Nagender Madavaram discussed with Councilmember Will Jawando about his vision, agenda and issues facing the County. This is the first of a 2-part transcript of the interview which covered the topics of his personal experience, housing, and racial justice.
Nagender Madavaram: Good morning Will. Thanks for giving time. You had successful campaign in 33-candidates race in 2018. What challenges you are expecting this time?
Will Jawando: Well, first it’s great to be with you. Thanks for all that you do in our community, just for being an activist, organizer and caring about everyone in our community. I really appreciate it. You know this is an exciting time. It’s also a time when there’s a lot of unknowns and there’s a lot of need. We’ve seen over the last two years in particular as we’ve been dealing with the pandemic. If there’s a lot of folks in our county who are struggling and in need of assistance in both economic and mental health. A fairer criminal justice system and more affordable housing go down the list. Those disparities were just kind of exposed and exacerbated. You know they grew and last election was a big election too because we had term limits and there were four open seats. For the first time in a long time, we’re going to have five open seats or six open seats, depending on how things play out. You’ll have a larger council. We’ve added two seats, so I expect to have a lot of people running. That’s exciting because it gives us an opportunity to really lay a foundation towards future growth and shared prosperity in the county. I feel good about my record. You know, I’ve done a lot on the Council in the last three years heading into my 4th year. I feel like I’ve been a voice for those who need a voice for our low-income communities. Most vulnerable are small business owners, immigrant communities, young people, and people of color who we’re dealing with an unequal and unfair system of justice and policing. I’ve really worked on a lot of issues that I’m proud of. I am excited in this election to continue work to make sure that everyone in Montgomery County has access to an opportunity, to a great school, safe neighborhood, and a job that pays a living wage being able to retire with dignity and securely. Those are things that we should be able to guarantee for everyone here in the county. It is wealthy county with diverse population. We have a lot more work to do. I think we’ve laid the foundation. I’m excited to have some additional progressive Councilmembers to help with some of that work. It’s more women, more people of color. I think, we have an opportunity to significantly grow our numbers on the Council that way we build a real strong coalition. That’s going to make us a stronger. So, that’s some of the things I’m thinking about.
Nagender Madavaram: You have been working in the Council for the last three years. Are you happy with your work? What are your achievements?
Will Jawando: I think we’ve made progress. You know, we’ve had the pandemic and that made some of the disparities worse but it also showed us that we can do things differently. For example, I’ve been leading the charge on our food security to eliminate hunger. We started a public private partnership called Food for Montgomery where we raised over two and a half million dollars from the private sector to supplement our government money. We doubled the number of food distribution sites in the County in less than two years. That’s going to help us lay the foundation for a stronger county. We created these hubs, eight of them around the county to delivering services like food, diapers and job training information. Just launched a new program along Councilmember Albornoz two weeks ago. A new guaranteed income program in the county where we’re going to have 300 families and households that receive $800 a month for two years to help relieve the rent pressure, the childcare pressure and the food insecurity pressure. So, that they can move up the economic ladder. We’ve seen in other places this program, it really helped families. We’re in the process of changing criminal justice system. I passed a landmark Use of Force bill that bans some of the worst things we saw. A whole set of other policies, something that we had never done before in the county. It’s hard to change but we’ve started all those changes. We’ve taken all those steps, so I think we’ve made progress. We also supported our small businesses in a big way, over $50 million allocated to support our small businesses and particularly our businesses of color. I’ve created a program for our small businesses of color to help and keep them afloat. I think we’ve made some progress and we have more to do. I’m happy for the things we’ve done so far. I hope we can continue it and take it to the next level.
Nagender Madavaram: Racial justice and equal opportunities to all are challenging issues. What activities you are doing through Our Voices Matter-Maryland for racial justice?
Will Jawando: Our Voices Matter was something I’m really proud of and it’s something that it’s still needed. The idea was that too often in government and in the world in general, the people who make the most noise get all the attention. Those folks who have the resources, connections and the understanding of how government and systems work to make that noise. The communities of color, immigrant communities tend to not have that same power and advocacy connection. So, Our Voices Matter was a simple concept that every voice matters. We identified the six lowest income census tracts in the county. These are communities of color immigrants. We helped them to solve problems in their community through teaching civic engagement tools and skills. So, we worked with parents to help them navigate the process of getting a new security door that had been broken for years in White Oak Middle School. They had to learn how to talk to the Board of Education and Councilmembers. We work with them to identify issues in the Community and then solve those challenges through advocacy. The whole theory is if you build that civic capacity within communities that will strengthen their ability to advocate for needs in their community. It will strengthen the whole county and really make it more equitable based on racial and social justice. I tried to continue that work on the Council through really targeting outreaches. My office in the Council and my team are hearing and going to communities that have not had a voice or have not been at the table. I’ve really worked hard to try to do that to go into different communities. It’s a big part of our office of doing that outreach and trying to lift up those voices.
