Tag Archives: District of Columbia

Metro contractor pressed to fix bridge over Green Line tracks in College Park

Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post, January 16, 2016

Nine months after a Metro contractor’s crane destroyed a pedestrian bridge over Green Line tracks in Prince George’s County, the company has yet to complete replacement of the structure. What’s more, the unusable bridge has further delayed a rail project that was supposed to have been finished nearly two years ago. … Skanska also has a $66 million contract with Metro to build a test track to run parallel to the Green Line between the Greenbelt and College Park Metro stations. The transit agency will use the 10,000-foot track to test the hundreds of new 7,000-series rail cars it plans to buy by 2018. With an original completion date of March 2014, the project was already behind schedule when the bridge collapse — caused by a piece of equipment being used in the project — happened on April 15. …

In DC, public housing tenants forced out, then homes flipped

Source: Ben Nuckols, Associated Press, November 29, 2015

In the rapidly gentrifying nation’s capital, real estate investors aren’t the only ones flipping houses for profit. The city’s public housing authority is getting in on the action — moving aging tenants out of homes where they’ve lived for decades, renovating them and selling them to wealthy buyers. The renovations, at a cost of more than $300,000 per home, are outfitting the houses with luxury amenities, and some of the houses have sold for nearly $900,000. Others, however, have sat vacant for a year or longer after tenants were forced out. The housing authority plans to use the profits to renovate existing subsidized rental units and build new ones. But most of that work hasn’t started, and none of the money has gone to new construction yet, according to the agency. Meanwhile, sales have been slow-moving and haphazard. Some elderly tenants and their children have asked for an opportunity to purchase the homes, only to be rebuffed, even after spending thousands of dollars maintaining the rental properties…..
Want To Buy Public Housing? D.C. Has Got Some For Sale — But It’s Not Cheap
Source: Martin Austermuhle, WAMU, September 28, 2015

Marketed as a “stunning renovation,” a rowhouse at 14th and Euclid streets NW sold in August for $920,000, down slightly from its asking price. That the 2,260-square foot, four-bedroom home was able to fetch that price in Columbia Heights isn’t surprising. Neither is the $703,000 that a smaller rowhouse — also fully renovated — at 13th and Emerald streets NE sold for late last month. But what is surprising is who’s selling these homes, and many more like them: the D.C. Housing Authority, the independent city agency charged with operating, maintaining and building public housing throughout the city. In recent months, the Housing Authority has been renovating and selling off single-family homes in some of the city’s hottest neighborhoods. The renovations — most costing hundreds of thousands of dollars — feature many high-end flourishes more closely associated with luxury than public housing: marble countertops, new hardwood floors, and stainless steel appliances. All told, 26 houses have been — or will be — listed at prices that reflect D.C.’s booming real estate market and the fast-changing neighborhoods they are located in. These are homes that the Housing Authority, and the D.C. government before it, has owned for decades. Once purchased for the purpose of housing low-income families in regular city neighborhoods — instead of isolating them in massive public housing complexes — the Housing Authority is now finishing off a decades-long sale of hundreds of the single-family homes. The hope is that the sales’ proceeds will cycle back into the preservation of existing public housing and help create new affordable housing units. In an era of declining federal support for public housing, Housing Authority officials say the money from the sales is vital to its mission. But critics contend that the agency is only furthering gentrification by selling off the homes — some of which stood vacant for years — at top dollar. ….

Campaign for America’s Future: New Report: Federal Funds for Charter Schools Go Into a ‘Black Hole’

Source: Jeff Bryant, National Education Policy Center, October 27, 2015

America’s experiment with charter schools has thus far generated academic results that are mixed, at best. Another promise, that these schools would be more educationally “innovative,” is also generally unfulfilled so far. Adding to those uncertainties posed by charter schools is another: Very little is known about how these schools have spent over $3.7 billion the federal government has used to fuel expansion of the charter industry since 1995. That’s the principal finding of a new report published by the Center for Media and Democracy, which looked for information about how much tax money coming from the federal government’s Charter School Program (CSP) goes to charters and how that money is spent and found that information is often “severely lacking.” … What the report does reveal, though, for the first time, is a list of actual schools that received grants from the CSP for start-up and “planning” expenses. In examining charter recipients of federal grants in just 12 states, mostly from 2010-2015, CMD investigators found millions in federal grant money going to charter schools that were closed after brief periods of service and to “ghost” charter schools that never opened. … Despite the obstruction to its information gathering, CMD’s report reveals startling examples of how individual charters that have received federal grant money under CSP have produced very little education benefit for students wile channeling taxpayer money to unknown pockets.


