Ward 6 Update: May 20, 2021

Things are moving fast. As more and more people get vaccinated, it seems like our return to more normal daily activities is moving at warp speed.

This weekend, I was at the grand opening of the new Southwest Neighborhood Library and it felt like we were all emerging from the past year and beginning to understand we might soon be able to enjoy being around each other and resuming some of our favorite activities in our neighborhoods. Of course, that said, the pandemic is not over. As we see restrictions lifted, you're likely going to see many of local businesses maintain mask requirements. They're doing this to protect the health and safety of their employees and customers. Please remember, they've hung in there for more than a year through a pandemic and recession - so let's do what they ask and wear the mask. 

There's a lot going on, so let's jump on in!

Quick Links: Vaccines | Catch Up on Rent | Re-Opening | Southwest Library | Southeast Library | Public Safety Update | Mental Health 911 Pilot | Pandemic Safety Net & School Hearing | Unemployment Info | High-Speed Broadband | Vision Zero | Visitor Parking | DC Jail | Hearing on Police Reform | Comp Plan Passses!

Vaccines Available to DC Residents 12 and Older

Just announced last week, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by both the CDC and FDA for safe use with children as young as 12, which I know is a *big* relief to a lot of families. And DC Health is already vaccinating children ages 12 and up at walk-up sites offering the Pfizer product

At this point, it's never been easier to get vaccinated and protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19. The vaccines have proven remarkably effective. If you've been waiting or putting it off, now is the time to get it done. As you'll see in the next newsletter item, DC is rapidly moving to re-open and return to a more normal daily life. The success of that re-opening depends on getting as many people vaccinated as we can to starve this virus.

You can find hours of operation, vaccine type, and estimated wait times for every DC walk-up site here.

Additionally, I've shared and linked in the image to the right about this weekend's Day of Action to go door-to-door and help get neighbors information on how to get vaccinated. It's a great way to meet your neighbors, and connect with them, and potentially provide some important and lifesaving info.

Emergency Funds for Missed Rent and Utility Bills

Stay DC: If you haven't been able to pay your rent or utility bills during the pandemic, the District has funding available to help you with rent owed dating back to April 2020! Let me repeat that... if you're behind on rent and utility bills, federal relief dollars are available to help with that debt through STAY DC.  Visit Stay DC's website to begin the application process. As we come out of this pandemic, don't miss this opportunity! Landlords, you can assist your tenants with applying for missed payments as well. If you're having a hard time getting your application in, please let my team help you. At the Council, we're also focused on getting improvements made to the program to make it work better and get relief dollars flowing.

Related: An emergency bill came before the Council on Tuesday proposes to allow evictions to restart. I could not support this. We made a commitment to residents that no one could be evicted until 60 days after the public health emergency ended - except for public safety reasons to other residents. At this point, DC has only fully vaccinated around 30 percent of residents - the evictions ban has saved lives. And while Stay DC offers funding to help, payments have not gone out yet and it's too soon to drop the ban until we know residents have been able to have their application submitted and considered and paid out. I don't want people to get evicted while we're finding out there's been yet another IT problem that jeopardized so many residents. You can't unwind throwing someone out on the street once it's happened.

If this is an issue you'd like to personally share your experiences on, I'm holding a hearing on Friday with Councilmember Vince Gray as co-chairs of the Council's Special Committee on the COVID-19 Recovery. More info below.

New Guidelines for Re-Opening

On the re-opening front, there are two big changes I want to walk you through.

Capacity Limits Lifting: Last week, the Mayor made a sweeping announcement laying out a timeline to remove many of the restrictions in place in restaurants, bars, retail, and entertainment spaces at two different points: May 27 for most restaurants and retail businesses, and then June 11 for many entertainment, sports, and bars. 

Mask Usage Guidelines Updated: Adding to the sense of re-opening momentum, the CDC announced fully vaccinated people (which means two weeks following your final shot) no longer need to wear masks indoors. Just yesterday, the Mayor updated local regulations to reflect the CDC's guidance. For people who are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask unless it is required. Where is it required? 

  • On public transit or taxi or rideshare, as well as domestic and international travel on trains or airplanes
  • In school and childcare settings
  • In health care settings
  • In homeless shelters
  • In correctional facilities

The guidance also reserves the right to require masks for all private businesses, including both retail and restaurant/food. And I want to emphasize this point: be patient and understanding with our businesses as they work to figure out what this means for their customers and staff. And, of course, people are still welcome to wear a mask as they deem fit for their own health needs or comfort -- let's give each other the grace and time to adjust.

