D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Friday announced an overhaul of the city legislature designed to focus lawmakers on affordable housing and homeless issues next year, saying those two problems must be the council’s top priorities.
Mendelson (D) flexed his considerable power as chairman to create a new housing committee, and he split oversight of city homeless services into two others, including the committee he leads that dictates the council’s legislative agenda.
“The jurisdiction is going to be shared,” he said. “By doing that, we are going to give it more attention.”
In the process, Mendelson dismantled the economic development committee most recently led by Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser (D). Some advocates for the poor and the homeless had criticized it as too cozy with developers.
Mendelson said the council’s new organization was not a statement about past leadership but an acknowledgment that a booming economy had put new pressures on the city’s ability to maintain stocks of low-income housing and help prevent homelessness.
“It’s looking at economic development differently than we have the last few years,” Mendelson said. “It’s more focused on housing.”
Mendelson, however, said developers should not fret. “The economic development factions aren’t going to get lost here.”
Mendelson’s Committee of the Whole will maintain direct oversight of Bowser’s deputy mayor of economic development. The city’s Interagency Council on Homelessness will also have to report to Mendelson.
Anita Bonds (D-At Large), chairwoman of the city’s Democratic Party, will lead a new Housing and Community Development Committee.
The city’s housing crunch “is a condition of the economy and people not having jobs,” Bonds said. “I think as a government, you will probably see us doing more to keep people in their existing home, even helping with the issue of people who are arrears with their rent, et cetera.”
Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) will chair a new combined health and human services committee, adding to her portfolio much of the responsibility — and budget oversight — held by outgoing council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).
Mendelson announced the proposed committee assignments to an audience that included three incoming council members, who will take their oaths next month: Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).
The meeting also included empty chairs — those of Bowser and Marion Barry. Elections for their seats will be held in the spring.
The new council will also keep a stand-alone education committee that gained new prominence under outgoing council member David A. Catania (I-At Large).
Independent David Grosso will take the reins on education. Grosso said he would announce an agenda in coming weeks. “There are a lot of issues we need to deal with to make sure education reform still moves forward in a positive direction,” Grosso said.
Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) will chair the judiciary committee that has been led by Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who stepped down to run for mayor.