Silverman: Housing Authority Needs “Wholesale Reform”

Offers remarks at committee roundtable on DCHA’s response to federal HUD report


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) made the remarks below at Wednesday’s Roundtable meeting of the Council’s Housing Committee, at which members heard from representatives of the D.C. Housing Authority regarding last month’s scathing federal HUD report and its response.

Silverman will introduce legislation to overhaul DCHA next week, legislation that has been in the works since before the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development issued its report last month. The bill would refocus the housing authority on extremely low income households and remove its ability to serve moderate income residents, expand resident rights related to issues like unit repairs and redevelopment, and reform real property redevelopment so that all deals focus on creating extremely low income units.

Good morning, Chairwoman Bonds. And good morning to Director Donald and her senior leadership team.

Housing authorities across the country face a similar dilemma: Federal monies are dwindling, public housing units are in disrepair, and especially in big cities like ours, renting a two or three bedroom home – heck, even a studio – is simply out of reach for minimum wage workers. 

There’s a big difference between the District and all those other housing authorities, though: We put a lot of local money into the DC Housing Authority, in the current fiscal year, $232 million. We put in money both to repair Public Housing units and to help people rent apartments with vouchers. 

DC taxpayers, here’s what you are getting in return: DCHA residents are living in unsafe, unsanitary, downright deplorable conditions – mold, rodents, no locks on doors. Then for the $180 million in local vouchers, we have residents waiting literally decades to get a voucher while millions go unspent. And the cherry on top is that due to our gentrifying city, DCHA properties like Greenleaf across from Nats Park and DCHA’s own headquarters are being handed to developers in sweetheart deals that make them millions of dollars in profit because “we just can’t afford to keep them any other way.”

Director Donald has been quoted as saying - and it was very prominent in the opening response to the HUD audit - that the findings were not a wake up call to anyone.


I mean it, really? Yes, DCHA residents have known that the authority is absolutely a mess because it takes pleading with the Director and Board of Commissioners in person to get mold removed from your unit but did we realize it was because

  • DCHA was totally out of compliance with HUD financial and operational regulations
  • DCHA doesn’t even have an accurate list of vacant units which number in the thousands
  • DCHA is out of compliance with HUD rules for the housing voucher program
  • Its finances, its record keeping, its approach to property management, its procurement practices are either nonexistent or in defiance of federal and local law?

You know, I am sympathetic to you Director Donald, in the sense that you were handed this mess and as HUD points out, you don’t have the public housing finance and management background this mess requires. 

I’m sure you are doing the best you can but back to the wake up call: The Bowser administration has been in office eight years. Its DMPED Director has a seat on the board. If this was not a wake up call, then why hasn’t there been progress in eight years?

Let me end by saying this: HUD says that DCHA’s mission is to provide decent, safe, sanitary housing opportunities for residents, maintain 8,000 plus public housing units in compliance with federal and local law, and administer the voucher program consistent with federal and local law, and be in good practice with financial and procurement practices. 

Every part of that mission is in disarray, and here’s the thing: There’s a real human impact on people in our city who are the most vulnerable, have the biggest health issues, and who are relying on us. We’re failing them: We’ve been failing them for the eight years I’ve been here, and unless something drastically changes, we’ll be failing them for generations to come. 

We need wholesale reform, not an army of expensive consultants.

Let me preview what’s to come since I won’t be here: We’ll spend tens of millions on CSG and others, there’ll be lots of reports and Potomac Gardens, Benning Terrace, and Lincoln Heights residents will still be dealing with unsafe, unsanitary, undignified places to live.