Charter School Black Hole: CMD Special Investigation Reveals Huge Info Gap on Charter Spending
Source: Center for Media and Democracy, October 26, 2015

Indeed, no one even knew how much the federal government had spent on its program designed to boost the charter sector. So CMD reviewed more than two decades of federal authorizations and appropriations to calculate the sum, which is now more than $3.7 billion—as noted in this new report. CMD also found that the federal government was not providing the public with a list of all the charter schools that received federal tax monies and how much. CMD also found that many states have not provided the public with ready information about the amounts of federal funding each charter has received under the federal “Charter School Program” (CSP) for state education agencies (SEAs), and that most states have not provided the public with information about the amounts in state and federal tax dollars that have been diverted to charters rather than spent strengthening traditional public schools. … In this investigation, CMD pursued numerous open records requests under federal or state law about how much federal CSP money had been given to charters and how that money was spent in 12 states. As a result, CMD found that public information about funds received and spent by charters is severely lacking. It also documented how little is known about spending by closed charters, and identified “ghost” schools, where federal grants were awarded to charters that never opened.

Below are a few key findings from the report:

Michigan: In 2011 and 2012, $3.7 million in federal taxpayer money was awarded to 25 Michigan “ghost” schools that never even opened to students. …

Ohio: Out of the 88 schools created by planning and implementation grants under CSP between 2008 and 2013, at least 15 closed within a few years; a further seven schools never even opened. These charters received more than $4 million in federal taxpayer money. Despite this track record, Ohio landed the biggest one-year grant by far in the 2015 competition for federal funding: $32.6 million. …

New York State: CMD discovered that almost every single application for the New York subgrants was written by the same multi-million-dollar charter consultancy firm: Charter School Business Management. …

Read full Report.

D.C. charter schools serve fewer at-risk students than nearby neighborhood schools

Source: Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post, October 8, 2015

Nearly 90 percent of charter elementary schools serve a smaller portion of students considered “at risk” than their neighboring traditional public schools, according to a new analysis by the District of Columbia’s Office of Revenue Analysis. The analysis, posted on the District, Measured blog, found that 47 out of 53 public charter elementary schools (or elementary-middle school campuses) last year enrolled a smaller share of at-risk students than the traditional school whose attendance zone they were located in. … In a report of its demographic data, the D.C. Public Charter School Board says on its Web site:  “Charter schools serve a student body that is equally or at times more disadvantaged, while outperforming DCPS [D.C. Public Schools].” … The difference in concentrations of at-risk students between charters and DCPS was most pronounced east of the Anacostia River in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Two dozen traditional public schools had concentrations of at-risk students that exceeded 75 percent compared to just one charter school.

The Fight For Affordable Housing In D.C.’s Chinatown

Source: Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU, September 29, 2015

In 1997, the arena now known as Verizon Center opened its doors in D.C.’s Chinatown. Less than two decades later, the area is visited more for its entertainment and dining options than for Chinese culture. While the development is welcomed by many, the neighborhood’s shift is being played out in a fight for affordable housing at Museum Square, an apartment complex that houses many of the neighborhood’s elderly, Chinese and low-wage residents. With the building’s affordable housing contract set to expire on Oct. 1, we examine the city’s struggle to balance development with neighborhood preservation.

Jenny Tang resident, Museum Square
Rachel Johnson organizer, National Alliance of HUD Tenants
Sam Jewler affordable housing organizer

Museum Square Residents Will Again Rally Ahead of Section 8 Contract Expiration
Source: Andrew Giambrone, Washington City Paper, September 29, 2015

….The rally—announced earlier in September on Facebook—comes just a couple of months after another event was held at the Busboys and Poets in Mount Vernon Triangle, hosted by owner (and potential D.C. Council candidate) Andy Shallal. This time around, participants will march through the neighborhood demanding that Bush Companies, Museum Square’s owner, cease its attempts to raze the site and replace the building with 825 luxury condo units and 17,000 square feet of retail space by 2018. Organizer Sam Jewler calls the expiration of the building’s Section 8 contract a “major threat” for Museum Square’s 300-plus residents, many of whom are Chinese immigrants. If any of the tenants move out after the contract goes up, the owner could replace them with tenants who would pay market-rate rents, though it’s more likely the owner would try to empty the building in order to move ahead with its development plans. Still, Bush Companies cannot legally evict the remaining residents unless authorized by District courts…..

