “there are developments on the table in Ward 6 that have split neighborhoods because residents didn’t feel like they had the input.”
Was Thompson talking about the Hine school development, the mixed-use project at Eastern Market Metro? Among other things, yes, and he had this to say:
Clearly something didn’t go right. A lot of folks are outraged. I’ve talked to folks throughout Ward 6 and that part of Capitol Hill often, and folks feel like — some feel like it’s too large. I think it’s too large. I think under the current proposal we’ve got right now it’s important we go back and look at this again.
Even talking about the affordable housing units that are offered, they’re not like the market rate units. So we’re creating housing for 2 different classes of people and making sure people clearly know that’s what we did. That’s not right.
We’re talking about building something that’s much larger than anything else in the surrounding neighborhoods. So I think, again, we should have proper community input; input that actually is meaningful and is adhered to before we sign off on projects. It’s important. Lots of folks would like to see that project done, including myself, but not under the current proposal.
On this, Allen does not agree. I asked him over email for his view, and he wrote:
This is a project that will create a vibrant mix of housing, retail, office, market space, and important affordable housing in the heart of Capitol Hill and on top of a Metro station. Fitting the character and context of the community is crucial and I believe the Advisory Neighborhood Commission did an outstanding job of managing the complex array of issues and interests put before them.
In regard to affordable housing, a much needed mix of affordability will be created in both the north and the south buildings, including dedicated affordable housing for seniors to help ensure our city prioritizes successful aging-in-place within our neighborhoods.
The project has been the focus of countless community meetings, living room conversations, and many hundreds of hours of public work by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, neighbors, the project’s Community Advisory Committee throughout the decision-making and zoning process.
To get the best sense of Thompson and Allen unfiltered, watch the whole 10-15 minute housing exchange I had with each. In upcoming days, we’ll look at the two candidates’ views on education and transportation.
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. Both locations are now in Ward 6 following the 2012 redistricting (but we talked to the Ward 1 candidates there, too). Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.