BY: TORI B POWELL
On Mar. 20 Bowser presented DC's $15.5 billion-dollar budget to the Council of the District of Columbia. She reported this money will be used on affordable housing, education, transportation, public safety among many other district investments, dc.gov reported. It was the substantial increase in funding for affordable housing that the mayor proposed which stood out as alarming to residents in Wards 2 and 3 where school overcrowding is severe.
With the resolution of one problem, Ward 2 and 3 residents worry that increased housing will intensify another problem if more schools are not built in accommodation."It's an issue of reconciliation between building new units and not having schools built in accommodation," a ward 2 parent mentioned.
The scarcity of affordable housing in the District of Columbia has a long and complicated history. According to NPR station, WAMU, the high demand for living in the DC area is the main contributor to high housing prices. Lack of affordable housing has the ability to proliferate into other issues such as gentrification and increased homelessness; oftentimes targeting people of color according to The Guardian.
Mayor Muriel Bowser and the DC Council are well aware of the increasing housing issue in DC. At a town meeting, Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia defended Bowser's focus on affordable housing in Ward 2 and 3 by mentioning her strong opposition to concentrated poverty in one area throughout the District.
“Affordable housing isn't just a problem for our most vulnerable residents, it affects our entire community.”— Muriel Bowser
Although the initial housing goal of 36,000 new units in the District by 2025 will not be met according to Bowser, her current plan includes increased DC funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund, Housing Preservation Fund, Homeward DC program, expansion of an income property tax credit, and the creation of a Workforce Housing Fund.
Wards 2 and 3 will be targets for the newly budgeted housing plans, due to the area being popular. In an article by Curbed DC Claire Zippel, an analyst at D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute said Ward 2 and 3 are "most desirable to many families, due to their high-performing schools, grocery store access, and plentiful recreational space."
Brian Doyle, the Co-chair of the Wilson Feeder Education Network, agreed that while affordable housing is a relevant issue to be prioritized by the Council, school overcrowding is as well. "Because of increasing population, we should welcome more developmentâ€¦particularly in the western part of the city where prices are some of the highest," Doyle said, "but increased population also has to come with increased services, like schools. We cannot have one without the other."
According to the enrollment projection in the master facilities plan in the Wilson Feeder Schools by The Deputy Mayor for Education, schools in ward 2 and 3 will see a total of 3,185 future students in the next ten years. "Students will arrive whether the capacity is available or not," Doyle said.
Many short-term solutions for school overcrowding have been proposed such as, the publicizing of the privately-owned Old Hardy School. Doyle claimed that because the Council or mayor have not proposed solutions the community created their own. Citizens of Ward 2 and 3 claimed that the horizon for these short-term solutions do not keep up with the urgency of problems.
Although Bowser mentioned in her State of the District Address that she will "ensure that residents in all eight wards have access to a high-quality public school", overcrowding to allow students the opportunity for such was not addressed. Regarding education, the 2020 fiscal budget included increased access to technology, an increase for the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, an expansion of mental health services in schools, increased funding for summer youth programs, and an expansion of child care services.
As for the future of this reconciliation problem between affordable housing and school overcrowding, Mendelson has mentioned the Council's uncertainty on what to do. "There's not a simple answer to this," Mendelson said. "If there was, it'd make my job a whole lot easier."