From the Editor: Every year, Petworth News covers the local elections that impact our area. This year is no different, as we have At-Large and Chair positions up for election, with the primary being June 19th. To help voters know as much as possible, Petworth News is offering brief interviews with Democrat candidates Anita Bonds, Marcus Goodwin and Jeremiah Lowery, published in random order. (Other parties will be profiled near the general election.) We are not endorsing any candidate as Petworth News remains neutral in order to provide objective news and information so readers can be informed. Writer Robinson Woodward-Burns spoke with each candidate. Here's the last Democrat interview...
Jeremiah Lowery, candidate, At-Large DC Council
Robinson Woodward-Burns: Tell me a little bit about your background and why you are running
Jeremiah Lowery: This election season I am the only candidate in any race living in Petworth. I’ve been living in Petworth for over nine years. It’s my home and a place I want to keep as my home as long as possible.
Right now we’re in an important time. On the national level, we have a president who is rolling back a lot of the progress we have made over the last few years. On the local level, we have a lot growth in the city, but also a lot of inequality. Family homelessness has gone up 132%, rent is still unaffordable for a lot of tenants in DC, we have a lot of inequality in our school districts, and have the least affordable childcare system in the United States. And so we have a lot of issues and inequalities, but at the same time have all of these resources. So I believe DC can be a transformative, progressive city that addresses inequality as we grow.
How do you think the council should address affordable housing needs?
My priorities include reforming and strengthening rent control, ensuring DC meets its goals to end chronic homelessness by 2020, introducing legation ensuring new 40-60% of units in new developments are designated as affordable housing – I know that’s a lot, but we’re in a housing crisis and we have to aim high – and lastly, and this is one of the most important things, utilizing our money properly. According to the DC Auditor, a lot of the money in the Housing Production Trust Fund isn’t actually used to build affordable housing. A lot of times DC gives loans to developers to build units and those loans aren’t paid back. So that’s money that could be paid back and reinvested into building more units. And so we need more accountability on how we spend money on housing.
I should also mention I am the only candidate in this race who has not gotten money from the development industry. Both of my two opponents, Marcus Goodwin and Anita Bonds, have gotten significant amounts of money from the development industry. I mention this because when I get into office, I will be fair and independent and not beholden to anyone seeking a development contract, and will make sure we’re using our money properly. For example, the DC City Council recently gave a developer $80 million to create a parking lot that a District government study stated was not needed, and so that’s another instance of our pay-to-play culture. That money could have been put to a better use.
What are your priorities for transportation issues in DC?
I’m a big fan of electric vehicles and would love to see more EV busses and charging stations in the city, especially near the Petworth metro station. Right now there are a lot of busses that are idle, increasing carbon pollution. We can limit that by switching to electric vehicles. I’m also a big fan of keeping Petworth and surrounding communities walkable by improving sidewalk infrastructure and I’m also a fan of bikes and increasing bike lanes.
What are your thoughts on dockless bikes and scooters?
They’re new to the city, but there needs to be further study to see how we’re going to incorporate them into the city to make sure they’re not going to end up in the river or get left in the subway.
What are your priorities for environmental issues in DC?
I’d love to lower our energy bills by pushing DC to a 100% clean energy city. From day one, I’m going to meet with community and environment groups to make sure they have a seat at the table. Right now we have the Council introducing 100% RPS [Renewable Portfolio Standard], it’s a four-page bill, which I honestly believe is not good enough, so I want the Council to take its time on this. Hawaii developed a 100% clean energy plan, but it took a couple of years, not a couple of months. So I’m going to get the ball rolling, and am going to get the Sierra Club, ANC Commissioners, and environmental advocates to the table to shape the bill. This might require off-site wind and solar, and so it’s going to take some work and investment. I also think the current carbon tax proposal and the renewable energy proposal can go hand-in-hand. In a beautiful world, we’d have one robust bill to include 100% renewable energy, carbon pricing, but I think the carbon fee rebate campaign is a step in the right direction, though it must also include a rebate.
How would you define gentrification? Do you believe Ward 4 and in particular, the Petworth, Brightwood and Shepherd Park neighborhoods, are experiencing gentrification? If so, what is the impact of this?
Absolutely. I think gentrification is affecting not just residents, but also small businesses. You look at Upshur Street, and there are a lot of small businesses that are closing and are unable to stay here now. I believe that displacement in DC means we have a city that is less equitable and diverse. But I believe we can have growth and development as a city while preventing displacement. So I think the DC Council needs to use lower taxes for small businesses and homeowners and stabilizing the rent for tenants.
Any additional thoughts you'd like to share?
Childcare is one of my signature issues. Petworth has the fastest-growing population of parents in DC, and I’ve been working on childcare issues for six years, so once in office I will create a universal high quality childcare system for all parents in the District. Right now we have universal pre-K in DC, and I want to direct the DC government to extend that to cover children ages zero to three. When we created universal pre-K we didn’t have to raise any taxes, and I think that’s possible with universal high quality childcare.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. For full disclosure, the author attended a Lowery campaign event last February.