4-28-21: Ward 6 Update

A lot has happened since my last update - especially with the availability of vaccines for DC residents but on a lot of other fronts as well. My team and I have put together another update, but with so much going on, this one is a bit longer than normal.

We try to cover everything from slow and missed mail delivery, to the failures of Vision Zero on our streets in the face of more traffic violence, to needed help for rent and utilities through Stay DC, to neighborhood movies and Literary Hill BookFest. Plus, the District has finally launched a way for homebound DC residents to receive the vaccine at home. This is a long update on a lot of topics, so let's jump right in.

Quick Links: COVID Vaccine Updates | Rent and Utility Help | Re-Opening | Self-Testing | USPS Issues | Eastern Market Plaza | Vision Zero Failure | Dave Thomas Circle | Bike to Work 2021 | DMV Enforcement Resumes | FY22 Budget | BookFest | Drive-In Movies

Big COVID-19 & Vaccine Updates

Since I last wrote, there have been big changes in DC's vaccine rollout. This comes as the focus of our response quickly shifts from a scarcity of vaccine to making it easy to get your COVID-19 vaccine. Two major announcements:

First, all DC residents 16 and older are eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Residents who are 16 and 17 will need to schedule their vaccination through Children's Hospital.

Second, beginning Saturday, May 1, all 11 District-run vaccination sites will begin accepting walk-in patients for first doses only. The last day to pre-register for an appointment is Wednesday, April 28. The portal will continue to facilitate vaccinations with the existing list.

Moving forward, it looks like VaccineFinder.org is the best resource to find all available appointments, searching by zip code and by vaccine preference.

In Ward 6, the two sites that will be accepting walk-ups are Arena Stage in Southwest and Rosedale Recreation Center in Northeast. But don't forget about the Convention Center, which is just on the Ward 6 border in Northwest. Check the hours for each on VaccineFinder.org before you head over.

On the day of your vaccination, if you have a government-issued ID and/or proof of insurance, please bring it with you. Neither is required, but it is helpful to have both. You should not be charged to receive the vaccine.

Grubbs Pharmacy on Capitol Hill has Vaccine: I received a note from neighbors flagging that Grubbs Pharmacy, located at 400 East Capitol St., NE, has plenty of supply of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (re-approved). Adults 18 and older can make an appointment by calling 202-543-4400. DC residents ages 16 and 17 are only approved to take the Pfizer vaccine, which isn't offered here.

May 1 Day of Action to Sign Up Residents: As I alluded to above, the increased supply of vaccines means more and more DC residents can get vaccinated. But there's going to be a shift from high demand among eager folks to getting the next wave of residents vaccinated. As of this morning, DC Health estimates around 237,000 DC residents have been fully or partially vaccinated. That leaves many residents who still need to receive a vaccine. There's a massive citywide volunteer and government effort this Saturday, May 1, to knock on doors and help sign people up or at least give neighbors the tools needed to make their own appointment. 

It is important to remember that the sooner we crush this virus, the sooner we can resume the daily activities that we all love. In the coming months, that's going to mean getting more and more people vaccinated while continuing to mitigate existing cases to stop the spread of the virus and starve it.

Mobile Vaccinations for Homebound Residents: Beginning this week, I'm also glad to see the District is finally offering a way for homebound residents to be vaccinated, a program my colleagues and I have been asking for. Now residents who are homebound (at any age 16+) can call 855-363-0333 to request a scheduled vaccine at home. I can tell you from conversations I had at our March 26 vaccine clinic in Hill East that accessibility is a huge issue for many of our seniors who wanted to get vaccinated. I'm glad this service is being offered. Please share and spread the word in your community and with any folks who are homebound and could use some assistance. More from DCist.

Funeral Funds Available for COVID-19 Loss: While it is incredibly sad to write this, I am glad there are funds available specifically to assist families with funeral and burial expenses related to deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have lost a loved one due to COVID-19, I encourage you to check if you qualify for reimbursement for funeral expenses from FEMA.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Back in DC: Just a quick note to flag that following the FDA and CDC lifting the pause on administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, DC Health has given the green light to once again offer it.

