Silverman calls for change after DC agency fails to provide safe or sanitary public housing

A D.C. council member is promising to fix the District’s Housing Authority after a federal report laid out a series of critical issues with the agency, most notably its failure to provide safe and sanitary housing,

The Department of Housing and Urban Development released its findings of an investigation indicating the District’s public housing suffers from mold and lead paint hazards, as well as high crime atmospheres.

D.C. council member Elissa Silverman, a member of the council’s Committee on Housing, called the report a “blistering indictment” of the “dysfunctional” agency.

“This report is a wake-up call for urgent and immediate action. Every part of the agency needs reform, from contracting and procurement to board composition to basic property management,” Silverman said in a news release. “I will be introducing major reform legislation soon to make sure our lowest-income residents have housing that is high-quality, safe, and secure.”

Silverman said her legislation will:

  • Address the makeup of the authority’s board, which lacks members with housing finance and property management expertise
  • Give the council oversight on use of funds
  • Refocus attention on needs of low-income residents

D.C.’s Housing Authority has 60 days to respond to HUD’s report and recommendations, and three months to make significant progress on the problem areas the HUD report identified without risking further action from the federal government, the Washington Post reports.

Other issues mentioned in the HUD report said that DHCA’s occupancy rate is the lowest of the major public housing agencies in the nation with a quarter of its nearly 8,000 units being vacant. That’s due, in part, to the agency not having a reliable system to track vacant units.

D.C.’s Housing authority also suffers issues with its management.

The report recommended that current Director Brenda Donald, who was brought on last year without a national search, should be trained in how the housing authority functions.

The Post reported that some of members of the 13-person DHCA board “vote as a group without individual review of the action requested.” Seven of the board members are appointed directly by Mayor Muriel Bowser, who also selects the board chair.

“The HUD report makes it clear that DCHA needs to reclaim its independence through wholesale change in leadership at both the executive and board level,” Board member Bill Slover, whose seat is selected by the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers, told the Post on Friday.

“Only by doing this will the agency be able to focus on its core mission of serving its residents first, something this agency has long neglected to do,” Slover said.

The report suggests that DCHA bring on an “integrity monitoring firm” to look at its existing contracts and assess whether they comply with HUD requirements.

WTOP’s Jessica Kronzer contributed to this report. 

Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

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