D.C.’s Chinatown has only 300 Chinese Americans left, and they’re fighting to stay.
Source: Yanan Wang, Washington Post, July 18, 2015

….It was about a year ago that residents of Tang’s apartment complex, Museum Square, received demolition notices. The building houses roughly half of Chinatown’s remaining Chinese community, and although many could not read what was written in the English-language letters from the building’s owner, their African American neighbors helped them to understand: The building’s Section 8 contract was due to expire, and the owner planned to demolish their tawny home to make way for a new development. The tenants and the D.C. Council are embroiled in a legal battle with the landlord, Virginia-based Bush Companies. While they await a court decision about how much it would cost them to buy Museum Square for themselves, Tang and her neighbors are restless. They find it difficult to grasp that they might have to move away in October….. By law, residents have the right to buy a rental building before it is razed. Bush Companies is asking for more than $800,000 per apartment, an impossible sum for housing-subsidy recipients whose incomes rarely exceed $30,000…..

Developer Plans to Replace Museum Square With 825 Apartments and Condos
Source: Aaron Wiener, Washington City Paper, April 14, 2015

The Museum Square Apartments have been the subject of two lawsuits and three D.C. Council bills. Two lawsuits, several legislative interventions, and a whole lot of drama later, the low-income residents of the Museum Square Apartments in Mount Vernon Triangle still don’t know if they’ll be able to stay in their homes. But if they don’t, now we have a better sense of what would replace those homes. The Section 8 property’s owner, the Williamsburg, Va.-based Bush Companies, informed the building’s tenants last summer that the property would be demolished unless they ponied up $250 million to buy it under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. That led to a prolonged (and still unresolved) legal dispute over whether the $250 million price tag constituted a “bona fide offer of sale,” as required by law, with residents and some members of the D.C. Council calling it exorbitant and arbitrary. Bush justified the price by describing what would take Museum Square’s place if it were demolished. ….

Blocks From the Pope’s Mass, a Dumping Ground for the Nation’s Capital

Source: Marianne Lavelle, National Geographic, September 22, 2015

For three decades, people living in Washington’s Brentwood section have argued that they’ve been treated as a dumping ground for the nation’s capital. Many in the neighborhood, which is 93 percent African-American and has 18 percent unemployment, say the situation would never be tolerated in the city’s white or wealthy neighborhoods. Twenty-nine percent of people there live below the poverty level. … Today’s environmental problems in Brentwood have their roots in the past of Northeast Washington’s Ward 5 political district. Traversed early on by railroad lines that connect the nation’s capital to New York and other Northeast cities, the ward attracted large manufacturers, food processors, and warehouses. Those businesses are now gone, but Ward 5 was left with more than half the industrially zoned land in the District of Columbia and some of its lowest property values. In the 1980s, the vacant, cheap, industrial land drew the private trash business. At these stations, garbage trucks dump waste for consolidation in larger tractor trailers. Washington then sends its trash to a waste-to-energy incinerator and landfills in Virginia. …

Lowest-performing D.C. public schools should become charters, report says

Source: Michael Alison Chandler, The Washington Post, September 15, 2015

D.C. Public Schools is not equipped to improve its lowest-performing schools and should have the ability to convert them to charter schools, according to a report being released this week by the Progressive Policy Institute. What the traditional school system is missing is greater autonomy to create specialty programs, extend school days, shut down failing schools or replicate high-performing ones, the report said. … The report, “A Tale of Two Systems: Education Reform in Washington D.C.,” was funded by the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. The Washington-based Progressive Policy Institute promotes market-based solutions to public policy issues.

