DC Latino Caucus Questionnaire — English
What do you think are the top three priorities/issues facing the Latino community in the area you are running in?
I think the top three issues facing the Latino community are (1) affordable housing that is safe, stable, and secure; (2) high-quality and equitable public education; and (3) accessible and meaningful Covid-19 recovery that supports families and workers. Values-based leadership that prioritizes these issues will help build a DC that works for all working people and families.
(1) Affordable housing that is safe, stable, and secure: Housing is a human right, and every DC resident is entitled to safe, stable, and secure housing. Affordable housing is a DC-wide issue that uniquely impacts the Latino community. As of 2016, approximately two-thirds of Latino immigrants in DC rent their homes (a higher percentage than the city average), with nearly half spending 30% or more of their income on rent and 24% spending more than half of their income on rent. Dangerous living conditions for tenants disproportionately impact the Black and Latino communities in DC, including Latino immigrants. DC Council action and oversight on affordable and safe rental units, as well as paths to homeownership, are essential to ensuring housing stability and building generational wealth to correct for disparities in homeownership and wealth.
(2) High-quality, equitable public education: All students deserve high-quality public education, yet there are disparities across the educational system that impact the Latino community. Early childhood education provides important educational and social-emotional skills for infants and toddlers, while also allowing parents and caretakers to work out of the home. Thankfully, the Birth-to-Three Act — building on DC’s highly successful model of universal preschool — has expanded subsidized childcare for infants and toddlers in families who are paid lower wages, and a recent tax increase on the very wealthy (that my opponent opposed) means a pay raise for our early childhood educators, many of whom are in the Latino community. DC Council attention and action will be necessary to ensure the law is fully funded and implemented.
DC Public Schools must be fully funded to ensure we meet the needs of all of our students, including making sure at-risk funds are used to support at-risk families, and not to substitute for basic needs, as well as making sure all schools have necessary staff like librarians and counselors who can support our Latino students and ensure their success. In terms of who graduates from high school and goes to college, from 2018 to 2017, graduation rates for Hispanic and Latino students in DC Public High Schools dropped 10 percentage points. In 2019, 49% of Latino students in DC Public Schools had enrolled in a post-secondary program within six months of graduating high school (as compared to 83% of white students). As of 2016, 31% of Latino immigrants had a four-year college education (as compared to 51% of all DC adults). We know more support is needed for students in the Latino community, and that enhanced DC Council oversight (not education oversight that is currently cut off at the knees) is essential to make sure we are meeting student and family needs.
(3) Covid-19 recovery that supports families and workers: While we’ve all lived through the Covid-19 pandemic, we know it has impacted communities differently. Many members of the Latino community have been on the frontlines, working in childcare centers, at grocery stores, and in hospitals, while others lost their jobs in service industries. Undocumented workers face a particularly challenging time and have been excluded from government relief (which my opponent spearheaded). To add insult to injury, the DC government has failed to adequately and timely provide language access to government services, programs, and resources, including vaccination portals and the federal rent and utilities relief program. Diligent DC Council attention is needed to ensure we are using all federal relief funding (and using it well) and that local relief money is allocated equitably and reaches those who are facing the most hardship.
If elected, how do you plan to engage with your Latino community constituency, particularly individuals with limited English proficiency?
I deeply value engagement with the Latino community. I speak Spanish and have lived over years in Chile, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, having studied the role of the United States government in human rights abuses abroad. My husband’s family is from Mexico, and he and his family speak Spanish. I want our three children — Adrián, Mateo, and Javier — to know and speak Spanish and to understand that many families in DC also speak Spanish.
Our campaign has been dedicated to meaningfully engaging with non-English speakers, including Spanish speakers. Our website is professionally translated in Spanish by María Luz “Malú” R., Progressive Translators. I understand that language access is not just translation, but also outreach, engagement, and communication. Our Campaign Manager is bilingual and we have volunteers who speak Spanish, as well. We will soon be releasing a campaign video in Spanish with a local Latino business owner.
If elected, I will continue to hold myself to the highest standards regarding language access. And I will hold the full DC Council to those standards, as well, expanding the Council’s language accessibility and bringing the Council within DC’s language access law, as detailed in my DC Council Accountability Plan.
A recent EmpowerEd report highlighted that only 7% of DC schoolteachers are Latino, but that 19% of the student population is Latino. This disparity is worsened by the 25–33% turnover of DC schoolteachers. How would you address this combination of low Latino teacher recruitment and retention, specifically for Latino students and their families?
