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Shortly after declining to commit to a timeline for reforming local rent control laws by declaring that the public should not expect her to be “cutting my finger and bleeding blood,” At-Large D.C. Councilmember Anita Bonds voted down an effort to divert $35 million from a planned expansion of the H St. NE streetcar to the District’s public housing authority.
The amendment, proposed during the Council’s marathon budget hearing on Tuesday by her fellow At-Large Councilmember Robert White, looked like the politically expedient choice for Bonds. She didn’t have to do the legwork of drafting, introducing, and ginning up support for the amendment, and the multi-million-dollar gift would help repair some housing that many people, including this reporter, have criticized her for not fighting harder to protect. Better yet, Bonds herself wouldn’t have to do the messy and notoriously difficult work of securing funding from another committee.
In the end, Bonds, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, voted “no” on White’s amendment. But that’s a far cry from where Bonds stood just hours beforehand.
On Monday evening at 8:15 p.m., Bonds’ staff sent an email to a reporter from WAMU containing answers to a series of questions the reporter submitted. According to a copy of the email obtained by City Paper, in response to WAMU’s first question––“Does the council member support the reallocation of funds ($83M) from the city’s streetcar to public housing repairs?”––Bonds’ staffer wrote:
“If the Council were to vote to reallocate funds for the street car towards public housing repairs, Councilmember Bonds would wholeheartedly support this action.”
But on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after that email landed in WAMU’s inbox, Bonds voted down White’s amendment, joining Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmembers Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Brandon Todd (Ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Charles Allen (Ward 6), Vincent Gray(Ward 7), and David Grosso (At-Large).
City Paperemailed a spokesperson for Bonds to ask about the pivot, but did not receive a response by press time.
White’s amendment would have diverted $35 million in fiscal year 2022 from a planned expansion of the terrifically slow and chronically troubled H Street NE streetcar along Benning Road NE to the DC Housing Authority. The move would have brought the D.C. Council’s total investment that year to $50 million, level with the $50 million it has allocated to DCHA for building repairs in fiscal year 2021.
“DCHA needs stable funding in order to plan for long-term projects and deep rehabilitation work,” the amendment text says. “Without the full investment of $50 million in FY 2022 as well, DCHA cannot effectively plan for long-term rehabilitation. Full funding of $50 million in FY 2021 and FY 2022 will allow DCHA to keep pace with repairs that are desperately needed.”
The DC Housing Authority faces a multi-billion-dollar backlog in repairs for its public housing units, where some 20,000 Washingtonians reside. The agency’s director, Tyrone Garrett, told City Paper in 2018 that nearly one-third of its housing stock, riddled with rodent infestations, mold, and structural damage, is close to uninhabitable. City Paper has previously reported that some public housing tenants have been hospitalized with conditions ranging from respiratory failure to lead poisoning because of their housing conditions. DCHA is currently deciding which of its 56 apartment complexes to prioritize for “rehabilitation,” which could include razing existing buildings and offloading the management of them to private companies.