The Districts Dime

DC United and New Mayor Need to Play Fair with Community Benefits

October 22nd, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

It is common for large developments like a soccer stadium to include amenities that protect surrounding neighborhoods and provide benefits to area residents. Yet despite almost $200 million in proposed subsidies for a new stadium, the mayor and DC United recently dismissed nearly all of the requests made by community members for community benefits. The team committed to supporting 25 spots at a summer camp, but that was about it.

It is likely that any stadium deal will be completed under a new mayor, and the Council will have to approve the deal, too.  The Southwest community will need to look to them ensure that everyone wins with the new development.   10-22-14 Soccer

The residential neighborhoods adjacent to Buzzard Point have a lot of needs, which did not improve with the development of Nationals Park and the Navy Yard. Residents experience high rates of unemployment, rising rents, game-day transportation issues, and under-resourced parks and recreational facilities. A new soccer stadium for DC United would add strain to the transportation system and put affordable housing at risk.

That’s why a coalition of community leaders sent a proposal to the city and the team for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) – a legally binding contract to address specified community needs. CBAs across the country have helped low- and moderate-income neighborhoods benefit from big development projects. For example, a CBA tied to the development of Staples Center in Los Angeles led to new parks and recreational space, job readiness programs, and affordable housing.

Among other things, the proposal calls for:

  • A commitment to preserve affordable housing in the area.
  • A $5 million community fund to support recreational and educational programming.
  • Increased access to public transportation and parking/traffic alleviation
  • Mitigation of environmental hazards that have had effects on residents’ health in the past.
  • A set aside for some of stadium’s construction and operation jobs (ticketing, concessions, guest services) and job-training slots to go to residents living in the immediate neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the mayor and DC United dismissed these requests, making empty reassurances that existing programs could alleviate potential issues. Despite a substantial proposed commitment of city resources to benefit the team, neither the District nor DC United has offered much to the community.

A stadium deal is unlikely to be completed this year, which means that a new mayor and DC Council will review and approve any deal. This will offers another chance to pursue a meaningful CBA that mitigates the risks to the Buzzard Point residents and ensures that existing residents can live and thrive with the new development. 

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Unlocking Opportunities: Using Schools As Community Hubs for Students and Families

October 21st, 2014 | by Soumya Bhat

Public schools are an ideal place to deliver services – beyond the classroom – to low-income children and their families. One type of program, the “Community Schools” model, uses schools as central hubs for students and the larger community to access services such as physical and mental health care, afterschool programs, adult education, or early childhood supports. Schools and community-based organizations partner to deliver services identified as community priorities. Over time, these services can lead to engaged families, stron10.21.14 CS Chartger communities, and better academic outcomes for students.

The District currently is investing resources into six partnerships, involving 11 DC schools, to broaden their role in their communities, but it could be doing more to expand these promising practices to all high-poverty schools. As part of our Unlocking Opportunities series, DCFPI discusses how Community Schools work, the benefits of delivering services in or near schools, and describes some of the lessons learned from the Baltimore Community Schools initiative. Our recommendations for DC are:

  •  Create clear, stable funding for the Community Schools model to expand in the District. Community Schools should be prioritized and funded as part of strategies to close the student achievement gap in DC.
  •  Explore the role of an intermediary organization. An agency – either government or non-government – should take on the role of coordinating a city-wide expansion of Community Schools, including consistent tracking of program participation and outcomes, and making professional development and technical assistance available for grantees.
  •  Prioritize data collection and evaluation of key indicators. The District should collect information on school readiness, student attendance, adult education, and other indicators to assess the short- and long-term impacts of Community Schools.

For the complete brief on Community Schools, please see here.

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Unlocking Opportunities: Using Afterschool and Summer Programs to Help Low-Income Students Succeed

October 17th, 2014 | by Soumya Bhat

Afterschool and summer programs offer hands-on and enrichment learning that goes beyond what students learn during the school day. These “expanded learning” programs improve academic achievement, keep children safe and supervised, and help working families. Children who participate consistently in quality programs have better school attendance and more interest in school, and they are less likely to be held back.

