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Councilmember David Grosso re-introduces legislation to decriminalize sex work in D.C.

For Immediate Release: 
June 3, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Councilmember David Grosso re-introduces legislation to decriminalize sex work in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – With increased support from Council colleagues, Councilmember David Grosso today announced the re-introduction of legislation that would reduce violence and improve public health and safety by removing criminal penalties for consensual sexual exchange in the District of Columbia.

“It is long past time for D.C. to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex—and move from one of criminalization to a new approach that focuses on human rights, health, and safety,” Grosso said at a press conference and rally held in support of the bill with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition on Monday.

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 eliminates criminal prohibitions and penalties for consensual sex work and establishes a task force to evaluate the effects of removing criminal penalties and recommend further improvements to public safety, health, and human rights.

“By removing criminal penalties for those in the sex trade, we can bring people out of the shadows, help connect them to the services they need to live safer and healthier lives, and more easily tackle the complaints we hear from communities about trash or noise,” Grosso said.

Removing criminal penalties for engaging in sexual exchange reduces public violence and protects sex workers. People in the sex trade are safest when their work is not criminalized. It allows them to better screen clients, to negotiate safer sex practices, and to report incidents of trafficking or client and police violence.

“Decriminalizing sex work will make life easier not only for the people that complain about K Street, but also for the girls who are getting turned away from jobs, housing, health care, and more. Everyone needs to survive, and everyone needs to make money. If Sis has to turn to sex work so she can buy a room or so she can eat, don't send her to jail,” said Tiara Moten, Lead Organizer with No Justice No Pride.

Eighty percent of sex workers report experiencing some form of violence in the course of their work. This is especially true for sex workers from communities that already face increased discrimination such as immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, and individuals of color. Criminalization discourages sex workers from reporting these incidents.

“It is appropriate that we address this issue at the start of LGBTQ Pride month that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn. We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender individuals engage in sex work at higher rates, making decriminalization of sex work an LGBTQ issue,” said Benjamin Brooks, Assistant Director for Policy at Whitman Walker Health. “Removing criminal penalties recognizes the dignity of the individual and removes key barriers to preventing HIV and improving health for our communities.”

"As a faith leader, a Black woman, and an advocate for abused and neglected children, at-risk youth, adjudicated youth, victims of domestic violence, women’s issues, and cancer patients I believe that Black women deserve to live free from violence and provide for themselves and their families. I support the decriminalization of sex work because criminalization only harms our communities and we must support and love one another not ostracize each other,” said Rev. Shirley Currie, associate minister at Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church.

Protections for minors and prohibitions against coercion, exploitation, and human trafficking already exists in D.C. law and remain untouched by Grosso’s bill.

“This legislation slightly differs from the previous version by leaving some language in the code making it crystal clear that coercion, exploitation, and human trafficking are not tolerated in D.C.,” Grosso said.

Grosso’s proposal now enjoys expanded support on the Council. Only Councilmember Robert White co-introduced the legislation back in 2017. This time, Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Brianne Nadeau have added their names.

Grosso developed the legislation in close partnership with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition (SWAC), a coalition of more than nearly two dozen local and national organizations: HIPS, ACLU DC, GLAA, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, Amara Legal Center, National Center for Trans Equality, Whitman Walker Health, Casa Ruby, Best Practices Policy Project, SWOP-USA, Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, Black Lives Matter DMV, No Justice No Pride, D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, Bread for the City, Network for Victims Recovery DC, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Ultraviolet, Center for Health and Gender Equity, and URGE.

“I want to thank everyone who has contributed their voice to the development of this legislation, has endorsed its approach, or engaged with elected officials to build to the unprecedented level of support we see here today,” Grosso said. “ I also want to appreciate all the sex worker activists who have spoken out for their human rights, from Sharmus Outlaw here in D.C., to Gabriela Leite in Brazil, to countless others around the world.”

