In 2012, Kenyan was elected to the Ward 5 seat on the DC Council. For the last 10 years, he has helped build coalitions and come up with real solutions to tackle DC’s most significant challenges. Kenyan has authored and ushered into law some of the most transformational policies in the District, including public safety, affordable housing, racial equity and economic development. His record on the Council is a testament to his commitment to finding ways to empower communities and lift up residents across all eight wards of the District:
➤ Authored the “NEAR” Act, which employs data-driven policing and public health approaches to prevent violence and reduce incarceration.
➤ Created the “Baby Bonds” program to help close the racial wealth gap by providing $1,000 per year to every eligible baby born in DC to pay for their education, start a small business, purchase a home or make investments when they turn 18.
➤ Increased the supply of affordable housing by ensuring the city invests hundreds of millions of dollars to repair and build new affordable units and requiring developers to build affordable homes in new projects.
➤ Secured $100 million in emergency relief to DC’s small and local businesses to help those impacted by the pandemic stay open and keep DC residents employed.
➤ Established DC’s Council Office of Racial Equity and the Chief Equity Officer to eliminate racial disparities and achieve racial equity.
➤ Created and secured funding for the Commercial Property Acquisition Fund to allow local, socially disadvantaged business owners to apply for grants to purchase their commercial property here in the District of Columbia.
➤ Strengthened protections for senior citizens by increasing enforcement and toughening penalties against scammers who target the elderly.
➤ Cracked down on polluters by toughening inspections and penalties on polluters and authorizing the District to exercise eminent domain on the largest privately owned trash transfer station in the city.
In 2017, Kenyan chaired the Judiciary Committee. He helped usher in sweeping updates to DC’s criminal justice laws and successfully passed comprehensive juvenile justice reform that ended the use of solitary confinement, life sentences, and indiscriminate shackling of juveniles in court. He also oversaw the implementation of DC’s police body-worn camera program, including ensuring that the public has fair access to the video footage from encounters with officers.
Kenyan has championed laws that ended unnecessary and discriminatory hurdles to access to housing and employment for individuals with criminal
records or poor credit. But one of his proudest moments on the Council is passing the “Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act.” The law takes a holistic approach to prevent crime in the first instance and floods communities disproportionately impacted by violence with resources – including violence interrupters and behavioral and mental health services – in addition to more innovative, data-driven policing.
NEAR Act: Modern, data-driven and transparent law enforcement is an integral part of addressing crime and violence. But policing – in a vacuum – cannot be the full extent of public safety efforts. Kenyan authored and passed the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, which uses the CURE Violence Model and applies a public health approach to violence prevention and intervention. The NEAR Act addresses crime in a long-term, sustainable way, including the use of cognitive and family-based therapy and wraparound services; engages those who are at high risk of participating in, or being a victim of, violent crime by providing evidence-based counseling, mentorship, and workforce development; prioritizes community policing and mandates open access to data to increase oversight and improve police department practices, including requiring the collection of data on felony crimes, stop-and-frisks, and use of force; and provides additional training for police officers on community policing, prevention of bias-based policing, and cultural competency.
Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Reform: For too long, the juvenile criminal justice system has relied on tools and practices geared towards adult offenders, which can be ineffective in reducing crime and providing rehabilitation for our youth. It is imperative that our juvenile justice system be grounded in emerging scientific knowledge about adolescent development, and tailored to an individual offender's needs and social environment. As a lifelong Washingtonian, former prosecutor and current lawmaker, Kenyan knows firsthand the importance of implementing and enforcing sound public policy that works in tandem with our law enforcement partners and court system. That is why he ushered into law comprehensive juvenile justice reform. The wide-ranging policy authored by Kenyan reduces DC’s school-to-prison pipeline by expanding voluntary victim-offender mediation services, eliminating the use of disciplinary segregation known as solitary confinement, and providing age-appropriate sentencing, including banning the use of juvenile life without parole sentences. The law also improves oversight of juvenile justice agencies and services by creating a data-driven approach with a focus on addressing the root causes of crime.
Body-Worn Cameras: Public safety cannot be achieved without transparency. Kenyan ushered in one of the first, and most expansive, police body-worn programs in the country. It places strategic safeguards to build community trust and promote accountability, prioritizing public access to recordings. Equally important, the law protects the privacy of individuals in their homes and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Finally, the law requires ongoing analysis and auditing of the program by both the District and third party researchers.
Since joining the Council, Kenyan has delivered on promises to increase funding and the supply of affordable housing, strengthen tenants’ rights and help eliminate barriers to housing.
Creating Affordable Housing: The DC Government is the largest landowner in the District. When DC sells land to private developers, it presents a tremendous opportunity to create more housing, including affordable housing with that property. Kenyan wrote and
passed a law ensuring that every sale of DC-owned land to private developers requires the new project to include affordable housing for lower income households. As a result, thousands of DC residents can enjoy affordable housing in new developments across the city.
