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CHAVOUS FOR MAYOR
METROPOLITAN POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE:
The District of Columbias rental housing market has changed dramatically in the last decade. There is now a vacancy rate of at least 10% in the entire city; throughout the city, there are numerous examples of recently renovated, attractive and affordable apartment buildings which still have substantial vacancy. Tenants have more choices, and better deals, than ever before. In fact, city data show that actual rents charged are now substantially lower than what the city's rent control law says they could be the housing market, not rent control, is now what determines rent levels in most of the city. Both the Business Regulatory Reform Commission and the Control Boards Regulatory Reform Consultant Report called for an end to rent control. In light of these facts:
1) Do you think it is time to make changes to the D.C. rent control law, or do think it should be left alone?
Response: I support rent control. The District is one of more than 170 jurisdictions that have some form of rent control. Nearly 66% of District citizens are renters. Renters and landlords have a right to expedient consideration of issues that they have brought before the rent control office.
2) If you think it should be changed, do you have specific ideas on how it should be changed? If not, can you tell us what the outcome of any changes should be, i.e. what the problems are that you think exist with the rent control law and which need to be addressed?
Response: I support management improvements (information systems & staff training) within the rent control office that would streamline the review of cases under consideration.
3) What is your position on vacancy decontrol, in which rent control would be lifted from an apartment unit once the current tenant vacates, but rent control stays in effect on it so long as that tenant has not moved?
Response: I do not support vacancy decontrol.
4) Right now, when a housing provider wants to make capital improvements to his or her property (e.g. new roof, boiler, windows etc.), and needs to pay for them by raising rents, he or she has to go through a long and costly rent control process at the Dept. of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). Would you support a change in the law to exempt these capital improvement rent increases from rent control regulation, since their purpose is to maintain and improve the condition of our citys deteriorating housing stock?
Response: I am committed to implementing management reforms to assure that review of capital improvements occurs in timely and cost efficient manner.
5) Are the answers provided to these questions substantively consistent, in your view, with the positions you have advocated before tenant groups in the course of this campaign?
Response: Of course.
Crime in Residential Neighborhoods
1) What specific actions would you recommend to address the problem of crime in neighborhoods?
Response: The safety and security of our neighborhoods is essential to the Districts economic health and quality of life. Consistent, timely and efficient law enforcement must be balanced by intensive crime prevention efforts and early intervention strategies. Police misconduct can not be tolerated.
My administration will work with the MPD to support adequate budgets, management improvements, and training and technology requirements.
We will, through properly spending federal funds and local tax dollars, enable the MPD to:
2) Because the crime problem has gotten so out of control, housing providers must now spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire armed, off-duty MPD officers to patrol their buildings because the on-duty police are overwhelmed. Would you support a full or partial D.C. tax credit for housing providers who must undertake such extraordinary measures to protect their tenants?
Response: This cost of building security qualifies as a business expense for both federal and D.C. taxes. I would have to know the full financial impact of your proposal before I could support a full or partial tax credit for housing providers who must undertake extraordinary measures to protect their tenants.
In the District of Columbia, tenants have an absolute "right to cure" any violations of their lease and thereby avoid eviction; there is no penalty or disincentive whatsoever for 'repeat offenders." Thus, a tenant who continually disturbs or endangers other tenants by making noise, using the apartment for illegal activities, overcrowding the apartment, or getting months behind in their rent (a tremendous problem for the small housing provider who can't carry the delinquency) can simply "cure" the violation when the marshal and moving crew arrive at the door, and thereby stop the eviction-- only to resume the same kinds of behavior a few days later.
1) Would you support legislation to create something like a "three strikes and you're out" rule which would ensure that such problem tenants can be evicted, if a judge finds that they have repeatedly violated their lease and their continued presence is disturbing or endangering the other tenants in a building?
Response: Yes, I support empowering a judge to rule on these matters.
2) Right now, a housing provider even has to go through the entire court process for eviction when a tenant has already "skipped" the apartment, i.e. the tenant has clearly abandoned the apartment but did not "officially" give notice to vacate. The court costs and delays in re-renting the apartment are unnecessary hardships on housing providers. Would you support legislation to streamline the process, for example, by allowing the housing provider to certify that the tenant has not been seen in a specified period of time, and having penalties for false certification by a housing provider?
Size of Government: Financial Issues
The District's financial problems are far from over. What specific actions would you propose during your term to address the city's financial problems?
Response: The people who live in the District are the single largest source of revenue received by the District. The revenue comes from real property taxes, income taxes, incorporated and unincorporated income tax from businesses owned by residents and sales taxes paid by residents. The key to address the District's financial problems is to retain existing residents and businesses and to increase the number of residents and businesses in the District.
We can not continue to base our economic development hopes on ethereal capital projects like the proposed convention center at Mount Vernon Square. With a projected cost close to $1 billion, the center promises only a "trickle-down" benefit to our neighborhoods and, more predictably, will have a long-term negative impact.
