CANDIDATE Alexandra Quéré Barrionuevo
Question: What is your opinion of the city’s rent stabilization (rent control) ordinances? Do you support the revisions to the rent stabilization ordinance proposed by city housing policy consultant Kenneth Barr, Ph’d?
Takoma Park’s commitment to providing affordable housing and thus fostering a dynamic, diverse community is a laudable one and I support affordable housing goals as they further our citizens’ vision of fairness and caring. Over the past year, the City Council has begun to take a hard look at the current rent stabilization ordinance and I am sure that council will seriously consider Mr. Baar’s recommendations for revision to our rent stabilization in order to strengthen the ordinance. Overall, I support Mr. Baar’s recommendations as they will address some of the unfairness inherent in and potential legal issues with the existing ordinance that have arisen in recent years due to changes in utilities costs, property values, and the economy. Amending the current ordinance is a first step.
In the longer term, the city must undertake a comprehensive investigation of what affordable housing means to the community and what regulatory methods will best serve those interests. Using rent control as a mechanism to provide affordable housing has many pros and cons. The national experience with rent stabilization or “control” has not been a successful one. The consensus of economists is that rent control laws reduce the quality and quantity of available housing in areas exercising this power. We are seeing this maxim play out in Takoma Park now. The quality of the city’s rental stock is deteriorating as rental property owners defer needed maintenance and do not engage in improvements that would benefit tenants and the community. Many owners also are considering, or have made, the decision to exit the Takoma Park rental market, converting properties to condominiums – despite the fact that there is a surplus of condominiums in the DC metro area real estate market – thereby reducing the available rental stock to residents. Additionally, the burden of the current rent stabilization law is not shared equally by all our citizens and this is an issue of fairness that ought to be of concern to all of us. A purely economic selfish view of rent control from the vantage of homeownership is also unattractive. Rent control has the effect of reducing assessed value of rental property which is reflected in lower taxes on those properties, reducing funds available for city programs and services, resulting in increased taxes on homeowners and other businesses in the area to meet city budget needs.
Takoma Park’s rent stabilization ordinance reflects the community’s desire to ensure affordable housing for the less fortunate. Integral to a discussion of these matters is what the city means by affordable and who qualifies for the benefits being provided. The current rent stabilization ordinance, like others around the nation, employs no means test to ensure that the recipients of the benefit are actually in need of assistance. This does a disservice to the city’s mission as people who will most benefit from rent control often cannot obtain the benefit due to lack of availability. Our sense of fairness and justice should bristle at this disconnect.
As a member of city council serving the rental and homeowner community, I will seek to explore a variety of models, determining best practices from other communities around the nation in order to find an equitable, fair, and progressive solution to affordable housing in Takoma Park. The ultimate solution may be a variety of rent control, alone or in combination with other affordable housing techniques such as inclusionary zoning, relaxation of ordinance and code requirements, tax exemptions for nonprofit building owners, subsidies, and other methods being used across the nation. As a community we need to deliver on the commitment to deliver affordable housing in a way that benefits the entire community, not just a segment of it.
Question: If you do not support rent control, what alternative form of affordable housing do you propose, if any?
Question: Should the city build a gymnasium? If “yes,” what price limit would you place on the project?
It is unfortunate that the gym was not included in the construction of the new community center. In keeping with the city’s desire to provide exceptional services and facilities a gym should still be planned. The scope and cost of the project are obvious sticking points. I would hate for the city to compromise the facility’s usefulness to fit into a particular cost structure. If we are going to do it, we ought to do it right, rather than merely build a structure in order to report that the promise to build was delivered. As far as costs go, I don’t have a set number in mind, I am open to the possibilities and will weigh the anticipated costs against the benefits to our residents.
The location and cost of the gym are of great importance to Ward 5 residents. For our children, accessing current facilities can is often be difficult as obtaining transportation can be an issue. We also should not wait for the gym to materialize to provide recreational services to our youth. I’d like to engage the county to negotiate for use of nearby properties, particularly Rolling Terrace, to provide local recreational opportunities for Ward 5 youngsters. We should also be exploring ways to provide transportation to existing facilities for our Ward 5 residents with need.
Question: Should the city keep all of its municipal departments: library, police, recreation, trash-collection/recycling, and so forth? If not, which should go?
This is an interesting question, with heavy bearing on the taxes we all pay for these services. An in-depth examination of the costs and benefits of each of these services would be required before proffering an opinion, however, the associated costs of these services would not be part of the needs analysis and quality evaluation. Each department’s merits should be evaluated objectively with full regard given to the value provided to the community. As Takoma Park provides a full panoply of services to the community, the city needs to be aggressively proactive in working with the county and the state to obtain financial reimbursement.
