DC lawmaker calls for criminal investigation into actions of Housing Authority employees

At-Large D.C. council member Robert White called for a criminal investigation into the DC Housing Authority after concerning allegations were raised over the last three months. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

A D.C. council member wants the city’s Housing Authority to be criminally investigated.

At-large council member Robert White is calling on Inspector General Daniel Lucas to look into the agency that houses D.C.’s most vulnerable residents, after allegations of corruption, criminal behavior and financial impropriety have been lodged against DCHA.

After becoming the Housing Committee chair in January, White said he’s learned of allegations that Housing Authority employees gave vouchers to family and friends, were paid by landlords to show preference to their buildings, and participated in unspecified criminal behavior.

“There is no path forward without getting to the bottom of the breadth of these issues and instilling trust in the agency through full transparency,” said White at a news conference at City Hall on Thursday.

Meanwhile, he said there are 10,000 backlogged maintenance orders and 2,000 uninhabitable units.

“They are people living in units that have had conditions that have lingered for years, they want them fixed. There are rodents and infestation issues at many housing properties that have to get addressed,” White said.

White is introducing legislation to make the agency more transparent and asking Director Brenda Donald to prepare to detail agency changes at a hearing in April.

“As a Washingtonian who has watched as people struggle to keep a roof over their heads and fight slum conditions, it makes me so angry that people who are paid with taxpayer money to house and protect some of the most vulnerable people in our community have acted entirely in self-interest, and have profited off of displacement,” White said.

Donald denies any agency wrongdoing.

“I think it’s unfair to string together again, serious allegations, and extrapolate that across an agency that has over 800 employees and suggest there is a culture of corruption. There is not,” Donald said.

The Inspector General’s Office could not confirm whether it is investigating the claims or who referred any investigation to them, as it protects the sources of investigations.

Unlike how the council member characterized her agency’s behavior as defensive and resistant, Donald contends that DCHA has been cooperative in handing over any information or documents requested.

“I don’t understand. I have a long track record of being responsive to counsel, to anybody who’s in an oversight position. We deliver volumes of information as we have done for our oversight hearings. We answer every question. We know when it’s appropriate to draw a line when there are personnel issues that should be kept private,” Donald said.

In a statement released Thursday, Donald said the accusations have been referred to the Inspector General.

“Our internal reports which Councilmember White released today should be a warning to anyone thinking of trying to defraud District taxpayers. We have a zero-tolerance policy for fraud, waste and abuse. While I fail to see how today’s press event advances our charge to make public housing better, I welcome the chance to talk about the essential progress we are making at DCHA,” she wrote.

White also said that it came to his attention that seven audits were never passed from DCHA to its board or to the council.

“There needs to be a culture change. DCHA has to step into the modern era and operate the way that public agencies operate. Audit reports for any other agency — everybody gets them. When the inspector general investigates something at every other agency, everybody gets them. When the chair says, ‘Hey, I need information on a bonus. That is taxpayer money.’ That information comes to the council. I’m not going to spend day after day begging for information that should be routine,” White said.

He released a number of audits to the public, detailing issues that Donald indicated she had handled as personnel matters.

“I don’t know what the releasing of reports that are going down the investigative track have to do with transparency to our residents. Our residents see me and my team every single day on the properties, teams of people going out inspecting individual units, making sure that we understand the repairs that need to be done, coming behind them with contractors to improve the property conditions. That’s what our residents want,” she said.

Donald goes before White’s committee on April 10 for a review of her agency’s budget. He asked that she be prepared to answer questions about what changes have been made at DCHA to reflect his concerns.

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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