Pinto, Silverman Propose Comprehensive D.C. Housing Authority Reform
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. — D.C. Councilmembers Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) and Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) on Wednesday announced legislation that will restructure, reform, and rebuild the D.C. Housing Authority from the ground up.
The legislation, which will be formally introduced Thursday, creates a housing authority with renewed focus on providing safe, dignified homes for low-income D.C. residents. It ensures that the redevelopment of housing authority properties prioritizes the needs of residents in search of deeply affordable housing in the District. It also strengthens the authority's board by requiring a diversity of expertise in low-income housing finance and development, public housing operations, legal services, and lived experience as a voucher recipient or current resident of public housing.
“The reformed agency will prioritize the needs of our lowest income residents, have new operational requirements to ameliorate habitability and vacancy deficiencies, and ensure transparent stewardship of District assets,” Pinto said. “Our public housing residents, voucher holders, and constituents deserve transparency, input, and our sustained commitment to comprehensive reforms that make certain our public housing authority delivers safe and decent housing to extremely and very low-income residents.”
“I believe D.C.’s housing authority should always serve the needs of our lowest-income residents first and foremost, before the needs of real estate developers,” Silverman said. “HUD’s scathing report showed that comprehensive reform is needed – simply rejiggering the board isn’t going to do what is necessary to provide safe, sanitary homes for our most vulnerable, put in place best practices for public housing operations and management, and make the agency compliant with federal and local law.”
DCHA’s dysfunction has been known to residents who rely on the authority for years, but the recent HUD audit made its failures clear: widespread management and financial failures, which include unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions, the lowest occupancy rate of any large public housing authority in the country, and contracting and procurement practices that are out of compliance with federal and local law. More than 36,000 District residents are currently awaiting housing on DCHA’s waiting list, which has been closed for nearly a decade.
The bill introduced by Pinto and Silverman makes important reforms to better serve District residents:
- Prioritizes safe and sanitary public housing by requiring D.C. tax dollars put into the authority’s Repair & Maintenance funds be used for maintaining currently occupied units, emphasizing that repairs need to be made within a reasonable period of time.
- Refocuses the authority’s mission on the lowest-income renters, maximizing the creation of housing affordable to extremely and very low-income residents on DCHA properties, and restructures waiting list operations so the District can distribute housing vouchers efficiently.
- Strengthens board capacity and expertise by creating a nine member board, designating two seats for low-income housing finance and development experts, two seats for public housing management and operations experts, one seat for a financial compliance expert, three seats for residents living in DCHA properties or receiving housing vouchers, and retaining one seat designated by legal services providers.
- Creates greater board accountability to resident needs through increased financial and operations reporting and increased resident rights in development, relocation, and other decisions.
- Enhances Council oversight and overall transparency in finance and operations through increased reporting on waiting lists, vacant unit turnover, crimes reported on housing authority properties, voucher rents and distribution, use of local subsidies, real property assets and transfers, and more.
The announcement comes a week after the Council considered, but postponed, emergency legislation proposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson that would have created a new “stabilization and reform” board to replace the existing DCHA Board of Commissioners. The emergency bill eliminated several of the board’s most vocal critics and its elected resident representatives, but did not propose any additional reforms.
The Council is now scheduled to take up that legislation December 20. Pinto and Silverman are urging Council colleagues to wait and take a more comprehensive approach with consideration of their bill in the new year.
“If we’re looking for real stability and reform, the emergency bill is not it,” Silverman said. “I’ve heard from low-income housing experts, public housing residents, legal advocates, and voucher holders – all of whom are strong voices against the emergency bill. We need a more comprehensive approach.”
“We urgently need to rebuild this critical social safety net, and I look forward to working with my colleagues, the Mayor, residents, and advocates in the coming weeks and months to bring about the reforms that will best set up the DC Housing Authority and the residents it serves for sustained success,” said Pinto.