I've heard from a lot of families confused about how to handle travel, especially with children who are still unvaccinated. I'm seeking clarification from DC Health on this front, as I know it will impact travel plans for the summer, as well as camp plans or other fun activities. Right now, there is no quarantine requirement for travel between DC, Maryland, and Virginia for unvaccinated residents, including children. But DC Health does require it for broader travel. I'm working to get families with children under 12 or unvaccinated children better guidance.

In order for this re-opening to be successful, we have to keep getting our neighbors, friends, and family members vaccinated. Share the information in this newsletter with anyone who isn't as plugged in as you are -- I meet folks every week who just aren't aware of the current (and ever-shifting vaccine rollout plans).

The New Southwest Neighborhood Library is Here. And It's Spectacular.

This weekend, we finally cut the ribbon on the spectacular new Southwest Neighborhood Library. This is a project that dates all the way back to when I first was elected and the city was planning to close the library and sell the land -- something Southwest neighbors opposed. Working with neighbors at countless meetings and with the city, we were able to prevent the sale and begin a process to modernize the library and prepare it for the next generation of Southwest residents. And now, to see how the space has been transformed -- it's almost hard to believe. It fits *perfectly* into the streetscape and surrounding Southwest community. The building is simply stunning. But more than that, it is a welcoming space built with an intimate familiarity with how people use libraries in the 21st century. Meeting rooms, internet access, reading space set aside for young people - it has everything. And it is the first DCPL branch library to be awarded LEED Platinum status. 

But more important is how the library will serve the next generation of families, children, seniors, and residents of Southwest. Our libraries have become one of the most critical parts of "social infrastructure" -- spaces that bring us together and form the foundation of our community, spaces where all of us are welcome and on equal footing. I couldn't be prouder of the hard work done by so many, including staff on my team, the great team at DC Public Library, the design by Perkins+Will Architects, Turner Construction, and so many neighbors - especially Georgine Wallace and Ron Collins - who showed up for meetings and design reviews on weeknights in the basement of the old library to help us get it right. I hope I see you soon at the Southwest Neighborhood Library. DCist has a preview piece worth checking out.

Next Up: Southeast Branch Library

Not to be overlooked, there was a public meeting on May 5 to present updated designs for a much-needed modernization of the Southeast Neighborhood Library, located next to the new Eastern Market Metro Park. DC Public Library continues to raise the bar on what we can expect from our shared public spaces and the investments made by the community. You can view the slides from the presentation here. While preserving the historic building, I think the design team is on the right track in bringing in lots and lots of natural light and designing a space for library users at all ages. Check on the design and let me know what you think. Here's a good recap of the meeting and proposal from Capitol Hill Corner.

ICYMI: The Southeast Branch Library has re-opened for limited in-person services and expanded hours.

Public Safety: End Gun Violence Conference, Federal Action on Ghost Guns, Budget Hearings

End Gun Violence Conference: If you are passionate about ending gun violence in our communities and the irreparable harm that comes with it, join the T.R.I.G.G.E.R. Project and more than 50 other community groups for an online conference on June 1 from 12-5 pm. You can RSVP here and get a run-down of the agenda. This is a great group of community leaders that I work with regularly, who work on the ground to end gun violence just as well as they work with me and my colleagues at the Wilson Building. If you want to learn more, and get a closer sense of what's going on, I cannot recommend this conference enough. 

Federal Rulemaking on Ghost Guns Proposed: For the first time since 1968, the Department of Justice has proposed new rules to update the definition of firearms. This is intended to help address the growing problem of "ghost guns" - firearms that circumvent regulations around traditional firearms sales by either selling online in parts or coming as a 3-D printed weapon. You may recall I worked with Mayor Bowser to move legislation through the Council a few years ago that strengthened our local laws around the use of and possession of ghost guns. Any efforts by the federal government could have a big impact for us locally to crack down on the supply of illegal firearms making its way into the wrong hands.

What's the Big Picture? As many readers will know, I serve as Chair of the Council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. A big percentage of my week is dedicated to working on gun violence from every angle with a wide range of coalition partners inside and outside of government, such as the many groups running the End Gun Violence Conference above. There are thousands of people dedicated to this challenge.