The bill will officially be re-introduced tomorrow, June 4, 2019 at the Council's regular legislative meeting. It will likely be referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

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Statement of Councilmember Grosso on latest federal government attacks on transgender communities

For Immediate Release: 
May 24, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Statement of Councilmember Grosso on latest federal government attacks on transgender communities

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, on the new proposals from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Health and Human Services to roll back protections for transgender people accessing shelter and health care:

“The latest efforts by the federal government to retreat from its responsibility to protect everyone’s human rights are deeply upsetting. It is especially appalling that the Trump administration is proposing to repeal protections for transgender individuals on the eve of LGBT Pride Month, on the heels of the murders of three black transgender women, and one week after International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

“While the Trump administration wants to give a green light to shelters, housing programs, doctors and medical institutions to turn away transgender people, in D.C. the law will not change. Our local Human Rights Act explicitly protects our transgender, intersex, gender non-conforming, and non-binary residents, workers, and visitors from discrimination. It is critical that the D.C. government double down on its commitment to protect these community members from discrimination and get the word out that anti-transgender bias has no place in the District of Columbia.

“When I first learned of the possibility of rulemaking by the federal Department of Health and Human Services to redefine sex discrimination to explicitly exclude transgender protections, I introduced, and the Council unanimously passed, the Sense of the Council in Support of Transgender, Intersex, and Gender Non-Conforming Communities Resolution of 2018 last November. That resolution includes a requirement that the Secretary of the Council submit the resolution as official public comment on any relevant proposed rulemaking, on behalf of the Council of the District of Columbia. I will be following up to ensure that this happens.

“Even before this latest news, the transgender community of D.C. has been calling on the government to do more. One of those requests has been to stop arrests for commercial sex and to focus law enforcement efforts on ensuring the safety of sex workers and stopping exploitation or coercion. Next month I will be re-introducing legislation to that end.

“To the transgender communities of D.C. please know that you are loved and that the District stands with you.”

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Grosso re-introduces bill to end discrimination against people experiencing homelessness

For Immediate Release: 
March 19, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Grosso re-introduces bill to end discrimination against people experiencing homelessness

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) re-introduced legislation today to end discrimination against people experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia.

“Discrimination against people experiencing homelessness perpetuates the very problem of homelessness,” Grosso said.  “If we want to put people on the path to stable housing, we must end discrimination that creates another barrier in the way of people seeking to improve their situation.”

The Michael A. Stoops Anti-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2019 amends the Human Rights Act of 1977 to add homelessness as a protected class to help eradicate discrimination for individuals experiencing homelessness in employment, in places of public accommodation, in educational institutions, in public service, and in housing and commercial space.

The legislation is named to honor the life and legacy of Michael A. Stoops, a long-time advocate for the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness and a tireless warrior for overcoming income inequality. He helped found the NCH, protested to pressure Congress to pass federal legislation to combat homelessness, and co-founded the North American Street Newspaper Association, which helps to support our own local newspaper, Street Sense.

Grosso first introduced the legislation in 2017. Councilmembers Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, and Brandon Todd joined Grosso as co-introducers.

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Grosso introduces bill to end discrimination against people experiencing homelessness

For Immediate Release: 
July 11, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Grosso introduces bill to end discrimination against people experiencing homelessness

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced legislation today to end discrimination against people experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia.

“Discrimination against people experiencing homelessness perpetuates the very problem of homelessness,” Grosso said.  “If we want to put people on the path to stable housing, we must end discrimination that creates another barrier in the way of people seeking to improve their situation.”

The Michael A. Stoops Anti-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2017 amends the Human Rights Act of 1977 to add homelessness as a protected class to help eradicate discrimination for individuals experiencing homelessness in employment, in places of public accommodation, in educational institutions, in public service, and in housing and commercial space.

The legislation is named to honor the life and legacy of Michael A. Stoops, a long-time advocate for the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness and a tireless warrior for overcoming income inequality. He helped found the NCH, protested to pressure Congress to pass federal legislation to combat homelessness, and co-founded the North American Street Newspaper Association, which helps to support our own local newspaper, Street Sense.