Progressive Policy Institute Report:

A Tale of Two Systems: Education Reform in Washington D.C.
Source: David Osborne, Progressive Policy Institute, September 15, 2015

The older of the two, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), uses a “unified governance model” that emerged more than a century ago, in which the district operates all but one of its 113 schools and employs all their staff, with central control and most policies applied equally to most schools. Since 2007, when Michelle Rhee became chancellor, DCPS leaders have pursued the most aggressive reform effort of any unified urban district in America. Racing against them—and carrying 44 percent of D.C. public school students—is a very different vehicle, designed and built largely in this century. This model does not own or operate any schools. Instead, it contracts with 62 independent organizations—all of them nonprofits—to operate 115 schools. It negotiates contracts with operators, lets parents choose their schools, shuts down those that repeatedly fail to achieve their performance goals, and replicates those that are most effective. … Most experts agree that DCPS has more students “in crisis”—homeless, coming out of jail, former dropouts, and so on—because families in crisis don’t usually make the effort to apply for charters. And many charters don’t accept students midway through the school year or “backfill” seats after students leave, while most DCPS schools do. Far more students leave charters for DCPS during the school year than the reverse, and sometimes the new entrants set back schools’ test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates.

Disabled in DC: How Full-Time Paratransit Employees End Up on Government Assistance

Source: Daniel C Vock, Governing, September 1, 2015

…With the low pay, long hours and demanding work, employees quit or get fired frequently. Rules that protect government workers don’t apply to most of them because they work for private contractors rather than directly for transit agencies. The arrangement helps government agencies hold costs down by keeping labor costs low. … In the midst of Metro Access belt-tightening, Metro’s contract with its previous paratransit provider expired, so the agency opened its services up for new contracts. The agency has used outside providers since it began paratransit operations two decades ago to comply with the 1990 American with Disabilities Act. But this time, with more services to deliver, it contracted with five companies rather than just one. One vendor handles quality assurance, another dispatching, and the remaining three do the driving and vehicle maintenance. Metro itself owns the fleet of more than 500 Metro Access vans, giving the appearance of a unified service to riders and the public. …

…Reed, the driver who addressed the mayor, worked for a company called First Transit, which is part of an international conglomerate that also owns Greyhound, the largest private fleet of school buses in the country and a quarter of Britain’s passenger rail services. First Transit won a third of the $360 million in the Metro Access driving business over 10 years. TransDev, a conglomerate that owns Super Shuttle and operates transit services on five continents, took half. Diamond Transportation Services, which is based in Washington’s Virginia suburbs, took the rest. Metro requires contractors to pay their workers a “living wage,” which is currently $13.14 an hour, or about $27,000 a year for someone working 40-hour weeks every week of the year. Starting pay for city bus drivers, in contrast, is almost $40,000 a year. Beyond pay and safety-related measures, though, Metro leaves most of the conditions of employment to its contractors.

She thought she was entitled to maternity leave. After asking for it, she lost her job.

Source: Lydia DePillis, The Washington Post, August 14, 2015

An employment attorney who reviewed her contract — speaking on background so as to avoid the perception of giving legal advice in a case he was not handling — says her contact does appear to include responsibilities normally reserved for employees. Duties like monitoring grant performance can be inherently governmental in nature, the attorney says, and the contract matches many criteria listed by the Department of Labor as being indicative of an employee-employer relationship. … The federal government and state labor agencies have been cracking down on misclassification, which allows companies to dodge taxes and other overhead associated with bringing on full-time employees, and is especially prevalent in low-wage industries like construction and trucking. But it happens in white-collar jobs too, and now the media attention is waking up those workers to the idea that their employers could be part of the trend. …

Checkup time for Corizon, America’s prison medical contractor

Source: Beryl Lipton, Muckrock, August 7, 2015

It’s expensive to get sick in America. For some, the good news flip side of that is that there’s a lot of money to be made in healthcare. For our prison population, that healthcare might be provided by the government, but increasingly towns and states are finding medical costs and care too burdensome, and the task is being outsourced. More often than not, it’s being outsourced to Corizon. Corizon Health is currently the nation’s top provider of correctional medical care, proudly serving nearly 350,000 individuals in over 500 facilities in 27 states. These are some great numbers for them. But, since the company formed in 2011 through a merger of Prison Health Services and Correctional Medical Services, the company has been involved in hundreds of lawsuits, has lost contracts from Maine to Minnesota, and has faced scrutiny in Washington, D.C. (where it failed to win a contract this year) and Florida, where it still holds sway. … So, while Corizon is on the hook for certain violations, there is something to the fact that the government agencies that hired the company weren’t keeping a close eye on it. One can’t expect that the company itself is going to draw attention to breaches of contract – the agency outsourcing the work is responsible for ensuring that there is a useful infrastructure in place for calling problems out.