Of all the departments providing services to Ward 5, the police department is of the most critical interest as ensuring the safety of our citizens in their homes and on our streets is a top priority. I will work with the police to guarantee an increased presence in our neighborhood and greater community integration with the force. As a former commissioner of a park district that had significant issues with criminal activity, I can vouch for the positive difference effective community policing provides a community.
Question: What, in your opinion, is going to happen to the Washinton Adventist Hospital (WAH)? Will they go or stay? Would you encourage them to stay and if so, how? If WAH leaves, what should be done with the property?
Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH) is a vital part of our Takoma Park community and southern Montgomery County generally. The loss of this facility would have a grave impact on the health and welfare of the community. We must collaborate with WAH to find a workable solution. I think that, ultimately, if the city works with the board and engages surrounding communities served by the hospital in the conversation, WAH will stay. If the hospital does leave, the city will need to analyze how best to repurpose the property to provide the highest possible use and work to ensure optimal development of the site. That use may be as a hospital, greenspace, mixed-use residential, recreational, or business.
Question: What is your position on the WMATA development issue?
II am for development of the site in a manner that increases the facility’s usefulness to our citizens. Increased parking, cleaner safer bus bays, significantly improved access for the differently abled, and mixed-use development providing for shops and residential housing – with affordability measures built in – would be a boon to the area. Protection of the existing greenspace and sensitivity of the design to the existing neighborhood will be of critical importance. The current plan is untenable due to these deficiencies.
Question: What is your position on development in general in the city?
I believe that Takoma Park has the potential to be the premier community in southern Montgomery County – to be a cultural and residential destination location – while preserving the city’s historic and cultural character. I also believe, however, that Takoma Park may miss out on the positive benefits that development and increased property values are bringing to the area if it does not embrace a forward-looking agenda with regard to development.
We need to aggressively pursue a smart growth development model to enhance the city’s profile; promoting and supporting the opening of independent businesses and restaurants and the redevelopment of under-used areas and properties to create a more walkable, livable community. Doing so will allow the city to preserve the unique and historic aspects of Takoma Park while at the same time capturing and capitalizing on investment that will grow the community’s resources. Takoma Park is at a crossroads. The choices we make will determine whether the city becomes a beacon of success or a city left behind.
Question: Aside from the WAH issue, what development issues are there in Ward 5 and how do you plan on addressing them?
Other than WAH and the future vitality of the city’s downtown and New Hampshire Ave districts, encouraging the rehabilitation and beautification of our Ward 5 businesses and improving the quality and safety of our streets are of critical importance.
Building a vibrant Takoma Park isn’t just a downtown plan; our local businesses will be a valued part of a revitalized city. The Flower/Piney Branch corner & Flower/Erie businesses are exceedingly popular and the heavy usage they experience has resulted in a tired public face. These businesses will benefit from rehabilitation and beautification as well as changes to the streetscape and parking situation at the Flower/Piney Branch corner. The development that the owners of Beijing Delight are planning is an exciting first step. I will work with local businesses to provide them with consultative services and to locate funds to assist with property improvements.
Significantly improving the quality and safety of Ward 5 streets for pedestrians and motorists alike will be another top priority for me. Many of our local roads, including Flower Avenue and Sligo Creek Parkway have areas that need improved signage and new measures to slow the speed of traffic to prevent accidents. I’ve been lobbying for increased traffic control measures in the Flower/Piney Branch area for some time, contacting local and county officials and calling for action. As a city council member representing Ward 5, I will be empowered to ensure action is taken on a comprehensive basis.
Question: In the recent elections, a number of Takoma Park politicians ran for and won higher office. Does higher office interest you and if so, how many terms do you think a city councilmember should serve before running for another office?
I have no interest in attaining higher office. My concerns are local!
Question: Are there issues other than the ones discussed above that are important to you? Please describe!
Your questions and my answers captured the key areas of concerns that I’ve been hearing from Ward 5 voters. Public safety, rent control, the Takoma Metro station, and the future of Washington Adventist Hospital and of Takoma Park as a whole are the top menu items. Ward 5 residents are looking for an exciting, vibrant downtown with restaurants and shops, a safe environment for their families, and a continued commitment to being a progressive, leading-edge community with regard to its policies and programs. We must seek to enhance our community’s livability and expand our tax base, while preserving the historic and cultural character that make Takoma Park unique.
As an attorney with a wealth of public and private sector legal and business experience, including service as a public defender and a Park District Commissioner, I bring a unique set of skills and expertise to the table. I believe that my leadership, business, and legal skills will serve Ward 5 citizens extremely well as the city balances the complex challenges of maintaining the essential characteristics that make Takoma Park special, while embracing positive change to improve and grow our community.
Question: Is there a website, newspaper article or other public place where voters can learn about your positions? Is there an email address people can write to or a phone number to call through which voters can ask you about your campaign? (other than the city website page)?
Alexandra Quéré Barrionuevo