The issue of representation in education matters to my family. My three children deserve to see themselves in the professionals who educate them, nurture them, and help them grow. And my children aren’t the only ones who lack representation. The failure to recruit and retain teachers of color, particularly Latino teachers, is devastating to students of color who clearly benefit from having demographically representative teachers.
We know what works to recruit and retain teachers — starting with better pay and benefits. The idea that any publicly funded school teacher would struggle to afford to live in DC is a travesty and contributes to high teacher turnover. One critical way to help close this gap is to make it easier for teachers at charter schools to form and join unions. Latinos benefit from unions: evidence shows that the union wage premium is significantly higher for Latino workers than white workers.
I also know that representation matters in hiring, training, and retaining new staff. I saw firsthand in my career as a lawyer in a law firm and with the federal Judiciary that having a woman on the hiring committee makes a difference in women being hired. Having Latinos directly involved in hiring in our public schools can drive more Latino hiring. In addition, having mentors with similar backgrounds provides a necessary support structure and sounding board that improves retention. DC’s education institutions know this and have made a conscious effort to hire Black leadership. Those efforts should be supplemented by conscious efforts to hire Latino senior leadership — providing opportunities for advancement and built-in mentorship for aspiring Latino educators.
I support “Grow Your Own” programs that encourage and support members of the Latino community to study education and enter the profession. These programs should include scholarships to help overcome any financial hardships to entering the profession, include supports for achieving required teacher certifications, and have a strong mentorship component. The DC Council should engage in robust oversight with regard to certification programs to ensure they aren’t creating unnecessary barriers that exclude members of the Latino community.
What are your plans for increasing affordable housing for DC residents earning 30% or less of the Median Family Income/Area Median Income?
I believe housing is a human right. My beliefs are rooted in my personal experiences: my biological father died on the street while homeless. It’s a constant reminder that there is no reason, no excuse, and no justification for not taking every step we can to provide safe, stable, and secure housing for everyone. We know that housing ends homelessness, and we must provide full funding to meet the need. That means funding for permanent supportive housing, homelessness prevention and diversion programs (e.g., Project Reconnect and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program), and the Local Rent Supplement Program.
My opponent has been consistent in his decades of supporting wealthy neighbors over those with need. He said at the beginning of his career in response to efforts to build a shelter in DC’s wealthiest ward: “There’s no right for the homeless to get shelter in any neighborhood they want.” Recently, he voted against a tax increase on the very wealthy to fund housing vouchers for residents experiencing homelessness. He also voted against a pause on encampment evictions during hypothermia season. I, on the other hand, led my Advisory Neighborhood Commission in supporting the recent tax increase on high-income residents, which goes toward 2,400 additional housing vouchers. We absolutely have the resources to ensure housing as a right.
Part of addressing homelessness is acknowledging that housing is unaffordable for many DC families and supporting those who are at risk of entering homelessness, including more funding for DC’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which runs out of money every year. We also need to learn from the mistakes of the STAY DC program and ensure that all future rental assistance programs are low barrier, accessible to residents who speak languages other than English, including Spanish, and available to families even if they don’t have access to the Internet.
Renters are often overlooked in discussions around housing. As noted above, a significant portion of the Latino community are renters, and many of them are rent burdened, spending a disproportionate amount of their incomes on housing. My opponent is the single biggest advocate for landlords in DC and is one himself. He has worked tirelessly over his career to deny opportunities for the people who don’t own homes to live, grow, and thrive in DC.
I’m proud to have passed unanimous resolutions in my Advisory Neighborhood Commission supporting tenants before and throughout the coronavirus pandemic, including fully using federal funding and expanding local funding for emergency rental assistance programs and expanding and strengthening rent control. In addition, I supported a group of tenants in my Single Member District through the long and complex Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) process, which would benefit from streamlining, as well as greater education and engagement with tenants. TOPA is still inaccessible to tens of thousands of tenants since my opponent led Council efforts to rollback tenant rights and exclude single-family homes. We have to restore TOPA and ensure tenants have access to the tools necessary to effectively exercise their TOPA rights.
One aspect of solving the affordable housing crisis is renewed, effective reform of the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to ensure irresponsible and reckless landlords are held accountable for failures to provide safe, stable, and secure housing. My opponent has claimed to have been working to address the Department’s failures for decades, yet we repeatedly see buildings neglected until they become uninhabitable, while residents live in mold-infested units. And we know these deplorable living conditions disproportionately impact certain communities, including the Latino and Latino immigrant communities. My neighbors know firsthand that words have not been enough — we saw the tragic deaths of two people, including a child, locked in a slumlord apartment in 2019.
