Silverman, Racine Introduce Emergency Bill to Begin Needed Housing Authority Reform
Office of Councilmember Elissa Silverman
Office of the Attorney General
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. — D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) collaborated with D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine to introduce emergency legislation Thursday to increase oversight and accountability of the D.C. Housing Authority and its board. The emergency bill increases training requirements for its board of commissioners, requires more frequent reporting on housing conditions to the D.C. Council, and clarifies that DCHA has long been required to follow DC’s consumer protection laws. This is an immediate first step and will be followed by a comprehensive reform bill as soon as the end of this month.
“The federal audit is clear: the housing authority is failing its residents and failing this city, at a time when we desperately need safe, affordable housing for our low-income working families," said Silverman. "The problem goes beyond basic maintenance. The authority is out of compliance with federal and local law, it is putting residents at health and safety risks, and its executive director and its governing board of commissioners don’t have the proper training and finance expertise to manage this critical agency. Every part of the housing authority needs reform, from contracting and procurement to board composition to basic property management.”
A federal Department of Housing and Urban Development assessment of DCHA that was made public Friday detailed 82 findings: violations of federal law, lack of oversight and proper financial management, and a housing portfolio in a state of disrepair, with unsafe and unhealthy conditions for residents.
“As every resident in the District knows, our city is suffering from an affordable housing crisis. HUD’s scathing report confirms what we, unfortunately, already knew: DCHA is DC’s largest slumlord and one of the worst in the country. 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. Rather than use federal and D.C. taxpayer monies to address these problems, current leadership at DCHA is sitting on its hands,” said Racine. “Sadly, my office has had to sue DCHA twice because of its abject failures to follow the law and care for D.C. residents – many of whom are seniors, people with disabilities, and Black and Brown. Enough is enough. We need immediate action to provide accountability and reforms at DCHA. That’s why I collaborated with Councilmember Silverman on emergency legislation to do just that. There is no time to waste. I am confident that the Council will move away from the status quo and take action to protect D.C. tenants.”
Among the provisions of the bill introduced Thursday, the Housing Authority Accountability Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, would:
- Clarify that DCHA has long been required to follow DC’s consumer protection laws;
- Require immediate and then ongoing reporting to the Mayor, Attorney General, and the Council regarding DCHA shortcomings identified in the report and the specific uses of local funds;
- Require immediate and then annual training for board members in public housing board responsibilities and ethics, fair housing, housing authority budgeting and finance and federal procurement requirements; and
- Establish training requirements for the executive director.
The Office of the Attorney General has fought to stand up for District tenants in DCHA housing who have not received the safety, support, or even the most basic services as required under the law. OAG first sued DCHA in 2020 for endangering thousands of residents by failing to address dangerous, illegal activity at its properties. As a result of that lawsuit, DCHA agreed to make major security upgrades and perform additional maintenance at 10 of its properties. Then, OAG sued DCHA again earlier this year for systematically failing residents with disabilities by forcing hundreds of them to wait years—and sometimes more than a decade—for accessible housing.
Silverman has raised the alarm about DCHA for years. In her first year on 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.
The emergency and temporary bill introduced today would be in effect for 225 days. A permanent, comprehensive reform bill will go further, removing implicit conflicts on the Board, increasing the Board’s capacity to operate independently, modifying DCHA’s powers related to real property so the District strengthens its current and future affordability, and refocusing the agency’s attention to the needs of extremely low-income residents for housing.