DC Auditor Report on COVID Response: A new report from the DC Auditor, which is part of the Council, has found that many of the mitigation strategies taken by the District of Columbia saved lives over the past 14 months when compared to what measures other states did or did not take. I think this is welcome news to many of us who have made significant sacrifices over the past year and made a commitment to our neighbors that we would wear masks and keep some physical distance when around others. DC residents deserve a lot of credit for the shared sacrifices and efforts undertaken. I recognize I'm flagging this report after sharing information on funeral assistance. I think it's important to never lose sight of the individual and collective trauma our community has experienced in the past year because of this global pandemic.

Stay DC: Receive Up to One Year in Back Rent and Overdue Utility Bills

This is huge. DC is offering funding to help qualifying DC renters re-pay up to 12 months of missed or late rental payments from April 2020 on, and up to three months in advance payments. My staff was recently able to assist someone who had fallen behind after losing their job. When our unemployment insurance system failed to keep up with payments, the overdue rent and utility bills stacked up. Thankfully, Kimberly on my Constituent Services team was able to assist in applying for Stay DC funds. This is exactly the kind of support we need to be providing to residents if we want to come out of this pandemic stronger. This is a huge opportunity for households that have struggled during the pandemic. If you know someone behind on rent, this is a great resource for them: https://stay.dc.gov/

And if it seems overwhelming, my Constituent Services team can help you navigate the application for yourself, a friend, neighbor, or family member who lives in DC. Get in touch with our staff today.

Re-Opening Alerts

Southeast Library: Starting May 3, our Southeast Neighborhood Library will re-open with limited in-person services, including picking up holds, checking out display items, having a book pulled from the stacks, getting a library card, managing your library account, receiving print, copy and scan services, signing up to use a limited number of computers for a 45-minute session once per day or one 15 minute express session per hour, and using the bathroom. Beginning May 8, the hours for all libraries will expand to Monday-Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm.

Splash Parks and Pools: Splash Parks will open at normal hours and capacity. Public pools will be able to re-open with an approved health and safety plan in place, so expect to hear more as we get closer to summer.

Smithsonian and National Zoo: Good news -- seven Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo have announced plans to re-open safely in May, including the National Museum for African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Museum, the American History Museum, and the National Zoo. Each site will release free timed passes for entry.

Self-Test COVID Kits Available at Libraries

I want to emphasize that despite the hopefulness we are all feeling as vaccines become more common, we are a long way from containing this virus in a meaningful way. That's why I'm grateful to see self-test kits being offered at neighborhood libraries. For Ward 6, Shaw Library is the only location right now, though I have requested that DC add more sites in Ward 6. I believe two additional sites in Ward 6 will come online soon, and I'll get the word out as soon as they're up and running. Testing will continue to be very important until we have widespread vaccinations and this program makes it easy. Here is all the information you need to know: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/testyourself

DC Statehood Bill Passes US House, on to the Senate!

For the second time in as many years, a bill that would make the District of Columbia the 51st state in the union passed the US House of Representatives. That's a remarkable fact given the District's history and Congress' grip on our democracy for 200+ years. Prior to last year, neither chamber of congress had ever advanced legislation to admit the District of Columbia as the 51st state. Now it has happened twice in just two years. That's a testament to the ongoing efforts of so many to organize here and across the United States and force the issue to the center stage, starting with our warrior on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. I do not know what will happen in the Senate. I will say, I think we're going to see the US Senate have to engage with the fact that 700,000 Americans who pay taxes, who serve in the military, and who would become the most diverse state in the US, currently have no voice in their chamber. I tweeted a few other thoughts after the vote here. So the best I can offer right now is that I am committed to seeing this through and working my tail off to see statehood through the Senate. We've never been this close! Here's a recap of the day from WTOP.

Unity Health Clinic Returns to Southwest in New Home

It was my pleasure to join a masked ribbon cutting to celebrate the return of the Unity Health Clinic to Southwest on the first and lower floors of the Aya, the beautiful short-term family shelter in Ward 6, and take a tour. This is a community health clinic that will serve both residents of the Aya as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. Long a part of the Southwest neighborhood, this clinic is beloved by many who appreciate being able to see a nurse or doctor just a short distance from home. I was proud to welcome back Unity to Southwest!