Nagender Madavaram: Participation of new immigrants do change the dynamics in the County. How do you encourage new immigrants to participate in the government process through African Immigrant Caucus (AIC)?
Will Jawando: it’s a great question. You might remember Nagender when I was elected, I wore a traditional Nigerian dress. Not only I did honor my dad who had just passed but also to honor the more than 33% of our residents in Montgomery County who were born in a different country. You know, like my dad, the sons and daughters of immigrants and like myself get up to about 45% of the county who was either first generation or second generation. As you said, that’s a large number of residents in the county of a million people, it’s almost half. When I was elected, I would prefer to Nigerian American ever or from anyone with an African parent elected to the Council ever. We’ve never had an Asian American on the Council. We would never, you know of any South Asian or Northeast Asian. We’ve only had a handful of African Americans. We’ve had two Latino men. So, we still have work to do to get the representation for diverse population and to get the issues heard. It comes down to what you said that civic engagement into voting. You know, the last time the County Executive race was decided by 77 votes. Imagine if just 100 more people from the Indian American community or the African immigrant community or any of those people voted to the other candidate if would have changed the result. It was about how do you work with more African immigrants in this county? Lot of them engaged in civic life, in politics and policy issues that matter because we’re paying taxes. Our kids are going to schools. We need to have a voice in the county. We worked with African immigrant churches and other community organizations to try to organize an agenda, have a voice to speak and amplify the power of those African immigrant communities. We did trainings on something they’ve been in a whole range of things. Every community has different types of issues. In our immigrant communities, a lot of times we worked with other immigrant communities on issues that overlapped. I think that’s particularly important to address the issues. If we are stronger than we do better for all of our residents.
Nagender Madavaram: Housing is major problem in the county. Workers of essential services are living in other counties as they can’t afford rental home in the MoCo. What solutions you propose to provide homeownership to essential workers and low-income groups?
Will Jawando: It’s a major problem, not just here in the county, but across the country. It’s particularly acute in the County because the cost of living is so high. Many of our workers, as you have said, are public safety workers or teachers or mental health professionals we really need them but don’t live in the county because they can’t afford. The people of low-income members of our community are either living in housing with multiple people, that’s unsafe because they can’t afford anything more. They have to combine their income or their spending of 30% to 60% of their monthly income on housing. When you do that, you have to make very difficult decisions about food, educational expenses, transportation, medicine, and healthcare. You put people in a really tough position and part of that is because we don’t have enough housing. We don’t have enough types of housing in the County. Council on Governments for the Metropolitan Washington region estimates that we need more than 10,000 housing units over the next 10 years. We’re not on pace for them, so we have to do more production. We also need to make sure that there’s more levels of affordability because just producing housing all the same high-rise apartments and single-family homes do not solve the problem. You’re not going to have enough people who can afford those houses. We have a great inclusionary zoning law called the Montgomery Moderately Priced Dwelling Units but it hasn’t been raised in almost 30 years. It’s still at 12 and half percent or 15% depending on the community. I think we need to raise that amount. We need to put more money into preserving affordable housing and making sure that portable housing that does exist can be rehabbed and stay affordable for a longer period of time and then we need to protect renters. You know I’m proud that I introduced first rent stabilization during COVID to keep rents from going up too high and cap them at 2%. I was able to extend that law with my colleagues just a few weeks ago. Now it’ll go through May because the last thing we want to do for health reasons, but also for economic reasons because they can’t afford a rent increase. So, I’ve introduced a proposal called more housing for more people that will create different housing types. You know, we don’t just need single family and apartment but also, we need everything in between so that there’s different price points and then that would stabilize rents, keep them from going too high in our transit corridors where rent is already unaffordable. So, we’re going to need to do all those things. It’s not going to be one bullet. I also introduced the bill with colleagues last week to give a property tax credit and homebuyer tax credit of $2500 a year to public safety workers who buy a home in the county. We need to do that for teachers and other people as well. So, it’s going to have to be an all-hands-on deck approach because it is a crisis.