Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced a bill that would require D.C. workers to live in the District. (Photo credit: D.C. Council )
On Sept. 22 D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), introduced a bill, “The Jobs for D.C. Residents Amendment Act of 2015,” that would require employees of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, the Metropolitan Police Department, the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Public Charter School Board, to live in the District if they are hired on or after Jan. 1, 2017. Evans said District government employees shouldn’t live in Maryland or any other jurisdiction but in the city where they earn their paychecks.
“Eighty percent of our police force lives outside of the city,” he said. “We need our city employees to put money back into the city, not Maryland. The bill will not cover current police officers but we should be hiring our own residents for jobs with D.C. government.”
Sandy Allen served on the D.C. Council with Evans from 1996-2005. She fully supports what her former colleague wants to do. “I am for this because I am a true Washingtonian,” Allen said. “People who work in the city should live in the city.”
“I support Jack Evans’ bill in theory,” Stanley Mayes, a Ward 1 political and civic activist, said. “With housing costs run amok in the city, there needs to be exemptions for public employees whose salaries cannot keep pace with living in Washington. There should be a bonus for people who work for the city to live in the city.”
Mayes said that in his ward, it is not uncommon to hear of a four-bedroom house priced at $1,000,000, a one-bedroom apartment rented out at $2,800 a month and a basement apartment at $2,200.
The District is one of the most expensive cities in the country to reside in, according to statistics reported by the Alexandria, Virginia-based Council for Community and Economic Research. The average cost of apartment rent in the District is $1,960 and the average price of a home in the city averages $767,000, the report said. The “Cheat Sheet“ reported in January that in order to live comfortably in the District, one must make $108, 092.
The “Cheat Sheet“ figure gives the leaders of the unions a pause on Evans’ bill. “If it takes $108, 092 to live in the city, that is prohibitive for a teacher,” Elizabeth Davis, the president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said. “D.C. teachers make under $90,000 and if you add the residency requirement, it will make recruiting for positions difficult. Jack Evans’s bill is unrealistic and out of touch with what the average teacher makes.”
Delroy Burton, the chairman of the D.C. Police Union, agrees with Davis. “The starting salary for a District police officer is $52,184 and that isn’t enough to buy a house or rent an apartment comfortably in many parts of the city,” Burton said. “Evans’ bill won’t help our recruitment for police officers.”
Allen doesn’t see the high costs of housing in the city as a problem for D.C. employees who would fall under Evans’ bill. “The District of Columbia has a first-time homebuyer program for District government employees and that should be utilized,” she said. “There is a caveat, this program should be used by qualified District residents and the employee preference should be given to them.”
Mayes worries that District government employees covered by the Evans bill will reside in certain parts of the city only. “This bill will put pressure on police, fire, and school system employees to live in Wards 7 and 8, where there are some affordable homes,” he said. “That shouldn’t be the case because D.C. employees should be spread across the city.”
Evans’s legislation has been placed in the Committee of the Whole, with input from the Committee on Education and the Committee on the Judiciary. His bill has been co-sponsored by D.C. Council members Vincent Orange (D-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7).
The bill must go through the normal routine of passing the D.C. Council, signature by the mayor and the approval of the U.S. Congress in order for it to become law. Evans, in response to the critics of the bill, said that his legislation will provide middle-class stability. “We should be hiring our own residents but people who come to work here should live here,” he said. “This bill is not unique. In Chicago, in order to work for the government there, you have to live in the city.”