Unfortunately, there are not enough quality afterschool and summer programs to meet the needs of DC’s at-risk children. DCFPI highlights the programs currently offered to DC children and youth, and ways to improve access, in its new series, Unlocking Opportunities. Here is what we recommend:

  • Expand quality afterschool and summer programs. The District should aim to offer programs for all low-income children. Programs should offer sufficient activities during the school week and in the summer to be meaningful, and they should align with the school day curriculum.
  • Adequately fund summer school within the school funding formula. A change this year folded summer school funding into a new pool of resources for at-risk students that can be used for many services. It will be important to monitor how those funds are spent to make sure schools continue to offer high quality summer school programs.
  • Streamline funding and reporting requirements for the District’s expanded learning programs. Creating a common application and a common data collection system to measure outcomes for the city’s many expanded learning programs will make it easier for community-based providers to focus on quality programming, and for policymakers and the public to monitor programs.
  • Continue to collect centralized data and evaluate expanded learning programs. Funding decisions for summer and school year expanded learning programs should be driven by assessments of where needs are greatest and by evaluations of how programs are working to meet citywide goals.

To read the complete issue brief on expanded learning programs in the District, click here.

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More Than Dignity: Safe and Decent Shelter Is Critical to Limiting the Harm to Children from Being Homeless

October 15th, 2014 | by Kate Coventry

A bill to clarify that families who become homeless are sheltered in apartments or private rooms, and that they can stay there until they find suitable housing, is known as the “dignity bill,” but it is about much more than that. By creating some stability at a time of crisis, this legislation will help parents get back on their feet and help children avoid emotional and behavioral problems that get in the way of doing well at school. 4-30-14-Housing-blog-f1

The Dignity for Homeless Families bill was introduced after the experience last winter when the District started sheltering homeless families in recreation centers and required families to reapply for shelter every day. At the recreation centers, lights were often left on all night, and families had only flimsy partitions that did little to block out noise and strangers. Two superior court judges ruled that the placements were a violation of the law and that they posed significant risks of harm to children. The legal challenges continue.

Chaotic environments—characterized by noise, crowding, lack of routine, and unplanned changes—can hurt a child’s cognitive functioning and lead to behavioral problems. Housing instability and frequent moves create the same problems. Families who had to reapply for shelter each day last year couldn’t look for work or search for permanent housing.

Sheltering families in apartments or private rooms, by contrast, can help families maintain family routines and shut out noise and strangers. Allowing families to have continuous access to safe and decent shelter, without having to reapply daily, would reduce instability and allow parents to focus on looking for work and regaining housing.

 So while giving homeless families a private place to stay is about dignity, it also is about making sure that homelessness doesn’t cause long-term problems for parents and children.

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Changes to the Alliance Will Help Vulnerable Residents Get the Health Care They Need

October 10th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

Burdensome application rules in one of the District’s key health insurance programs, the Healthcare Alliance, have led many residents to lose their health insurance and go without needed care. It is a blemish on the city’s otherwise national leadership in extending health insurance to low-income residents. That’s why the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and other advocates are proposing changes to keep residents on the program and ensure that they get the health care that they need.

10-10-14 Alliance

The Alliance provides health insurance to people with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line and who are not eligible for Medicaid.The District adopted stringent requirements in 2011 – that all Alliance participants recertify every six months through an in-person interview at a service center – and since then enrollment has dropped sharply (see Figure 1). New data from the Department of Healthcare Finance suggests that the six-month interview requirement created a barrier to getting services.

Many eligible residents, especially those who are caring for children and/or have full-time work, are unable to meet the requirement. Beyond that, many families have to make multiple trips to complete their interview, because of a lack of language assistance, long lines, and delays in staff processing information.

The Department of Healthcare Finance asked the community for suggestions to redesign the program. DCFPI, with consensus from other advocates, recommends:

Move from a six-month face-to-face interview to an annual interview.  A 12-month recertification period will help Alliance members who must take time off of work to do the interview. It will also help program staff by lessening the number of clients they have to see and improving their ability to assist individual cases.

Allow community health workers to assist with parts of the recertification. If Alliance beneficiaries can complete their recertification with trained Assisters or Community Health workers, the applications will have fewer problems, be processed faster, and reduce the need for multiple trips for one recertification.

Allow Alliance participants to apply online. DC has a new online public benefits system for Medicaid that uses many data sources to verify identity and residency. Yet the Alliance program still uses a paper application. Fully incorporating the Alliance into the electronic application process would mean that many beneficiaries would never need to visit a service center in person.

These changes would prevent eligible residents from unnecessarily losing health insurance, thus building on the city’s commendable efforts to ensure that DC residents have access to health care.

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