US Postal Service Delivery Issues

I'm hearing from a lot of neighbors in Northeast and other parts of Ward 6 who haven't received regular mail delivery in more than two weeks. This is an issue I'm experiencing as well. Unfortunately, because USPS is a federal agency, there aren't any quick fixes. However, we've been working with Congresswoman Holmes Norton's office on getting improved service. I just want to make sure you know we're trying to find out what the issues are and get it fixed. This isn't just a matter of convenience -- people are missing health, financial, and other critical documents. Read the letter demanding answers from Congresswoman Holmes Norton to Postmaster Louis DeJoy here.

Eastern Market Metro Plaza Re-Imagining Almost Done!

We're hoping to hold a soft-opening for the new look Eastern Market Metro Plaza, which has been a massive upgrade to a space that long was overlooked as folks went to and through it to get to Barracks Row, the metro, or Eastern Market. But as we get ready to cut the ribbon in the next month or so, I dropped over for a quick visit and preview. I hope you can get over there soon!

Vision Zero is Failing Our Residents

In less than five months, we've had 12 people killed while using DC streets or sidewalks - half of whom were pedestrians, including a 4-year-old, two residents who had overcome homelessness and were enjoying a weekend walk at Hains Point, and a bike rider who advocated for safer streets in his free time. These are tragic losses -- just as awful as victims of violence or COVID-19. And just as concerning are the repeated instances of aggressive driving, confrontation, and reckless behavior from law enforcement that only further emphasize our streets and sidewalks and bike lanes aren't safe places. Living in the District of Columbia shouldn't require accepting you and your family are just generally living in a more dangerous environment, yet I think just about everyone who has walked or biked in DC has a story of a close encounter with a driver going too fast or too carelessly.

Over the past three years, I led the Council to pass a sweeping set of reforms in the interest of creating a safer and more welcoming built environment - the Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus Amendment Act of 2019. Most of the bill won't go into effect until it is funded in the upcoming budget. Right now, I'm advocating to the CFO's team to re-consider an overly expensive estimate of $40 million to implement it, which I think comes from mis-reading the bill's requirements for driver's license exams and additional traffic cameras. My team thinks the cost should be somewhere closer to $11 million, which would make it easier to put the law in place.

DC is failing to ensure our streets, sidewalks, and public spaces are safe for all, from people walking, to people biking or riding an e-scooter, or even driving a car. Ensuring that everyone can get around safely without having to drive is *required* if we want to build a city that is welcoming, accessible, and safe for more and more people. We can build all of the bike lanes (used by a wide range of people) we want, but if someone doesn't feel safe to even try biking, or if our buses can't get through the downtown corridor any faster, these alternatives that offer so much potential for our businesses, city life, clean air, and public spaces won't be used.

We know that affordable housing is rarely located in the same areas where walking, biking, and riding public transit are reasonable alternatives to driving to a job, the grocery store, or a favorite park. We know former DC residents have been seeking affordable housing outside of DC, being forced into the trade-off to drive more as part of their financial problem-solving. Understanding and accounting for this has to be part of our approach big picture. Some people have no alternative right now besides driving most places. And by not providing more residents in not just DC, but the region with realistic, safe, and affordable alternatives to relying on a car and all of the associated costs that come with it, we are not going to solve for this challenge.

That's one reason why I fight so hard to have affordable housing built in Ward 6, in the areas where we are building safer streets. It's a major reason why I will re-introduce my Metro For DC legislation, offering residents an alternative to driving that makes sense for their pocketbooks. Trust me: I am heartbroken with every new crash, be it a fatal one or just a near-miss where we say, "imagine if someone had been walking there." There are big picture changes I am working toward with my colleagues, but it's past time for DDOT to show some leadership here in making urgent changes to road designs to make streets safer and slower. I'm sick of attending memorial rides just to draw attention to a problem where we have solutions. 

Related: I want to explore the DC Police Reform Commission's recommendation that traffic enforcement duties shift away from MPD to DDOT, similar to how parking enforcement was shifted from MPD to DPW. It's an idea that deserves more discussion, but I think it's safe to say the real-time enforcement we have is inconsistent at best and leads to a host of problems, namely that more than 70% of traffic stops by MPD involve Black or brown drivers. I believe there's some potential space for enforcement that isn't done by a police officer. And in that same vein, advocates of safe streets need to recognize the threat of severe punishments has limited effects on changing dangerous driving behavior, but will exacerbate the already huge racial inequality in justice-system involvement.