This includes people doing preventive work face-to-face to reach those who are most likely to be involved in a violent crime, using credible messengers to intervene when neighborhood conflicts are escalating, focused efforts to remove illegal guns from dangerous people (including DC's Red Flag Law), fair and just policing, court trials to guarantee accountability, updated laws that reflect our values (including ghost guns + deadly modifications such as extended clips and bump stocks), supports and services for victims and survivors including trauma-informed care, and a correctional system that emphasizes rehabilitation along with accountability. I meet regularly with all members of our criminal justice system through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, and the smaller Combating Violent Crime committee, which focuses on the most at-risk people for violent crimes. Additionally, I'm encouraged with the Mayor's announcement of Building Blocks DC, which, after I created a Gun Violence Prevention Director in our city, also created an Emergency Operations Center bringing full resources to the specific blocks in DC where the majority of violent crime takes place, an effort I've been calling for and am grateful to see up and running now. 

I recognize that none of the data or strategy provides comfort once you've been the victim of a violent crime or had one happen close to home -- I know that feeling and the loss of security personally. But it is also true that there are limits to what police and penalties can do to deter crime, especially because both are reactive and do not address underlying causes. DC residents, no matter what neighborhood you live in, deserve to feel safe. Kids deserve to play outside without fear and students should be able to get to and from school safely. And I felt it was important to give you a brief overview of some of the work I've been leading at the Council, with many dedicated and informed partners, so you understand how we are all trying to get to a safer and more just community.

Judiciary and Public Safety Budget Hearings: If you want to testify on how we should fund our different programs to address public safety, please send an email to [email protected] with your name, telephone number, organization (if applicable), and title or call 202-724-7808. Here are the hearing dates, all of which will be available to watch online: 

  • June 3, 9:30 am to 3 pm: Deputy Mayor for Justice and Public Safety + Office of the Attorney General
  • June 10, 9:30 am to 6 pm: Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement + Metropolitan Police Department
  • June 11, 9:30 am to 6 pm: Fire and Emergency Services + Office of Unified Communications (911/311) + Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants / Access to Justice Initiative 
  • June 17, 9:30 am to 3 pm: Department of Corrections + Board of Elections + Office of Campaign Finance + Office of Police Complaints

DC Launches Pilot 911 Mental Health Emergency Response

I believe one of the more important steps we can take to improve public safety is to get smarter about who we send to respond to behavioral health calls made to 911. This week, the District launched a pilot program aimed at diverting calls for mental health crises where there isn't a clear indication of danger from police to an unarmed team of behavioral health experts. The program will divert around 25 calls per day during a six-month trial periodI held a hearing a few months back on how we can begin sending more specialized first responders to emergency calls that clearly weren't dangerous, and free up officers on patrol to focus more on violent crime. In a recent oversight hearing, I learned that MPD was dispatched to more than 184,000 calls that had the lowest designation of risk in FY20. That works out to more than 500 calls per day. That's a big drain on MPD patrols and likely in many circumstances not the most effective way that the city can respond to 911 calls. This pilot program is a good start to see how we can get smarter about our emergency response systems.

As Our Pandemic Safety Net Programs Wind Down, What's Next to Protect Residents?

As co-chair of the Council's Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery, I'm excited to announce the first of several hearings to dig into specific areas where we need to be very focused. Two of those most urgent areas are our public safety net and education. 

On Friday, May 21, the Special Committee will hold a hearing on "An Equitable End to Safety Net Protections Put in Place During the COVID-19 Pandemic." The Council enacted many important protections at the start of this pandemic: an eviction moratorium, utility shut-off ban, and more. The Mayor and her team were able to provide a number of important funds or bridge loans to assist renters, homeowners, unemployed residents, businesses, and more to further protect DC residents and businesses from the damage many restrictions required to slow the spread of COVID-19. As we hopefully return to a more normal day-to-day life, we need to examine how we carefully unwind these important protections and how we ensure there isn't a wave of evictions and utility shut-offs suddenly. If you'd like to participate to share your experience and how these programs affected you, you can sign-up to be a witness here.

Then on Wednesday, May 26, the Special Committee will hold a hearing examining education and what we need to be mindful of as we return to in-person learning after an entire school year where most students were learning remotely most, if not the entire school year. I'll be looking for answers to these questions: 

  • How can public schools in the District best measure educational progress during the pandemic and the learning gaps that the pandemic has created?
  • How can public schools in the District best address learning gaps that existed before, but were certainly exacerbated by, the pandemic?
  • How can public schools in the District ensure safe transportation to and from school once in-person learning begins for all students?
  • How can the District ensure digital equity in public schools, and is there a place for distance learning post-pandemic?
  • How can the District ensure that students’ mental and physical health needs are adequately met, in particular for students who experienced severe trauma and delayed necessary health visits during the pandemic?

