At its most recent Legislative Meeting, the Council unanimously defeated an effort by the mayor to shift $20.6 million out of a depleted and underfunded emergency eviction prevention fund and into a homelessness prevention program. The mayor had filed a mid-year budget measure that, if not addressed by the Council, would have redirected $20.6 million out of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and into the Family Re-Housing Stabilization Program/Rapid Re-Housing.
ERAP helps those struggling with paying rent avoid eviction by assisting with late rent payments, or relocation to a new apartment. The program’s application process should be open continuously, year-round, but instead has recently gone through cycles of newly reopened applications, technical difficulties due to high demand, and sudden cessation of allowed applications due to available funds being tapped out. Most recently, after opening applications on October 1, the process was again closed on October 10 due to excessive demand. Applications will not open again until the next quarter, on January 1, 2024.
In fighting to maintain funds in ERAP rather than redirecting them to homelessness prevention, the Council’s goal was to combat housing insecurity slightly more “upstream,” or a bit earlier in the process. Those who are able to cover back rent through ERAP are hopefully getting ahead of a one-time, non-recurring housing crisis and re-establishing stability, thus avoiding ever facing homelessness in the first place. The program the mayor was seeking to shift funds to tackles the same underlying issue, but potentially a couple of steps later in the underlying crisis.
In other action at the most recent meeting, the Council approved a bevy of mayoral nominees. These included first and foremost Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Pamela Smith. Smith, who came to MPD from the US Park Police last year, is the first Black woman to serve as MPD chief in a non-acting role (Sonya Proctor served as interim chief for five months in 1997-1998).
Approved via emergency legislation was the new director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), Sam Abed. The Council faced a tight deadline to act on his appointment, but given recent reports of trouble with youth and facilities overseen by DYRS, the Council expects to see heightened oversight of the agency, including changes planned by the new leadership.
Culminating years of effort to break up the former Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs into a Department of Buildings (DOB) and a Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection, the Council has now approved the first fresh leaders for several roles at the comparatively new agencies. Directors of both agencies were approved, as well as three other senior DOB officials.
Additionally, agency directors at the Department of General Services, Department of Health, and Department of Human Services were confirmed. Finally, almost two dozen members of occupational boards, executive boards, commissions, and trustees were also approved.
In other action, the Council:
- approved a Sense of the Council measure urging the mayor to declare a public health emergency related to opioid and fentanyl epidemic and deaths in the District. Deaths from this epidemic will likely be double those lost to homicide this year.
- reduced (on an emergency basis) the fine for driving or parking in a dedicated bus lane from $200 to $100, and encouraged the implementation of automated tickets for such offenses begin as soon as possible.
- Enacted on a permanent basis legislation to create a free Master of Social Work program at the University of the District Columbia, to help combat a severe shortage of social workers in the District
- Eliminated the COVID vaccine requirement for public school students (though enforcement of the prior requirement had never actually taken effect)
- Allowed, on an emergency basis, for the sale of mace and pepper spray for self-defense in the District
With a government shutdown again on the horizon, while the DC government would remain open, DC court responsibilities deemed “non-essential” by the courts (such as issuing marriage certificates) would cease. As a result, marriages in the District would come to a complete halt. An emergency measure passed by the Council at its recent meeting would allow the mayor, via the Secretary of the District of Columbia, to issue marriage licenses during a federal government shutdown.
The Council’s next regularly-scheduled Legislative Meeting will be held on December 5.