DDOT Announces Dave Thomas Circle Redesign Meeting

If you live in NoMa or regularly travel through Eckington, you know how dangerous and inconvenient the massive intersection of New York Avenue and Florida Avenue, NE is, affectionately known as Dave Thomas Circle since a Wendy's sits at the center of the madness. DDOT just announced a meeting to present 65% complete designs to the public and receive feedback. The meeting is on May 17 at 6:30 pm, but you can register to attend right now.

Goal: 20,000 Signed up for Bike to Work Day

As a starting point for building a safer city for all road users, I encourage you to help get to 20,000 riders for 2021 Bike to Work Day DC. Friday, May 21, will mark the 20th Bike to Work Day in metro DC! And in honor of the milestone, there's a goal of getting 20,000 people registered for this year's Bike to Work Day. If we want to be a city prepared for the future, including being affordable, accessible, and safe, it means we have to make room on our roads for all modes of transport. Even if you're working from home and you've never had a bike commute before, this is a good opportunity to make a simple plan to go for a morning ride. 

DMV and Parking Enforcement Returning June 1

Last week the Mayor set a target date to resume parking enforcement beginning June 1, which will include requiring vehicles to be updated on registration, residential parking permits, and vehicle emissions inspection. After more than a year of suspending these requirements, and the ongoing shortage of DMV appointments, I am concerned there is going to be a backlog and a scramble to update services. When the Council raised these concerns, we were assured the DMV was prepared to release enough appointments so that everyone who needed in-person services would be able to get one in time. 

Any residents simply renewing existing registrations, RPP, and inspections can do so online. Remember, if your vehicle is up for an inspection, you'll pay for that as part of your registration. There are multiple options for vehicle emissions inspections, including the inspections station in Southwest or a new self-inspection station in Van Ness.

Related: As enforcement resumes after more than a year hiatus, the Mayor also announced a ticket amnesty from June 1 (when enforcement resumes) through Sept 30, 2021. That means while a DC resident will need to pay the original fine for parking, speeding, traffic camera violations, they won't have to pay any late fees. More here from CBS 9.

DC FY22 Budget Schedule Pushes Into Summer

For everyone interested in testifying on next year's budget for the District, I wanted to quickly flag for you the schedule has been delayed this year again in order to be sure we're working with a full picture. Keep an eye out in future emails for more specific dates once the Council votes to finalize the schedule next week, but expect in general hearings will take place in early and mid-June and the Council will be voting in mid-July and early August. The budget submission from the Mayor was pushed back in order to allow more time for the federal government to provide guidance on funds made available through the American Rescue Plan to cities and states.

Literary Hill BookFest 2021 is May 2

This weekend, an annual favorite of Ward 6 returns virtually with a great line-up. Passing on this announcement from the organizers: 

"The Literary Hill BookFest is an annual celebration of books and authors held each spring on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Because of the pandemic, this lively event will move online for the second year in a row, meaning that you can join us from wherever you are on Sunday, May 2 to meet some of your favorite authors of fiction, memoir, poetry, history, children's literature, nonfiction, mystery and more. Tune in at 11:00 am for a smorgasbord of literary delights, including timely panel discussions, writing workshops, a poetry open mic, and even a surprise or two. Featured writers include Louis Bayard, New York Times contributor and national bestselling author of Courting Mr. Lincoln; Ariel Sabar, author of Veritas and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for his debut book My Father's Paradise; Tamara Copeland, author of Daughters of the Dream: Eight Girls From Richmond Who Grew Up in the Civil Rights Era; Jennifer Howard, former columnist for The Washington Post and author of Clutter: An Untidy History; Lucinda Robb and Rebecca Boggs Roberts, co-authors of The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World; Ethelbert Miller, author of If God Invented Baseball, and many more. The entire event is free and open to the public. Visit www.literaryhillbookfest.org for more information, including how you can contribute to our crowd-sourced poem." 

Capitol Riverfront Drive-In Movie Nights

Passing on this family-friendly Friday evening activity: the Capitol Riverfront BID is hosting drive-in movies for $20 a car. More information here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/capitol-riverfront-spring-drive-in-movie-series-tickets-150100812571.

Whew... that was a long one. All my best to you and yours and as I increasingly see folks in the neighborhood, I hope to run into you soon as well!

Charles Allen

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