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Grosso sends letter to Department of Human Services about winter homeless plan

Now that hypothermia season is in full swing, Councilmember Grosso sent this letter to the D.C. Department of Human Services for an update on the plans and budgeting for supporting the homeless this winter. Keeping an eye on agency expenditures and performance--such as the $8.75 million the Council allocated for homeless services in fiscal year 2015--is critical to the Council's oversight of the D.C. government.

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Affordable Housing Policy: From Homelessness to Homeownership

Part 3 of the New Neighbors:  A Three Part Series

By:  Councilmember David Grosso & Katrina Forrest

Access to housing is a fundamental human right.  Like clean air and water, everyone deserves a habitable dwelling to ensure personal safety, shelter and peace of mind. This view should not be subject to change.  Regardless of changes in political leadership, creating and maintaining affordable housing in the District of Columbia must always be a top priority.  For this to happen, we must be willing to candidly discuss past policy failures, to improve on existing policies and to create better policies moving forward.  As was discussed in the previous blog post, D.C. has seen numerous housing initiatives started and stalled over the years. This reality necessitates a need for a comprehensive look at our housing policies and strategies to ensure that all D.C. residents have access to quality affordable housing. 

Below is a list of recommendations that we believe the District of Columbia government should begin working on within the next twelve months. These recommendations are not intended to be comprehensive and we encourage any and all feedback, comments, questions and suggestions.  Many of these recommendations are nationally identified best practices, some were included in Mayor Gray’s affordable housing plan released last year, and others are new strategies.

 

 1.      Create standalone Committee on Housing and Community Development at the D.C. Council.

Housing is an important issue separate and apart from economic development. Creating a standalone Committee on Housing and Community Development will provide greater oversight of all housing related agencies including the Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD), the District Housing Finance Agency (DCHFA), the District Housing Authority (DCHA) and others to ensure performance goals are being met and the creation and preservation of affordable housing is a top priority that is in line with all of the city’s housing strategies. Additionally, important aspects of the agencies responsible for providing services to the homeless will fall under the purview of this committee to ensure that the full spectrum of housing issues, from homelessness to homeownership, are prioritized.

 

2.      Convene a Housing Policy Council.

The Housing Policy Council should consist of agency directors from DHCD, DCHFA, DCHA, Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), Office of Planning (OP), Office of Zoning (OZ), Department of Human Services (DHS), Department of General Services (DGS), the Office on Aging, nonprofit organizations, local banking institutions and other lenders, developers, and community residents.  The Housing Policy Council will examine the District’s regulatory and policy framework, identify redundancies; gather data about the District’s programs and how they have performed; and, finally, prepare a report offering recommendations.  Every two years the Housing Policy Council will reconvene to evaluate the District’s comprehensive housing strategy and assess current needs based on the District’s housing market and consider initiatives happening around the country.  The Housing Council should also establish an annual interagency symposium with all interested D.C. agencies and other stakeholders to discuss their strategic plans as they relate to housing and evaluate new housing trends.  This will encourage stronger collaboration and coordination.

 

3.      Stabilize the Housing Production Trust Fund with annual commitments.

The Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) is used to provide pre-development loans for non-profit and for-profit housing developers, grants for architectural designs for adaptive re-use, loans for first-effort model projects, financing for the construction of new housing or rehabilitation or preservation, financing for site acquisition, loans or grants to finance on-site child development facilities and more. We must commit to providing, at a minimum, $80 million a year to the HPTF so that we are not solely relying on deed recordation and transfer taxes, which can make funding the HPTF volatile due to the fluctuation of the real estate market in any given year.  Additionally, the HPTF should only be used for its mandated purposes; this means programs like the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) should no longer be funded through HPTF (LRSP should still be fully funded through the General Fund).  Yearly commitments to the HPTF demonstrate a long-term commitment to housing and DHCD should fully utilize all funds available to ensure that the District is continuing to preserve the existing affordable housing stock and providing the means to increase affordable options. $79.3 million has been committed to the HPTF for FY15.  Additionally, under the FY15 Budget Support Act, 50% of future year-end unrestricted surpluses will be committed to the HPTF once all required reserves have been achieved.

