Councilmember McDuffie’s Opening Statement at the Hearing on the Comprehensive Plan Framework Amendments

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Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie, Ward 5
Opening Statement
Council of the District of Columbia
Committee of the Whole Public Hearing
Tuesday, March 20, 2018

“Good afternoon, I want to thank the Chairman for holding this important hearing. And I want to thank my colleagues for being here and all these public witnesses who have taken time out of their busy schedules to weigh in to what is probably one of the most pressing issues facing the District of Columbia in a very long time.

I am grateful that you all have made it out to today’s hearing.

As we look at this Comprehensive Plan, this plan should do more than make a broad policy statement. Like other jurisdictions, I believe it should evaluate and account for the growth of the city and how disenfranchised residents could be impacted differently. This includes evaluating certain amendments to the framework and how they could accelerate residents’ course of unemployment or displacement. It includes evaluating whether public resources are needed so that these residents can take advantage of growth. The plan must accept that there are likely different impacts for different communities and refuse to accept that displacement is a foregone conclusion.

When I look at the comprehensive plan, I don’t simply see a document that talks about land use, I see a document that will guide the future economic growth of the District of Columbia. I see a document that has the potential to determine how and where investments are made. I see a document that ultimately impacts the District’s ability to close the achievement gap, lower unemployment, and produce jobs that pay a living wage.

More importantly, I see an opportunity. I see an opportunity to ensure that all residents in the District are given a fair chance. Every resident of the District should be able to get what they need to be successful regardless of where they begin in life, or regardless of where they reside. That is why we must not view the comprehensive plan in a silo, but rather through a lens of racial equity, social justice, and economic inclusion.

When I say racial equity, I am referring to a real problem that is affecting real people – that in spite of the population growth or increased prosperity we’re seeing in the District of Columbia, low and middle-income families in particular, Black families – are being left behind, poverty is becoming more and more concentrated and economic segregation is becoming increasingly pervasive across the city.

As I approach the Framework Element through a lens of racial equity, I have prioritized three focal points including: looking at that issue of displacement; looking at housing affordability across the District of Columbia; and also looking at some of the appeals to approved Planned Unit Developments, and what the impact is on the District.

How will the comprehensive plan impact housing affordability? How will the comprehensive plan shape development where we are currently seeing development throughout the District impact the ability of people to remain in the District? Is the process to appeal PUDs of the independent Zoning Commission impacting the District’s ability to produce more market rate and affordable housing?

The comprehensive plan has the potential to impact the cost of housing, income, and other things that could lead to displacement. And government has the responsibility to minimize displacement at all costs.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Black boys from wealthy families grow up to make less than their rich, white peers. In fact, the report noted that “Boys born into high-income Black families are much more likely to experience downward economic mobility than similarly situated whites across generations.”

And I think we all know the statistics; the median annual income for white families is $120,000, while it remains stagnant for Black families at just $41,000. In education, we know that more than half of all new jobs in the District between 2010 and 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree; in the year 2014 just 12.3% of Black residents have graduated from college. As it relates to economic potential, the average white household in the region has a net worth of $284,000 while the average Black household is just $3,500.

Let me close by just saying that… this process we’re going through right now really resonates with me. It resonates with me on a personal level. And my guiding principles are fairly basic and really reflect who I am.

Today, I’m a lawyer and a member of the Council of the District of Columbia. But not too long ago, I was a young, Black boy, growing up in the city who was lost, and didn’t know where I would get a job or how I would provide for myself. It was only because of opportunities of people who helped me to get through college, to get through law school, and to end up where I am today.

And I believe deeply that how we shape our housing policy in the District of Columbia, is tied to people’s ability to be educated – our student’s ability to achieve a quality education. It’s tied to people’s ability to have a good paying job with a salary that allows them to take care of themselves and their families.

I often tell people that, if my wife and I – and we both have dual degrees – had to purchase our house, that has been in my family since 1951, if we had to purchase that house today, we likely would not be able to do it.

So, again, I want to thank everybody for being here. I look forward to a very robust conversation about the framework element of this Comprehensive Plan but also being mindful that we have to take the necessary time to ensure that you all get to weigh in, that our civic association leadership gets to weigh in, that our Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners get to weigh in. And that, at the end of the day, we won’t all agree, perhaps, but we can be proud about the process that took place and allowed us to get through this.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for having this hearing, and I want to thank everybody for being here.”

Transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.