Chairman Cropp and members of the Council: Thank you for giving me an opportunity to testify on the proposed update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. I am here this morning, at the invitation of the Office of Planning, to represent the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force, which worked closely with the Office of Planning on the housing component of the Comprehensive Plan. I strongly urge the Council to move forward promptly with its review and approval of the update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan as proposed by the Office of Planning. We all need an updated comprehensive plan in place, so that much needed policies—including housing policies—can be implemented without costly delays.
I was the co-chair of the Housing Strategy Task Force, along with Adrian Washington, who now heads the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation. The impetus for a housing strategy task force originated in the the Council, which perceived that the city had many housing programs, but lacked a comprehensive housing strategy. The legislation creating the Task Force was sponsored by former Councilman Harold Brazil and strongly supported by Councilman Adrian Fenty. Mayor Williams appointed a highly qualified, diverse group of citizens to the Task Force, the Council confirmed us, and we held our first meeting in June 2004. Over the next year and a half, we held fifteen task force meetings, all open to the public, as well as five community meetings in different parts of the city specifically designed to elicit public comment. We also created four Task Force committees, each of which held numerous meetings over the course of the year and a half. We briefed the Mayor and the Council on our recommendations in January, 2006, and posted our final Report on the web in April, 2006. Adrian Washington and I testified on our recommendations before the Council’s Economic Development Committee on June 13, 2006.
Our Task Force perceived that the city faces a housing crisis. Rising demand for housing is pushing up prices and rents and making the city unaffordable for low and moderate income people and working families. We also perceived that the city has a major opportunity—in partnership with the private and non-profit sectors–to move toward the vision of a more inclusive city by creating new mixed income neighborhoods and bringing the East and West sides of the city together. We urged the city to double its efforts to preserve and expand affordable housing, to increase funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund, and to implement a long list of policies that would make housing programs more effective.
“The 21st century has revalued these small geographies. That’s what the 21st century demands,” Katz said, noting that these days, “[w]e aren’t innovating in isolated business parks” in the suburbs.
Erie has long tarried with the hope that leaders would “bring jobs” to the area. Katz suggested Erie’s regeneration, after decades of devastating industrial job losses, must start locally with the creation of new businesses that grow until Erie becomes the kind of place big companies come to — not because they are lured by big government incentives — but because they have to be here in order to compete.