 

4.      Establish the District of Columbia Housing Land Trust.

The D.C. Housing Land Trust should be created to assist the city in preserving more units of affordable housing.  The land trust would be seeded with public money and would be tasked with identifying housing units throughout the city that could be bought and made affordable. The units would include single-family homes, apartments, apartment buildings, etc.  D.C. would acquire the properties and put them into the land trust to be managed and maintained by a third-party contracted organization. The properties would then be used to supply affordable housing in perpetuity.

 

5.      Create a District of Columbia Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

As mentioned in a prior post, D.C. is currently at risk of losing 45 Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) buildings within the next five years.  City officials should create a District of Columbia LIHTC program to supplement the federal program.  Presently, 16 other states have implemented some form of a state-based LIHTC program.  This program would provide funding for the development costs of affordable housing by allowing investors to take advantage of both the federal and a District tax credit equal to a percentage of the cost incurred for the development of affordable units in a rental housing project.

 

6.     Overhaul existing agency performance measurements.

Currently, the performance measures for city agencies are not strong indicators of housing performance in the District of Columbia.  All agencies should tailor their performance measures to properly align with D.C.’s housing plan.  This will enable the D.C. Council to better hold agencies accountable as they strive to reach targeted housing goals that will properly assess how the city is preserving the existing affordable housing stock and working to increase it.  It will also help the Council to ensure homelessness to homeownership practices are being employed citywide.

 

7.      Build a centralized housing database.

DCHA and DHCD should collaborate to build a centralized database that is public, user-friendly and offers, at a minimum, the following information:

  • Affordable housing finance information (to include a list of available tax expenditures)
  • Detailed inventory of all D.C.-funded affordable housing options by Ward to enable the city to quantify the number of affordable housing units created or preserved
  • Tenant & Homeowner education information
  • List of certified housing counselors in the District of Columbia

 

8.     Establish fast-track permitting process at the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs

The District of Columbia government should create a fast-track permitting process for the renovation or creation of affordable housing.  Additionally, fee waivers and reductions (building permit fees/impact fees) should be implemented to reduce the costs associated with affordable housing renovation or development.

 

9.      Invest in Financial Literacy Programs.

Through the Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2013, the District of Columbia has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that all residents are able to earn a basic minimum wage.  Still, it is incumbent upon city officials to recognize that a minimum wage is not the same thing as a living wage.  In light of that reality, the government should make programs available so that residents know and understand how to best manage their finances.  DCHFA, Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB), Department of Employment Services (DOES), DHCD and other city agencies should work to promote and advertise existing programs and services and collaborate to create and enhance programs that include:

  • Budget and Debt Management (to assist residents in understanding their credit, savings techniques, etc.)
  • Homebuyer Education  (to include informing residents about budgeting and credit, helping them to understand the mortgage transaction and preparing them for home ownership)
  • Foreclosure Prevention (to include information about loan modification and refinancing programs, deed in lieu of foreclosure, etc.)

 

10.   Comprehensively address the homelessness crisis.

City officials must work to enhance the wrap-around services for homeless individuals and families and for everyone at risk of becoming homeless.  The District of Columbia should at a minimum do the following:

  • Fully commit to the Statement of Principles as presented by the Way Home Campaign (Ending Chronic Homelessness in D.C.)
  • Fund more care coordinators, social workers and mental health providers in shelters who can identify problems impacting moves to permanent housing (unemployment or underemployment, mental health issues or substance abuse, domestic violence or any other traumatic incident, etc.) 
  • Provide homeless individuals and families the tools they need to commit to education opportunities and workforce development training
  • Invest more money in the annual budget for permanent supportive housing; the Local Rent Supplemental Program; Emergency Rental Assistance Program; and Rapid Rehousing.  In particular, we need to reform the rapid rehousing program to allow participants to remain on the program past the one year mark when necessary.

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New Neighbors: A Three Part Series

By:  Katrina Forrest

Editor’s Note:  Katrina is a Legislative Assistant for Councilmember Grosso covering Transportation & the Environment, Health and Housing.  This three-part blog post will explore why the affordable housing stock has declined in the District, attitudes toward affordable housing and recommendations to bridge a path forward.

