Park Morton
Park Morton Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

In December, the DC Housing Authority released an audit showing that the vast majority of its public housing stock—roughly 7,000 of its over 8,000 units—has deteriorated in significant ways. Nearly one-third of its units are approaching uninhabitability, riddled with housing code violations that have prompted DCHA to classify them as “extremely urgent.” The other 4,500-odd units are in “very urgent” condition, the Authority says. 

Two months later, public housing residents say they’re still wondering whether the Authority will move them into different units, or fix egregious maintenance issues in the meantime. Conditions include lead hazards, unstable infrastructure, faulty pipes, and infestations of rodents, cockroaches, and mold.

The Authority, at the direction of Executive Director Tyrone Garrett, has publicized these conditions, but has yet to present a plan––or even a set of possible plans––for remediating the hazards in the long term. (At a meeting of DCHA’s board of commissioners in January, the body passed a resolution to consider privatizing some of the most poorly maintained buildings.) 

Garrett estimates that the cost of conducting interim controls for its lead paint and lead dust hazards, among other immediate life safety issues, will cost over $340 million in fiscal year 2019, with the long-term cost of stabilizing the Authority’s housing portfolio being about $1.3 billion over 10 years. Garrett has increased that figure to $1.7 billion if the Authority does not receive the funding necessary to immediately begin repairs. 

Because of application deadlines from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, DCHA has until the end of June to identify properties that it will select for demolition or disposition. The Authority is actively considering this option. (DCHA has already filed three demo/dispo applications with HUD for Ward 1’s Park Morton, Ward 7’s Richardson Dwellings, and part of Ward 6’s Sibley Plaza.) 

Until then, public housing residents––who were recently given letters detailing the results of DCHA’s lead inspections on their properties, most warning them of the presence of lead paint or dust hazards––are in the dark. 

The unsafe conditions persist across DCHA’s portfolio, including in public housing complexes in some of the District’s more affluent wards. Valerie Schneider, for example, an attorney who supervises Howard University law school’s Fair Housing Clinic, tells City Paper that an ongoing plumbing issue in Ward 6’s Greenleaf Gardens leaches sewage into the apartments of some clients. 

Andrew Glover, a resident of the LeDroit Apartments senior building on 4th Street NW in Ward 1, will turn 60 in May. He manages a number of health conditions, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. He uses a wheelchair because he needs a hip replacement—due to an accident caused when a drunk driver hit him. 

Of his apartment, which he’s lived in since October of 2016, Glover says, “my pulmonary physician says I shouldn’t be in a place like this. I definitely don’t want to be in here if that’s going to cause me problems.”

DCHA has identified 14 of its 56 properties as being in “extremely urgent” condition, a fact Garrett related to the board shortly before its emergency January meeting. One of those 14 complexes, a spokesperson for the Authority told City Paper last month, is Glover’s. 

An independent lead hazard assessment of Glover’s building, conducted between June 21 and July 11 of last year, found “deteriorated lead-based paint” and “elevated concentrations of lead in dusts,” including in tenants’ apartments. Two measures suggested to remediate the lead hazards include “HEPA vacuum and wet wash” and “make all floors smooth and cleanable.”

Glover tells City Paper he’s spent the better part of his time in public housing trying to contact local and national housing officials about the conditions in his unit, including DCHA’s legal counsel, deputy director, and director, and employees from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s D.C. field office. “This new guy [Garrett] they got, I made several complaints and it seems like I’m not going nowhere. It appears like they don’t want to do anything,” he says. City Paper asks Glover whether DCHA has communicated a redevelopment plan, or whether staff told him about its status as one of DCHA’s most deteriorated properties. 

“They have done none of that,” Glover says. “Each time I inquire, they tell me they’re going to come and fix the building up. When I first got the [lead] letter they were telling me that they would come and fix it, that it was because the building is so old. But still you’re not telling me what you want to do about it [permanently].” Glover says he has no choice but to wait indefinitely, until DCHA decides how it will proceed with rehabilitating the building.

A spokesperson for DCHA sent City Paper an emailed statement in response to questions about residents’ frustrations, and said that its audit was conducted “with integrity, responsibility, and accountability to our customers.” 

It continues: “Our current portfolio analysis is based on our environmental findings as well as the current physical needs assessment. Capital needs are consistently rising while current sources of funding decline. We will continue to be transparent as strategies are developed and discussed. Unequivocally, DCHA will continue to engage with our customers and stakeholders as we explore various options.”

North of LeDroit Park, past the McMillan Reservoir, Shonta High is growing more and more frustrated. The president of Park Morton’s resident council and an 18-year resident of the complex, long slated for redevelopment, High says tenants of the building “haven’t heard anything concrete yet. We don’t know what the relocation plan will be, we don’t know where people plan to be housed. We don’t know anything.”

With the building’s redevelopment plans caught in a lengthy court of appeals proceeding, High and her fellow tenants feel stuck. And in the meantime, she says they have heard little from DCHA about when, or whether, they will abate any of the building’s numerous housing code violations. High tells City Paper that she has been asking the Authority since 2017 to install new locks on residents’ doors, to no avail. “There are junkies doing things in the hallway and they’re right there in front of your door,” she says, but the answer “has been a flat out ‘no.’ They’re putting in brand new balcony doors, storm doors, on everybody’s apartments. You can spend money on cosmetic fixes, but not on safety?”

The notification tenants received last year of the lead hazards in their building was the first time in her 18 years at the building, High says, that the Authority notified tenants of lead hazards.

“We’re like books in a library. We’re stationed in one place, and Park Morton is our library. What you all see when you look at Park Morton is one category—crime, drama. That’s what you see. But we’re much more than that,” she says. 

“We’re also do-it-yourself, and self help, and community, and entrepreneurship, but nobody want to see that,” High adds. “Take five minutes to talk to us to see where we are in our lives. And if that book isn’t right for you, just return it to the shelf. Just be neighborly and say, ‘I’ll be seeing you around.’ We all have our story written between the pages. It’s up to the people around us to be a part of our story and write the next chapter. And right now DCHA is writing a real bad chapter for us.”