Funding and Preserving Affordable Housing: DC’s most effective tool in creating and preserving affordable housing – the Housing Production Trust Fund – requires robust, dedicated funding. Kenyan authored legislation and successfully fought to make sure that the District dedicates half of all future surplus funds to the DC Housing Production Trust Fund, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to help build, renovate, and preserve affordable housing units.
Protecting Tenants’ Rights: Most low-income tenants arrive to housing court without an attorney when they are faced with an eviction. Landlords come to housing court 90% of the time with a lawyer while low-income tenants are represented in less than 10% of cases. This puts tenants at an incredible disadvantage. That’s why Kenyan authored the Expanding Access to Justice Act and created the “Civil Gideon” program, which provides low-income residents with free legal representation in landlord-tenant court.
Ending Housing Discrimination Based on Criminal and Arrest Records: Historically, landlords in the District had been allowed to arbitrarily deny tenants housing based on arrest records or prior convictions. One in every ten individuals who become incarcerated have recently been homeless, and many of those returning citizens end up returning home with no place to live. That’s why Kenyan authored and passed a law to prohibit landlords from inquiring or asking any questions related to a prospective tenant’s criminal background or arrest history at any time prior to making a conditional offer of housing to the applicant. The law helps people facing criminal charges and those overcoming the challenges of re-entry to secure housing.
Small Businesses and Inclusive Economic Development
For the past five years, he has chaired the Council’s Business and Economic Development Committee. His focus has been on helping grow our local economy with a stronger focus on supporting small and minority-owned businesses. Kenyan fought to put millions of dollars in the Commercial Acquisition Fund to allow socially disadvantaged business owners to apply for grants to purchase commercial properties here in DC. He also secured grant funding for community development financial institutions and minority deposit institutions that provide critical access to capital to entrepreneurs of color.
Unfortunately, the pandemic exacerbated many of the problems for our city’s business owners, particularly black and brown business owners. That’s why Kenyan spearheaded an emergency relief package of $100 million to help the hospitality, entertainment, and retail industries – some of DC’s largest employers of immigrants and minority workers – weather the pandemic as best as possible and keep District employees on the payroll. A portion of that money was provided exclusively to restaurants and retailers owned by economically disadvantaged business owners.
Climate change is a global environmental issue, but also an issue of justice and human rights here in D.C. The negative health effects of pollution are shouldered disproportionately by black and brown communities. Specifically, communities of color are at greater risk from elevated temperatures, economically more vulnerable to climate-driven public health issues, and at greater risk from energy and food price shocks.
As an At-Large Councilmember, Kenyan will continue to advocate for policies and budget resources that hold polluters accountable and create greater access to clean air and water for all District residents.
Shutting Down Pollution Hotspots: For over 30 years, the privately-owned W Street Trash Transfer Station in Brentwood has plagued nearby communities with excessive exhaust from heavy vehicles, noxious smells and rodent infestation. Kenyan’s legislation and determined advocacy led to the District being able to exercise eminent domain against the trash transfer station. This long-suffered environmental injustice will finally be shuttered permanently due to his tireless advocacy.
Reducing Air Pollution and Childhood Asthma: According to the American Lung Association, DC’s childhood asthma rate is significantly higher than the national average. Asthma has a strong association with air pollution, and African Americans have a 36% higher asthma rate than their white counterparts. As an advocate for environmental justice, Kenyan established DC’s first ambient air quality and air pollution program. Through that program, residents can alert the DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) about polluters that release harmful emissions and violators are assessed steep penalties. To further enhance air quality enforcement, Kenyan also successfully advocated for additional funding to hire more inspectors, which refer air quality violations to the Attorney General’s office.
Combating Climate Change through Equity and Opportunity: Climate change is a global crisis and its effects are significant. As temperatures rise and weather patterns change, nations are grappling with efficient and effective ways to protect the climate. In DC, we will face much warmer average temperatures; up to 2-3 times as many dangerously hot days; long, hotter, and more frequent heat waves; more frequent and intense heavy rain events; and higher tides as a result of rising sea level. We cannot wait for Congress to take substantive steps and must act locally to slow climate change, particularly in reducing one of its primary contributors: energy use.
Kenyan shepherded into law one of the most aggressive clean energy standards in the nation through the CleanEnergy DC Omnibus Act of 2018. This legislation enhanced funding for low-income families to access renewable energy and energy efficiency resources and helped prepare locally owned and employed companies with tools to compete for clean energy contracts.
Kenyan received the DC Environmental Network’s Environmental Advocacy Award for his work on fighting climate change