 

I stood on the corner of Minnesota Ave. and Benning Road in Northeast patiently waiting for my cab to arrive.  When it did, the driver and I shared an interesting exchange.  After explaining that I did not look like I lived in the neighborhood, he remarked that while D.C. has experienced great change, no amount of money could lure him to this particular Northeast community.

As we drove past Park 7, a new mixed-use housing development, I began to think critically about housing, attitudes toward housing affordability and who is most impacted.  Washington, D.C. is a unique city with a rich culture.  In 1990, the District was just one of five major cities with a majority Black (66%) population.  Today, that number has seen a sharp decline, due in large part to gentrification, which has displaced many low-income people of color, who are now heavily concentrated along the city’s eastern periphery.

As a southern Virginia transplant, I frequently find myself describing the District much like F. Scott Fitzgerald described New York’s Long Island in the Great Gatsby.  A true ‘tale of two cities,’ D.C. is divided into four quadrants (Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast) and separated by the Anacostia River.  West of the park is characterized by racially homogeneous affluence, while the communities east of the river have developed a reputation marred by high rates of unemployment, poverty and homelessness.  Like other urban cities across the country, the District is facing an affordable housing and homelessness crisis.  Nearly 20 percent of District residents live in poverty.  Our homelessness rate outpaces New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago and the overwhelming majority of these individuals are concentrated in Wards 7 and 8, where 95 percent of residents are Black.

Conversations about affordable housing and homelessness can be uncomfortable because they necessitate a broader discussion about race, wealth, class and affordability.  They also require self-reflection and a willingness to confront our own personal biases in order to improve the livelihood of all District residents. 

According to a 2013 Urban Institute study, White families on average earned about $6 for every $1 that Black and Hispanic families earned.  In dollar value, the average White family had about $632,000 in wealth as compared to $98,000 for Black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families.   Adding another layer of inequity, since 1954 the Black unemployment rate has consistently been twice that of Whites.

While these numbers account for the economic slight felt by middle-income individuals, they do not begin to capture the daily struggles faced by low-income families surrounded by poverty, low performing schools, limited transportation options, little or no employment opportunities and so much more.  For these reasons, this cannot be understated:  where affordable housing options are located matters

By concentrating the affordable housing stock in historically underserved sections of the city we are perpetuating the isolation of low-income residents and people of color—keeping them from accessing a plethora of opportunities.  Racial and residential segregation is intimately related to the concentration of poverty in urban core areas.  Sound policy encourages preserving the existing affordable units while also increasing the affordable housing stock—evenly distributing it across all wards of the District, but combating neighborhood opposition is an uphill battle.

We are all familiar with the pretext.  A new affordable housing development proposal is presented and residents report to community meetings in droves to claim, “You can’t build this here!  This will decrease my property value.”  We know what is meant.  The term “affordable” carries with it a negative connotation, plays on preconceived notions and is often met with fierce opposition, particularly from communities enjoying great economic prosperity—but what is affordable housing and to whom is it affordable? 

According to the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, housing is “affordable,” if a family spends no more than 30 percent of their household income to live there.  This seems reasonable but 30 percent of $500,000 is far greater than 30 percent of $30,000.

The average one-bedroom rental in the District is $1,692/month.  Affording this rent would be challenging even for a single individual earning a mid-level salary as depicted below:

The reality is that across the region there is a serious lack of affordable housing and in some cases, middle-income individuals are living in the District’s low-income units.  Reframing the conversation is the first step to addressing the District’s housing challenges, because where you live greatly influences where you go to school, where you work, who your friends are, what you eat, your access to quality healthcare and so much more.

Still, while critical to effecting any positive change, confronting our biased attitudes about who is “low-income,” what is “affordable,” and where “affordable housing” is located does not address other realities.  Since 2000, the number of low-cost rental units in the city has fallen by half, and the number of lower-value homes fell by nearly three quarters.   This reality has made reinvesting in communities in a way that fosters inclusivity challenging due to the gaps in infrastructure and the disappearing housing stock—so how did this happen and where do we go from here?

Parts 2 and 3 to follow….stay tuned!

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.

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