Advocacy group wants ‘more community input’ in DC housing authority’s future

An advocacy group that offers services to people who depend on the D.C. Housing Authority said that while it’s pleased that the issues facing housing residents are getting a lot of attention, it is concerned that any reforms that come will not bring about the changes it hopes to see for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“I think for us, this is a long fight; this is not going to end with this,” said Daniel del Pielago, the organizing director for Empower DC.

After the release of a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on DCHA, which cited unsanitary and unsafe conditions at public housing units, lawmakers in the city have promised to respond and address those concerns.

The response included an emergency measure from Mayor Muriel Bowser that was introduced to the council by Chairman Phil Mendelson, which, if approved, would result in an overhaul of the DCHA board.

Del Pielago said that while these problems need to be addressed quickly, he believes they also need to be solved with more community input. But he said he believes that the emergency legislation does not allow for that.

He also said the legislation should not include the housing authority’s board being sent away because removing officials from the board, who have been elected to their posts, would be “dangerous.”

“It’s focusing on this board, like they were the central problem, when really, there’s a host of problems; and they all seem to … be centered with that executive staff and the staff in general. That’s not doing the work necessary to improve the quality of life for public housing residents,” del Pielago said.

In a statement, Bowser’s office said “the Administration believes the board needs a reset to better serve its residents and the agency’s mission, and we are working with the Council to submit legislation on Tuesday to do just that.”

The emergency legislation, which was pulled from a vote in the last council session, is expected to be up for a vote again next week. Mendelson cited “uneasiness” among some council members for the decision to not hold a vote on it.

Next week, the legislation won’t be the only option on the table. Council members Brooke Pinto and Elissa Silverman introduced another piece of legislation which would create a nine-member board among other reforms. Their bill does not call for the complete dismissal of the current board.

Del Pielago said he appreciates that the bill from Pinto and Silverman is not an emergency measure and would gather input from the community.

“It avoids making these drastic changes that don’t really result in any tangible changes for public housing residents,” he said.

Bowser and members of council are not the only ones weighing in on the DCHA situation.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine released a report in which he called for increased independence at DHCA. The recommendations included removing the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development from the board and making sure all board appointments have the qualifications to serve, among other proposed reforms.

“I think it’s a positive move in the sense that you have these … significant agencies. The Office of the Attorney General is really sounding the alarm that something is wrong, and there needs to be a new way, a better way to improve public housing,” del Pielago said.

What del Pielago and his organization would like is more oversight of DCHA from the council and more results from the improved funding DCHA has received in recent years.

“What we’re not seeing is these dollars translated into actual relief for public housing residents,” del Pielago said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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