My opponent’s emphasis has always been on vacant properties, while incidents like these show we must address the health and safety of housing as a priority. Our fines and enforcement structure must actually deter landlords from letting their buildings fall into a state of disrepair or deliberately allowing dangerous living conditions to persist. My Safe Housing Action Plan provides tangible solutions.
Oversight is essential to ensure housing affordability to make sure money is spent well, agencies follow laws and regulations, and we are achieving our goals. The absence of rigorous oversight has led to the Housing Production Trust Fund — one of our primary affordable housing tools — to continuously fail to meet the requirements to fund housing for those most in need. We’ve regularly lost federal grants because we don’t spend wisely. Tens of thousands of residents are waiting for public housing as the waitlist sits stagnant. We watched as our government bulldozed a human and displaced several others to evict a homeless encampment knowing we had just funded housing for 2,400 individuals. And residents have suffered deplorable and uninhabitable living conditions due to the failures of our regulatory agencies like the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs — and the lack of oversight. We can and must do oversight better, and I have a plan for that.
What measures do you support for controlling the spread of COVID-19, particularly in schools and among frontline workers? Are there any measures called for by DC government that you explicitly do NOT support and why not?
I support mask and vaccination mandates, robust testing protocols, and paid Covid-19 leave to reduce the spread of Covid-19. I would have called for quicker and more robust implementation of these measures, as well as used our extensive federal funds to make sure all students and frontline workers have masks and tests readily available, and regularly. While the Mayor doubled down on in-person school to the exclusion of any alternative, I supported and continue to support using technology to our advantage to allow virtual learning for the families that need that option to protect an immunocompromised family member or for other public health reasons.
I also support mechanisms that allow people to quarantine, as needed, and keep people stably housed during a pandemic. The Council has failed to spend local funds on rent assistance, extend the eviction moratorium, or take other basic measures to ensure both the recovery and safety of all in our community. My opponent was key to the effort to remove and reduce cash assistance for our undocumented neighbors. While some cash assistance did pass, it did not provide nearly enough support to families in need. At the time, I wrote in support of this measure and urged the Council to pass it.
In addition, I would have supported efforts to ensure that our community’s pandemic heroes — the working people of the District of Columbia — received hazard pay for the risks they took to keep us safe. I was shocked and disappointed that my opponent led the effort to strip this relatively small, federally-funded, and desperately needed direct payment to essential workers from the DC budget. I would support bringing back Hero Pay and ensure that essential workers get the pay they have earned and deserve.
An often overlooked aspect of ensuring workers are able to benefit from COVID-19 mitigation and relief efforts is language accessibility. Our non-English speaking neighbors, including those who speak Spanish, must have equal access to DC government services, programs, and activities. This means not just translated documents, but also full-time, bilingual employees who can provide information, answer questions, and explain what is required. As noted above, in addition to advocating for improvements in implementation and enforcement of our language access law, my DC Council Accountability Plan provides for better, more coordinated language access at the Council itself.
Do you support using part of the $576 million 2021 revenue surplus to expand the STAY DC program that stops tenant evictions during the COVID-19 crisis?
I support using the $576 million 2021 revenue surplus to expand the STAY DC program to stop tenant evictions, and I would take action as DC Council Chairwoman to use the surplus in this way. While the current law requires the surplus fulfill certain reserve requirements and then be split between the Housing Production Trust Fund and Capital Improvement projects, I strongly support putting at least some of the surplus toward STAY DC instead of the Housing Production Trust Fund. We know the Fund has failed to satisfy its statutory requirement to provide affordable housing for those with the most need for years, and that emergency rental assistance will provide direct relief where it is most needed.
The DC Latino Caucus has endorsed Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for the District of Columbia and supports the legislation pending before the Council to implement it. Do you support RCV — and why or why not?
I support Ranked Choice Voting and led my Advisory Neighborhood Commission in approving a Resolution calling for ranked choice voting in DC (prior to Councilmember Henderson’s introduction of the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equity (VOICE) Amendment Act of 2021).
Ranked choice voting has a number of advantages, including better reflecting voter preferences by ensuring a candidate wins with more than half of the votes, reducing the likelihood of vote splitting among candidates, increasing the number of candidates of color and women who run for office and win, and encouraging greater engagement from candidates and among voters. One of the things I love most about ranked choice voting is that it encourages candidates to build coalitions and strengthen communities, instead of engaging in negative campaigning and sowing division.
Ranked choice voting is easy and intuitive. In fact, we do it in our everyday lives, whether it’s shopping for groceries or participating in the My School DC lottery. My husband and I hosted a civic engagement event for kids that included a ranked choice voting exercise with popsicles, and the kids understood and engaged with the process effortlessly. Ranked choice voting, particularly when coupled with robust voter education and outreach, will have a very positive effect on our local democracy.
