Today, DC’s business conglomerate requested $346M in tax cuts in a private meeting with ten DC councilmembers that likely violated DC’s open meeting law. This is unsurprising – the DC government is privately owned. Just like at the federal level, big business is coming for huge handouts thanks to their outsized influence on how resources are allocated. This is yet another example of DC’s decades-long investment in failed trickle-down economics.
Some of these businesses have already received hundreds of millions (conservatively) in subsidies and free land in the name of “creating affordable housing” with nothing to show for it but an accelerating housing crisis. Mr. PN Hoffman, for example, received over $300 million dollars in free land and public subsidies for the Wharf, including a $95M piece of waterfront public property purchased for $1. Then, the city allowed him to walk back affordability requirements. Of course prominent developers would come up with this request – the DC government does not say no to them. It also does not hold them accountable for abandoning the community benefit requirements that it uses to justify these massive giveaways. It speaks volumes that Amazon is at the table arguing in tandem with a group of developers to cut funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund, which, though flawed, does fund affordable housing.
This corruption has resulted in one of the highest unemployment rates for Black communities in the country, an inequitable school system, widespread displacement and intense segregation. Now, especially, real people on the ground are struggling badly – the District should use public money to support them. The people of DC need to take back control of our government so we can use public dollars for the public good. Put simply, continuing to pump money into corporate hands is a bad investment for DC. Instead, DC should put that $346M toward grassroots-funded mutual aid efforts that the Mayor has been exploiting, rent relief for tenants and small businesses, unemployment insurance for excluded workers, and immediate housing for people experiencing homelessness.
Corporate greed in DC is seemingly limitless: In addition to tax cuts, DC 2021 pushed the District to raid its $1.43B “rainy day fund” and pull from the $123M Events DC budget, which essentially already is a publicly funded developer slush fund, to bankroll their financial strategy. If austerity is coming, the companies that have been feasting on the public for decades need to eat last, not first. Now is the time to use our resources to build from the bottom up, not the top down. Any deal struck with these business leaders must be contingent on factors that benefit workers and the District as a whole, such as a rent freeze for residential and commercial tenants and an increased minimum wage for employers above a certain size. Going forward, the District should redirect the hundreds of millions in subsidies and land giveaways that currently generate no public benefit toward a Green New Deal jobs program to build thousands of permanently affordable social housing units.