The key is to welcome people back to District neighborhoods. The most stable investment the District can have is residents invested in their jobs, homes and families. As mayor, my policies, budgets and programs will focus on building neighborhoods, retaining neighbors and attracting new residents and residential and business developments. To get there, we need:
To attract and retain businesses the goal of my administration will be to revitalize neighborhood commercial corridors by recruiting and retaining businesses desired by the neighborhood. We must face the reality that businesses succeed based on their ability to sell merchandise at a price in excess of their expenses. The first part of this equation the consumers are here: the majority of District neighborhoods provide a stable and growing customer base. We have to advertise this fact.
The District must assist cost containment and ease of operation. I believe the tools provided by the National Revitalization Act and the Tax Increment Financing act will be critical to this end.
My administration will create a healthy, user-friendly environment for businesses both large and small. Business operations overseen by the District from planning to permitting must be automated and under one roof. Through proper implementation of regulatory reforms, review of legislative, regulatory and tax burdens and frequent meetings with businesses and their representatives as well as the communities they serve, we will create viable commercial opportunities. I am certain that working together we can make DC an attractive and profitable place to do business.
2) What is your position concerning further downsizing of the government?
Response: Never again should the District government downsize based on achieving an arbitrary FTE position ceiling. Reforming the District government requires that workers be viewed as valuable resources whose recommendations can help set the foundation for excellence in government. I support establishment of performance measures and a system of rewards for labor-management teams who are able to streamline operations, increase productivity and reduce operating costs.
3) Many cities have found that privatization of some city services is a key to long term economic health. Do you support the concept of privatization? In what specific areas and services do you see opportunities for contracting out of city services?
Response: For years I have been hearing the Control Board discuss their desire to promote managed competition, yet to date, I have not seen one contract issued by the Control Board or by the Government that has allowed District employees to bid on government contracts. I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana where employees bidding on contracts have improved services and reduced the cost of government operations. In the District, contracting out has frequently resulted in increased service delivery costs. The most recent bids for the recycling contract are a case in point. As far as I'm concerned, it is time for the government to step to the plate, level the playing field, and allow District workers to bid on contracts and privatization proposals. I am certain that competition between the private sector and government employees will aid in increasing service delivery and reducing costs.
4) How do you feel about the job that the Financial Control Board has done so far? How will you, as Mayor, work with the Control Board?
Response: To date, I have been disappointed with the job done by the Financial Control Board. The Control Board has paid more than $20 million to consultants to verify what many District citizens and businesses have already defined as our problems within the government and solutions to the problems. Their process of selecting contractors have been a closed one as has been many of their decisions. It is my hope that the new Chief of the Board will open the process to citizen participation and work toward implementation of the recommended management reforms.
The last budget process illustrated that an improved working relationship between the Mayor, the Control Board and the Council is possible and can be productive. As Mayor, I will emphasize centralized information flow and regularly scheduled meetings to streamline the working relationship between all parties and set goals for the implementation of the prescribed management reforms.
5) The same questions as above, only in regard to the Chief Management Officer: How is she doing? How will you, as Mayor, work with her?
Response: I am disappointed that she decided to reissue the recycling contract rather than accept the $110 per ton bid that the winning bidder had submitted. That decision resulted a second RFP which came in at $190 per ton. A significant cost increase that is still being negotiated.
As Mayor, I will set policy for government problems and work with her to insure that management reforms are implemented on a timely basis. I will also recommend that she frequently meet with citizens to establish an open working relationship with those who pay her salary, the residents of the District of Columbia.
6) Do you have specific proposals for attracting more businesses to the District, and for keeping those that are still here from leaving?
Response: See response to question 1.
Government Regulation of Businesses and Citizens
1) Do you think the District's regulation of businesses and citizens, particularly by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), is acceptable or do you share the view that it is unduly complicated, time consuming and unpredictable?
Response: Yes, I share the view that DCRA is unduly complicated, time consuming and unpredictable. Their operations are in a shambles. I'm committed to reforming DCRA so that it becomes a consumer driven user-friendly operation. To achieve this goal will require an investment in technology, trained staff, a "one-stop shop" for licenses and permitting and an interactive public network on the Web so that citizens and businesses can access DCRA functions from home or work.
2) Do you think that DCRA is functioning adequately enough to perform its mission? What do you think needs to be done at the agency?
Response: I do not think that DCRA is functioning adequately enough to perform its mission. As stated in response to the previous question, reforming DCRA will require an investment in technology, trained staff, a "one-stop shop" for licenses and permitting and an interactive public network on the Web so that citizens and businesses can access DCRA functions from home or work.