If you'd like to submit testimony, here's how to participate.

Understanding Unemployment Insurance 

Sharing this graphic from the Department of Employment Services to help residents understand if and when you'll need to re-certify to continue to receive unemployment benefits or if the process will happen automatically. DOES's UI benefits has been a nightmare for a lot of people, and something I keep in mind whenever we weigh scaling back safety net programs while there are residents who still are waiting on thousands of dollars in assistance to which they are legally entitled. If you're having an issue with getting your benefits, please contact my team. 

Pandemic Support for High-Speed Broadband for Many Households

Don't miss an opportunity to get connected to high-speed broadband via federal funding now available to a wide range of households. I'm a big believer that coming out of this pandemic, we have to find a way to ensure every DC household, in every part of the city, can get access to high-speed, reliable, and affordable internet service (I introduced a bill to do just so). But this federal funding is a great immediate step most DC households should take to upgrade their internet or spend less of their monthly budget on that internet service. Who is eligible? A lot of households, including any household where children receive free school lunches, SNAP benefits, Medicaid, as well as households earning up to $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joint-filing households who lost some income in 2020. Learn more about how to apply. This column in the Post has good info on how the program works.

Roundtable on DDOT's Vision Zero

Roundtable on DDOT's Vision Zero
While I was unable to join the Council's roundtable on Vision Zero and the increase, not decrease, in the number of traffic deaths we are seeing this year, I was disheartened by many of the responses by DDOT in review. Job number one is fully funding the Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus Act, which was passed by the Council. While some aspects of the law went into effect already, the majority of the law's more substantial pieces require funding in the upcoming budget. I am hopeful the funding will be identified when the Mayor releases her proposed budget later this month. 

But I want to focus on something that I know many advocates are frustrated about. Whenever we have a hearing about vision zero, whoever is in the role of Director of DDOT offers a lot of support and says a lot of the right things about the importance of safety for pedestrians and bicycle or scooter riders alongside drivers. But then there's the disconnect in what actually happens on the ground -- both in the immediate response to neighbors concerned about high speeds or dangerous driving, and in long-term projects such as C Street NE or Dave Thomas Circle (someone show me how this will slow down traffic, because I don't see it in the 65% designs). It's hard to take a commitment to Vision Zero seriously when our biggest projects first prioritize cars, and then try to squeeze in everyone else and minimal steps are taken even after we have drivers running through school yards.

Update on Digital Visitor Parking Permits

We've received a ton of questions about updates to the Visitor Parking Permit system, now under the Park DC program, which you might be familiar with from meter parking services. Residents are still entitled to one universal pass annually. Additionally, there is now a bank of time equal to 90 days of additional visitor parking that can be tapped into when more than one visitor is at a household. This should provide homes with a lot more flexibility for out-of-town guests without being as open to abuse. Learn more about your options here.

Long-Sought Improvements at DC Jail Begin

In case you missed it, late last week DC's Department of Corrections announced new protocols meant to improve conditions inside DC Jail -- here's the Post recap. For more than a year, anyone being held at DC Jail, often while awaiting the resumption of trials, has largely been isolated as an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I've pushed over and over again for a more humane set of guidance to improve access to everything from out-of-cell time to education and other constructive programming - remember, there are people waiting in jail to have their day in court and have been waiting for more than a year. While there's still more work to be done, this is a good first step. 

Hearing on Police Reform Commission Recommendations

All day today, I'll be leading an all-day hearing at the Council to consider the recommendations put forth from the Police Reform Commission earlier this year. Sharing the notice if you'd like to follow the discussion, which will be streamed on my Facebook page. And I recommend reading the Commission's final report, submitted to the Council.

Comprehensive Plan (finally) Passes

This week, an enormous, five-year long process to update the city's guiding document on land use and the future of planning was completed. The Comp Plan is an incredibly dense, but important document that guides and sets the ground rules for how land gets used. It often gets conflated with things like affordable housing and density in development, but in reality, all it does is set the parameters for any given project that might take place in the future. So, while it is incredibly important, and I want to congratulate and thank many residents and organizations for their hard work to shape it -- it won't on its own build a single unit of affordable housing -- that will come from the Council and the Mayor continuing to push to build communities affordable for everyone, to minimize or prevent displacement, and lessen the burden of the cost of housing on all of us. The Washington Business Journal has a pretty thorough write-up and explainer about the changes we made.

Alright, this was a long update, but there's a ton happening. If you made it to the end, thanks for reading. Have a great week!

Charles Allen

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