Silverman to Introduce Major Housing Authority Reform in Response to Scathing Fed Audit
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman, I-At-Large, a member of the council’s Committee on Housing and a vocal critic of the D.C. Housing Authority, will introduce major reform legislation as soon as this month to address deficiencies at the authority and the make-up and operation of its board.
The legislation comes on the heels of a scathing federal audit of the city’s public housing agency, though the legislation was in the works before news of the report broke on Friday.
“I and others have been saying this for a long time,” Silverman said. “The DC Housing Authority is completely dysfunctional; it is failing its residents, and it is failing this city. It needs a complete leadership overhaul.”
The on-site investigation by officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found the local agency, which provides tens of thousands of units of housing for low-income families, in violation of federal law, lacking oversight and proper financial management, and its housing portfolio in a state of disrepair.
Among the report’s findings:
- DCHA’s executive director lacks expertise in public housing management and its board does not provide proper fiscal and operational oversight
- Public housing is nearly insolvent, with barely one month’s expenses in its reserves
- DCHA is out of compliance with numerous federal procurement policies, prompting HUD to require the authority to review all past procurements and to repay all funds that were spent improperly
“This report is a wake-up call for urgent and immediate action. Every part of the agency needs reform, from contracting and procurement to board composition to basic property management,” Silverman said. “I will be introducing major reform legislation soon to make sure our lowest-income residents have housing that is high-quality, safe, and secure.”
Highlights from the HUD report
- Overpayment of executive director. The executive director makes above the federal salary cap for the role, but does not understand HUD and housing authorities well enough to run the agency and does not effectively oversee performance. In addition, DCHA staff report that they sometimes think they need to do what the Executive Director or Board says, even if it is contrary to federal or local regulations or procedures.
- Lack of board oversight. The board is not supervising the executive director and has no review standards or process. The board is also not overseeing programs to prevent issues. Though board members are aware of most problems, they could not name any specific actions taken to improve things.
- Public housing side is nearly insolvent. Only has 1.05 months of expenses in its operating reserves – down from 7.35 months in 2016. Only local money is keeping the public housing side afloat. The board had no idea. In 2022, they lost an estimated $13M in rent and federal subsidies due to vacancies.
- Improper payments and procurement. DCHA has no approved procurement policy and is out of compliance with federal procurement policies so often that HUD is requiring the authority to review all past procurements, show how much federal money was used correctly vs. incorrectly, and repay with non-federal dollars all funds that were spent improperly.
- Over- and undercharging tenants. DCHA is not calculating public housing or voucher rents and subsidies correctly and may owe DC voucher holders money. It may owe the federal government money if the rents were over-subsidized or may be owed money if they were under-subsidized. DCHA is also out of compliance with District law about paying tenants security deposit interest.
- At risk of being in default or breach on federal contracts. Failing to meet basic requirements, like continuing to serve substantially the same number of families before getting the Moving to Work program’s funding flexibility as after.
- Not providing safe and habitable housing. This includes irregular inspections for units, failure to use any consistent procedure for in-house or contracted maintenance, lack of effective safety measures in communities, wastewater backing up into otherwise lease-ready units, units with such bad and uncontrolled leaks that they are fully covered in mold, and a lack of risk assessments in units where a child has elevated blood lead levels. For tenants with disabilities, they are also not complying with HUD regulations about reasonable accommodations.
- Tenant files are in chaos. DCHA fails to protect residents’ personal data, is not maintaining required information, and is maintaining info they were supposed to destroy. Of 25 files reviewed for the public housing side, 23 had required documents missing. Tenant/applicant files include criminal background check information that was supposed to be disposed of after use. Some properties take rent repayment plans verbally rather than using written documentation. For vouchers, DCHA didn’t even turn over files to HUD to review.
- Inept property management. DCHA has units listed as vacant that are occupied and units listed as occupied that are vacant. Property management staff don’t know how to turn around a vacant unit properly. Developments contain units that are ready to lease up (or 90% ready) but with no applicants in process from the waiting list. The Greenleaf plan violates a land covenant prohibiting market-rate housing there.
- Waiting lists are in shambles. DCHA couldn’t document how many people were on the list for public housing or vouchers. They had previously told HUD they were cleaning up and changing the public housing list and would be done by 2015, but they are not.
- No respect for tenant autonomy. After the first year, DCHA doesn’t offer families choices about staying in redevelopments or taking a voucher out. Also doesn’t offer tenants rent calculation choice (flat vs. income-based). The New Communities Initiative has no tenant protections. Stopped maintenance on properties in retaliation for tenant complaints.
- Worst among peers. Operating expenses are 33% higher than its regional peers (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia). High utilities (perhaps from poor maintenance), maintenance expenses, and salaries are the big areas where DCHA overspends per occupied unit per month. Salaries at DCHA are the highest of 18 large and extra-large housing authorities.