3) The Control Board has mandated a wide variety of regulatory reforms, some of which require action by the elected government, and others of which it will undertake on its own. Please provide, in detail, your responses to the regulatory reform recommendations the Control Board made in the areas of a) Land Use and Development, b) Street and Alley Closings, c) Environmental Regulations, d) Adoption of Updated Construction Codes, e) Self-Certification in the Construction and Development Process, f) Code Enforcement, and g) Street Vending Regulations.
a) Land Use and Development: I support many of the land use and development reforms identified by the Control Board . We must reduce the amount of time that it takes to process building permit applications, and applications for rezoning, special exceptions, and variances. By doing so we will help retain existing businesses and encourage other businesses to locate in the District. In addition, I am committed to appointing well qualified District residents to serve on the BZA and Zoning Commission. A few of the reforms appear to be controversial and those must receive further public hearings prior to approval .
b) Street and Alley Closings: I support streamlining the street and alley closing process for those closing where there are no conflicting interests.
c) Environmental Regulations: The purpose of the District of Columbia Environmental Policy Act (DCEPA) is to promote the health, safety and welfare of District residents and existing businesses. The law is a planning tool that provides a process during the early stages of deciding what development should take place in the District. This tool would have assisted in locating transfer stations in properly sited areas.
The recommendation to repeal the DCEPA does not reflect wise regulatory reform. Eliminating the environmental analysis under this law would have long-term financial and environmental costs to District businesses and communities.
d) Adoption of Updated Construction Codes: I support complete modernization of the District's construction codes.
e) Self-Certification in the Construction and Development Process: Obtaining building permits and certificates from DCRA is a time consuming and cumbersome process. My administration will create a healthy, user-friendly environment for businesses both large and small. Business operations overseen by the District from planning to permitting must be automated and under one roof. I support providing a single identification number to businesses for use in all agencies and reducing the broad range of license categories that currently exist. I also support self-certification which has worked well in a number of jurisdictions as long as proper controls and penalties for false certification are implemented.
I do not agree with the recommendation that the fire department be removed from the plan/review permit process. To do otherwise may jeopardize the public health, safety and welfare of District residents. As Mayor, I will meet with the Fire Marshall to determine the resources that are necessary to expedite the fire department's license review process.
f) Code Enforcement: DCRA's code enforcement operations are severely understaffed and must be increased as soon as possible and provided with a state-of-the art information system.
g) Street Vending Regulations: Vending is a very important opportunity for those with limited capital who are interested in starting a small business. I would support space assignment by name and location as long as those who currently are established at a location are allowed to continue their businesses at their current location. I support improved design standards for carts and tables. I also would like to reserve spaces so that high school students could have the opportunity to vend products, crafts or art work that they have produced.
Please provide detailed responses to the major recommendations of the Tax Revision Commission, addressing, at a minimum, the following:
1) Do you agree with the TRC's conclusion that a major restructuring of the District's tax base is required in order to ensure a stable future revenue base?
Response: Yes, I do agree that a major restructuring of the District's tax base (both residential and commercial) is necessary to stabilize the revenue tax base. The Tax Revision Commission's recommendations for tax reductions are reasonable. However, they must be viewed in the proper perspective. First, the rate reductions will not be able to offset immediate tax losses, within a reasonable time. Second, we must find a source of funds to offset the lost revenues in the short term. There are three possibilities: (1) excess revenues may be available in the budget to pay for reductions; (2) identify new revenue sources or increase rates in some taxes to pay for reductions on other taxes; (3) the federal government can provide additional funds.
Limit reductions to: (1) reducing the rental property tax rate from 1.54 percent to 0.96 for a reduction of $41 million; (2) combine classes 3 and 4 into a single commercial rate not higher than 1.92 percent or double the residential rate.
These two property tax reductions should be made as soon as revenues are available, or expenditure reductions are identified, for tax reductions.
2) Do you believe that the current system has disproportionately burdened business taxpayers? Do you believe that, within the business class, there are also disproportionate burdens which must be remedied, and, if so, what are they?
Response: See response to Size of Government; Financial Issues (Question 1)
3) What are your views on the TRC's recommended Business Activities Tax, and, if you think it has merit, should the Congress be asked to validate it from legal challenge?
Response: Yes, I feel that it has merit and should be considered as part of a comprehensive restructuring of tax rates. See response to Question 1 above.
4) Same question in regard to the Gross Receipts Tax proposed by the Office of Tax And Revenue?
Response: As I have responded to the Chamber of Commerce, I do not support either a value added tax or an additional gross receipt tax. The work of the Tax Revision Commission is very extensive . I support their tax proposals in principal yet do not feel any one, standing alone, can yet be called "best for the District".
5) Do you endorse a viable alternative to either of these, and if so, what is it?
Response: I am very interested in the prospect of a flat tax.
6) Irrespective of whether general business taxes are revised, do you support the need to: a) substantially lower the commercial property tax rate, b) eliminate Class Five, and c) combine multi-family and single-family properties in a single class, at the homeowner rate? If you differ, or have alternative proposals, please explain.
Response (Lower Commercial Property Tax): I support bringing the District's commercial property rate into parity with suburban rates as long as the fiscal effect of such action is in balance with reductions in government service delivery costs, increased revenue from businesses and residents returning to the District, or more equitable tax distribution.
Response (Class Five): I do not support lowering this tax.
Response (Multi-family & Single Family): Yes, I support combining these two rates to the homeowner rate for four unit buildings.
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