D.C. Council members had their first opportunity to publicly comment on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed $12.9 billion budget Monday, honing in on her plans to increase funding for homeless shelters and affordable housing.
The Council members centered their feedback on funding that would most impact their own wards and asked specifics on the budget over the course of a three-hour-long meeting. The budget, which covers fiscal year 2016, would include $1.3 billion for upgrades to public schools and $31.4 million to increase enrollment in public and charter schools.
But discussion at the meeting centered on Bowser’s plans to eradicate homelessness and increase affordable housing, which Council members criticized as not solving the root of the problem.
Bowser has stood by her pledge to end family homelessness in the District by 2018 and end homelessness altogether by 2025. In the budget she proposed raising the sales tax to 6 percent, up from the current 5.75 percent. She also allocated $100 million to the Housing Protection Trust Fund and would put $2.4 million toward rental assistance for low-income families and individuals, according to budget documents.
“Too many residents are just one missed payment away from homelessness,” Bowser said.
Bowser also proposed creating a new family shelter to replace emergency shelters like D.C. General, which came under fire last year when 8-year-old Relisha Rudd went missing from the complex. Rudd has still not been found.
Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, who represents Foggy Bottom, said everyone on the Council wants to eradicate homelessness in the District, but said he would only support spending the funds if it went directly toward services for the homeless.
“What assurances do I have that the money is going to go into affordable housing?” Evans said.
Ward 3 Council member and GW Law professor Mary Cheh called Bowser’s plans “short-sighted” at the meeting.
Cheh said she is also concerned about cutting funds from public schools in her ward and the University of the District of Columbia while also raising taxes.
The University of the District of Columbia, the city’s only public institution, would see a 5 percent or $3.5 million reduction under Bowser’s plan, according to budget documents.