D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser vowed to open two new fronts in the city’s battle to preserve affordable housing on Thursday, saying she wants the city to create new funds for the effort and to purchase low-rent buildings if it would prevent their conversion into luxury housing.
Bowser’s housing announcements, made during her annual State of the District Address, offered a glimpse of how she intends to spend a portion of growing city revenue in the budget she will deliver to the council next week.
The speech also foreshadowed what is likely to be a central part of Bowser’s 2018 reelection campaign. She said she would fight for prosperity for all D.C. residents — an evolution from the “pathways to the middle class” slogan that dominated her first two years in office.
Bowser (D) highlighted new efforts she said were underway, including holding delinquent landlords accountable and expanding efforts to recruit and retain city police officers.
“I promised to knock down barriers to opportunity, to protect the things that unify us, to reaffirm the values that make Washington, D.C., the greatest city in the world,” Bowser told the crowd at the University of the District of Columbia. “I am proud to say that we have delivered on those promises and the State of the District is strong.”
Early in her speech, a small group of protesters was led out of the room by UDC security, chanting barely audible slogans in the darkness. Peter Newsham, the interim D.C. police chief, said they appeared to be calling for more investment in housing.
The small disruption was soon forgotten. Bowser hit her stride — and drew the most raucous applause — when she railed against federal interference in the District and made the case for D.C. statehood.
She spent part of her speech addressing a social-media firestorm sparked by how her police department has publicized cases of missing teens.
In recent months, the city’s police department began distributing pictures of every missing juvenile on Twitter, including scores of teens who had appeared to leave home voluntarily and later returned safely, often within hours or days.
The frequent alerts, many of which have involved black teenage girls, went viral, feeding a perception that the number of girls missing from the District was growing rapidly. Bowser has sought to cast the increased exposure as positive.
“We remind our young girls and boys that we understand how tough it is to grow up — the challenges they face are tougher than what we experienced when we were their age,” Bowser said. “They should know that there are adults who care and that we all want them to succeed.”
Bowser’s speech left unanswered the biggest question about the city spending plan she is scheduled to release Tuesday.
The city estimates that cuts from President Trump’s proposed federal budget could cost the District $100 million or more annually. Advocates for the poor have urged Bowser to ask the council to delay or cancel more than $100 million in planned tax cuts to ensure that the city can provide social services. But she did not address the tax question.
Bowser called for a third consecutive year of dedicating at least $100 million in taxpayer money to the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund, which is the city’s biggest pot of money to encourage development of affordable housing.
A recent analysis by the Office of the D.C. Auditor found that the trust fund is so poorly managed that millions of dollars in loan repayments have probably gone uncollected from developers while many low-cost apartments in the program are occupied by tenants whose incomes have not been verified.
Bowser said she will ask the council to create a $10 million account to preserve low-income housing, bringing the total funding allocation for the trust fund to $110 million.
The mayor said she would also implement a dormant law that gives the city the right to purchase units to keep them affordable when an owner is seeking to redevelop a property into market-rate units.
Bowser noted that the city is cracking down on Sanford Capital, a private landlord of low-income housing with a history of housing code violations documented by both The Washington Post and Washington City Paper earlier this year.
“I was horrified to read about the conditions,” said Bowser, who ordered city inspectors to examine all units in buildings operated by Sanford in February. Those inspections unearthed nearly 1,100 housing code violations that carry fines of $539,500 if problems aren’t fixed, Bowser said.
“They have a choice: Fix the violations . . . or see us in court,” she said.
An attorney for Sanford did not return an email seeking comment.
Bowser also said she would ask Trump to allow the city to upgrade federally owned properties in the District, including RFK Stadium, Franklin Square downtown and the city’s three golf courses.
If accepted, Bowser’s request could advance the idea of building a new 65,000-seat stadium for the Washington Redskins when they depart FedEx Field or a 20,000-seat arena capable of hosting the Washington Capitals and Wizards should they leave Verizon Center.
Bowser called on Trump and Congress to renovate the Memorial Bridge, saying the federal span is so compromised that it “could literally fall into the Potomac.” She also said Congress should increase federal funding for Metro and that Maryland and Virginia need to identify dedicated revenue for the regional transit system “rather than more studies to find out what we already know.”
The mayor pledged to help African American residents find jobs, noting that the unemployment rate east of the Anacostia River is three times the rate of upper Northwest Washington.
“That’s the story of D.C.’s prosperity — the unequal distribution of benefits from a robust economy,” she said, adding that the city would partner with utility companies, Metro and UDC to offer vocational job training.
Albert Sabir of the Masjid Muhammad Mosque said Bowser was right to focus on income inequality in the District despite years of a booming economy.
“She faced the reality that this rising tide of prosperity has left some of the boats not rising,” Sabir said.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who has had some high-octane disputes with Bowser over the past year, praised the speech for its conciliatory tone.
“She was trying to — how do I want to put this? — It was a very inclusive speech,” Mendelson said. “She mentioned every council member by name. I think that’s a very positive and collaborative way to approach your job.”
Fenit Nirappil, Jonathan O’Connell and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.