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Ward 3 – Olly Swyers

1) Do you agree with us that more housing, both market rate and subsidized, should be created in Takoma Park? If so, what steps will you take to facilitate creation of new housing?

 In the wake of COVID-19, our primary focus as it pertains to immediate housing issues needs to be preventing displacement due to economic losses. Any direct funding and energy from the city needs to be oriented towards keeping people in the housing that we already have. Evictions and foreclosures are a surefire way to open up paths for property poachers, loss of community culture, and gentrification. This happened after the financial crisis of 2008 and it’s happening again now. At the county level we also need to stand with organizers advocating for extending rent control protections in Moco to protect​ residents who call Takoma Park their home but who’s houses don’t fall within the city limits, this is especially important with the incoming purple line.  As we imagine​ ways to increase housing, we need to figure out how to support and maintain the housing we already have, especially large scale multi-family buildings that have been in disrepair for years without proper maintenance.

That being said, I agree that  we do need to figure out how to assist in facilitating more accessible housing in Takoma Park, both at market rate and below. This is already being looked into at the New Hampshire Ave development, one of the few projects the city has a direct impact on, and I support finding ways to incorporate mixed income housing into that project. One other way that we can, as a city, assist in paving the way for more reasonably priced housing, is to work with Montgomery County  to build zoning policy that mirrors those implemented in PDX and Austin, some of which take a radical look at reviving a form of “rent to buy”, a practice that has been all but phased out but that offers true pathways to social mobility and homeownership for low and middle income folks. These cities, and others, have worked towards development and density policies which could be potentially pulled from and scaled to our own specific needs, balanced with our climate and equity goals. If we do it right, the “missing middle” should be filled from our own community, with pathways to homeownership and economic opportunities helping to eliminate wealth stratification, especially between racial lines.  

2) Takoma Park has several potential development and revitalization opportunities. Please describe your vision for the following sites. In your opinion, how should they be further developed

  • Takoma-Langley Crossroads (Purple Line station) Historically, the word “revitalization” has become synonymous with gentrification and displacement. Montgomery County has predicted that the building of the purple line will lead to the displacement of tens of thousands of residents who​ are primarily low-income, immigrant and black, brown, indigenous latinx and people of color will be forced to move. Development can be done strategically and in a way that actually bolsters and protects economic opportunity for the existing community first before making way to bring more people in. That area already has a vibrant community and businesses that serve the community, a great way to “revitalize” the community is to make it more walkable, provide more public green space and improved infrastructure for pedestrian safety. The area outside Takoma Park in Langley is unincorporated, and don’t have political representation, so we need to stand with residents who are at risk of being displaced.
  • Takoma Park Recreation Center (New Hampshire Ave.) I’m excited about the prospect of lively new, mixed use community space in this location. This project needs to serve those already in the New Hampshire corridor, and so discussion about what happens here needs to be led by those same community members, both homeowners and renters, as well as business owners. I think first and foremost having open public space without a paywall is a priority. The Maple avenue rec center has plenty of space but most of it needs to be reserved for use in advance. I think it’s important that this new center has a place with a better open door atmosphere, whatever ends up being there. 
  • Washington Adventist Hospital campus In an ideal world we would be able to get someone to convert the hospital building to housing or build entirely new housing in that space. In many cases, hospitals are much easier to convert into small apartments and studios because they often already have the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems to support this. People have also discussed having a new local school there among other ideas, proposals for which I would be interested in viewing more carefully. As of now the Adventist site isn’t up for development, and although the city has some sway in perhaps facilitating deals, ultimately what happens to that location is up to Seventh Day Adventist’s. Right now it is functioning as urgent care and a COVID-19 unit, so until the pandemic is truly over we don’t need to rush away a place that is providing necessary service to the community. 

3) On the long-debated Takoma Junction development process, do you support continuing the existing County and City review process or do you propose restarting the development process, including a new Request for Proposals? If so, how would the City fund this work?

We are already so close to seeing the final review for the plans and input from SHA and parks and planning so at this point we can see what they come up with pending changes from both of those departments. This doesn’t mean we let the process continue without oversight, at the same time city officials need to be extremely proactive in holding developers accountable to the questions and concerns of constituents,and the needs of the community and final plans need to actively incorporate all of the feedback that people have been providing for years. Ideally we receive an amended plan that scales down and back, meets all the standards set forth by our community. So far NDC’s plans don’t represent this kind of partnership or listening, and that is unfortunate. If significant changes aren’t made from the current plans, I would not support it moving forward.

4) Would you promote multifamily construction by offering additional relief from rent stabilization for new buildings, as the District and many other jurisdictions do? 

We have to be very careful, considering that DC  has one of the highest displacement rates of any city, in mirroring their process for development. This would need to be considered at a project by project basis but I would not want to do anything to weaken the system we have for protecting renters.

5) City public engagement currently over-represents the views of older, white, and home-owning residents. How would you change the process to better engage renters, minorities, immigrants, and young families?

Our current engagement relies primarily on city council meetings and listservs, which aren’t necessarily accessible or interesting to people who want real representation or want a voice that isn’t going to be drowned. We need to do more to engage on social media, expand online forums, do regular town halls and make sure that language justice and occupy style stacking is used in the facilitation of these meetings to prioritize marginalized voices.

6) Takoma Park, Piney Branch, Rolling Terrace ES, and Montgomery Blair HS are at or over capacity.  Do you support advocating the Montgomery County Public Schools system for a new local school? How else would you work with MCPS to provide sufficient capacity and quality for our growing community?

The first thing we need to do is address zoning that makes some schools overcrowded and other schools under. Because Montgomery county allocates the same amount of funding for every child, the way to make sure all schools are of quality is to ensure that that funding is allocated equitably. If overcrowding is still an issue in local schools then i think we should absolutely look towards a location for a new public school in the community.

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