Council Unanimously Passes “First Step” Housing Accountability Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The DC Council unanimously passed legislation by Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) on Tuesday to jumpstart needed improvements at the D.C. Housing Authority, including a requirement that board members and the executive director receive extensive training in 30 to 60 days.
“The housing authority’s job is to provide safe, healthy, and dignified housing for low-income residents,” said Silverman, who drafted and introduced the legislation, which was co-introduced by 11 other councilmembers. “We need to start at the top and make sure that the people who manage and make decisions know what they're doing.”
Silverman says she will introduce already in-the-works comprehensive reform bill soon
Silverman introduced the legislation, the Housing Authority Accountability Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, in response to a severe federal Department of Housing and Urban Development report. The report found that the authority’s executive director and many board members lack knowledge of public housing management and have not taken an active role in oversight. Other findings include serious violations of federal procurement and other laws, lack of oversight and proper financial management, and public housing units in disrepair, with unsafe and unhealthy conditions for residents. Nearly one fourth of the authority’s housing units are vacant.
The emergency legislation stipulates training topics, including the role of a board, ethics, public housing, fair housing, public housing financial oversight, and federal procurement requirements, among other topics. The executive director must complete similar training within 30 days. The bill also clarifies that DC’s consumer protection laws apply to DCHA, something the agency has disputed.
Silverman is already looking ahead to introducing comprehensive legislation to reform the housing authority — legislation she started drafting before the HUD report became public. She plans to introduce it as soon as the end of this month. The in-the-works comprehensive legislation will go further than the emergency bill: it would increase the board's capacity to monitor DCHA effectiveness, change the makeup of the board, reduce conflicts, give more power to the board, and improve information sharing for better Council oversight.
“The emergency bill is just a first step,” Silverman said. “I’ve been raising the alarm, alongside many public housing residents, about DCHA for years. With this report and more people paying attention, I hope we are in a position to take on what is a dysfunctional agency, top to bottom.”
In her first year on the Council, she boosted funds for repairs so that DCHA could address its quality problems and reduce the number of vacant units. She sought to improve board independence and expertise by adding subject matter experts to the board and reducing the mayor’s majority on the board. And she authorized the Inspector General to investigate serious allegations of impropriety at DCHA.
Silverman teamed up with D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, who focused on the consumer protection piece, to develop the emergency legislation.
“HUD’s scathing report confirms what we, unfortunately, already knew: DCHA is DC’s largest slumlord and one of the worst in the country,” Racine said in a joint release with Silverman last week. “It’s horrific that over 20 percent of DCHA units are currently vacant—the highest vacancy rate in the country—yet there’s a waiting list of 40,000 people.”
Read Councilmember Silverman's remarks on presenting the legislation.