Over the next two years, the District faces about a $200 million budget gap, a number that could grow if the city begins paying almost $47 million in overtime wages firefighters say they are owed.
Bowser said she was performing a “top down review” of the city’s real estate portfolio in order to maximize affordable housing and advance smaller, neighborhood-level projects like one on the site of a former Big K Liquor Store in Anacostia.
She said she was focusing on “the huge transformative projects that every corner of our city has, but also the neighborhood projects that when a Washingtonian walks out of his or her door, whether’s it’s Big K on Martin Luther King Avenue or whether it’s in Fort Totten near where I live. These are the types of projects that affect how people live each and every day.”
“I won’t be the mayor who says slow down growth,” she said. But she added: “It’s important to me as we move forward that we continue to think about how we grow in our city.”
As chair of the D.C. Council’s economic development committee, Bowser sometimes chided officials under former mayor Vincent C. Gray for not putting affordable housing subsidies to work.
With the $100 million promise, that concern is now hers. Bowser said she would begin staffing up the Department of Housing and Community Development, run by new director Polly Donaldson, but she has not yet announced who will fill the newly created role of deputy mayor for economic opportunity. Her deputy mayor for planning and economic development, Brian Kenner, begins work Feb. 2.
The administration has also begun incorporating new affordable housing rules passed in the fall requiring up to 30 percent of the housing created on District-owned land be set aside for residents with low-to-moderate incomes. As a councilmember, Bowser supported the bill but also amendments that weren’t to the liking of affordable housing advocates.
The new rules are expected to go into effect this spring and Bowser’s economic development staff said they had begun instituting the requirements on three projects in Northwest. Those projects are the redevelopment of the former Grimke School and property at 965 Florida Ave. NW, both in the U Street corridor, as well as a third parcel near the intersection of 8th and O streets NW.
Gray selected developers for all the projects but the deals have not yet been approved by the D.C. Council, giving Bowser the chance to restart the deals if they are not to her liking.
“We’re going to press forward in some cases. We’re going to make some changes in other cases,” Bowser said.
Bowser also said she was determining how best to move forward with tech and retail investments, saying she didn’t want to finish second to Boston — as Washington did in its bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics — when it came to attracting technology companies. “In Boston there’s a critical mass of companies, which means there’s a critical mass of opportunities..and that’s what we need to have here,” she said.
Gray originally proposed turning one of the city’s largest redevelopment sites, the east campus of the former St. Elizabeths hospital, into a tech campus, and selected a development team for the project on one of his final days as mayor.
Bowser said she wasn’t sure yet if that was the best approach, saying a campus set aside for tech “was more important to some than it is to others.”