Testimony of Becky Strauss
Senior Associate, Federal City Council
June 10, 2021
Fiscal Year 2022 Budget: OZ, OP, DCRA
Committee of the Whole
Chairman Phil Mendelson
Good morning, my name is Becky Strauss and I’m testifying on behalf of Federal City Council and in support of funding for critical planning work at the Office of Planning that will help accomplish our city’s housing supply and affordability goals, especially in high opportunity areas.
First, let me applaud the Council for passing the Comprehensive Plan. It unlocks the possibility of adding greater housing density along major transportation corridors. As you all know, building more housing takes the heat off of housing prices for everyone. And one of the best ways to help residents climb the economic ladder is through high-opportunity neighborhoods, with access to good schools, jobs and transportation networks. More housing density in areas like Ward 3 can also help dismantle the legacy of segregation in the city.
But much planning work must be done to do this right. The Mayor’s budget includes money to develop planning frameworks in Friendship Heights and Tenleytown, as well as design guidelines for Cleveland Park and Woodley Park. It will help make historic preservation compatible with greater density.
Similarly, planning must be done to transform New York Avenue from a traffic-clogged, commuter corridor into a welcoming, vibrant, residential and commercial area that knits together neighborhoods rather than serving as a barrier between them. Money in the Mayor’s budget will fund staff time to develop frameworks for Brentwood and Ivy City. Think of these frameworks as similar to the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, which laid the groundwork to transform the Anacostia Waterfront for the better.
And finally planning must be done to create toolkits for how to design and manage public space modifications like streeteries and parklets. Many streeteries are transitioning from temporary to permanent structures. DC residents love open street spaces like Black Lives Matter and want more regular street closures for pedestrians, events and festivals. But careful planning makes sure those closures are done safely, with thoughtful street furniture design and in a way that the neighborhood supports.
Funding more OP staff time—including for in-house legal work—will hedge against litigation risk. The last thing we want is for our hopes for more housing affordability to get bogged down in the courts.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not put a plug in for other critical pieces in the Mayor’s budget that we at the Federal City Council support, including no new taxes and the Vitality Fund. Businesses will drive the economic recovery. Now is not the time to dampen that recovery by saddling businesses. High-income teleworkers are more mobile than ever. Do not give them a reason to move away or to NOT move here. Even more fundamentally, with billions in federal relief coming in the door, a tax hike is simply not necessary. The Vitality Fund will add what’s missing from DC’s economic development and attraction arsenal—which is incentives to entice employers back or give them a reason to move here. Give them a reason to hire DC residents.