The DC Latino Caucus has endorsed legislation, recently re-introduced before the Council, giving legal permanent residents who are not citizens (such as Green Card holders) the right to vote in DC local elections for local candidates. Do you support this legislation — and why or why not?
DC for Democracy recently held a Council Chair candidate debate, which included a lightning round of yes or no questions. One of the questions asked was regarding support for granting permanent residents voting rights in local DC elections. I support the expansion, and my opponent does not. It is a valuable investment in our democracy.
DC government decisions impact people who are not yet citizens who have made their permanent homes in DC: everything from affordable housing to education to public health. And permanent residents are often on the frontlines during the pandemic, keeping DC’s local economy running and supporting essential services. Permanent residents are required to pay taxes, even if they are not citizens. As we argue the ills of “taxation without representation” with regard to DC Statehood, we must recognize that permanent residents suffer the same fate under our current system.
Excluding immigrant communities from our democratic processes and limiting the number of people who can vote is a common Republican tactic that is often rooted in racism, and one we should not fall for. One advantage of living in DC is we can watch and learn from the communities around us. In Maryland, our neighbors in Takoma Park, Riverdale Park, and Hyattsville have all made voting accessible to permanent residents. And criticisms have been overblown, with polls showing about three-quarters of voters support retaining the expansion.
Expanding and improving democracy requires constant attention. We benefit as a society by bringing people into the democratic process. But that also requires continual dedication to engaging with and educating voters. I’m hopeful that as we expand voting rights we will develop more robust efforts to teach, as well as listen and learn, about voting and why it matters.
The DC Healthcare Alliance provides health insurance for over 15,000 low-income immigrants, many of whom are undocumented and cannot otherwise qualify for federal programs or other healthcare. Problems with the program include onerous twice yearly recertification and documentation requirements, and lack of caseworkers that speak Spanish. Do you support reforming the program, particularly to remove the recertification requirements, despite the anticipated $59 to $105 million cost over the District of Columbia’s four-year budget plan?
I support moving the Alliance program to annual recertifications. I successfully led my Advisory Neighborhood Commission in requesting additional funding necessary to remove enrollment barriers for the DC Healthcare Alliance, including through yearly (and not bi-yearly) enrollment. The requirement that DC Healthcare Alliance enrollees reapply for their health insurance in person every six months has resulted in long lines and lost coverage, which is unacceptable. There is absolutely no justification for treating DC residents who rely on Alliance different from residents enrolled in other healthcare programs.
This is compounded by the lack of DC Council leadership and the lack of a truly independent Chief Financial Officer. The Chief Financial Officer overstates the cost of changes like these when advantageous to the Mayor, and the Council never aggressively pushes back. This is a common-sense change to a lifeline healthcare program, and Council leadership should prioritize it. As Chairwoman, I will work with the Chief Financial Officer, and pass legislation if necessary, to ensure that the fiscal impact analyses released by the Office are fair and accurate. And, the reality is that even if the current fiscal impact analysis for moving to a yearly recertification requirement stands, the District has more than enough money to fund it.
DC’s workers and low-income residents should not have to spend entire days waiting in line for something that should be a basic right. People who rely on Alliance often have to choose between going without health insurance or losing days at work when they attempt to recertify. If our neighbors who rely on Alliance don’t have to worry about the current onerous recertification requirements, they will be able to work, provide for their families, go to medical appointments, and live their lives without worry that their insurance has lapsed. All of DC benefits when no one has to worry about whether they can afford healthcare. It would make our communities healthier, safer, and more stable.
Latinos make up about 11% of the DC population, but less than 3% of the workforce in DC government. What would be your plan to increase Latino employment at all levels of the DC government to better reflect the population?
Much like my prior answer about teacher recruitment, it’s critical that we intently and diligently work to make our government workforce representative of the communities we serve. This includes involving Latinos in hiring their peers, ensuring Latinos are represented in senior leadership, and providing Latino mentorship programs.
We should also ensure that employment information and applications are available in Spanish and that jobs don’t require advanced levels of English proficiency for positions where such proficiency isn’t necessary. Our background check process should allow for the employment of people with different legal statuses — including recipients of deferred action and temporary protected status. We should partner with community based organizations and labor unions with Latino clients and memberships to work together to recruit workers for government positions.
Bilingual employees should be recognized and rewarded for the additional skills they bring to the table though bonuses and higher salaries. My DC Council Accountability Plan proposes implementing a “Rooney Rule” to ensure that we interview members of underrepresented communities (including Latinos) for Council positions and appointments to ensure that candidates from diverse backgrounds get a fair shot at high profile jobs.