Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau wants to revoke the D.C. Housing Authority’s status as an independent agency. She introduced a bill on Tuesday to fold the Authority into the purview of the Office of the Mayor.
Doing so would give the mayor’s office and D.C. Council better oversight of the Authority’s budget priorities and spending patterns, Nadeau says. At least seven other councilmembers support the bill, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, and At-Large Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, David Grosso, and Robert White.
In recent months, the D.C. Housing Authority has publicly acknowledged that the vast majority of its public housing stock—roughly 7,000 of its over 8,000 units—are in “extremely urgent” or “very urgent” condition. Conditions include deteriorating infrastructure, faulty pipes, lead hazards, and infestations of rodents, cockroaches, and mold.
DCHA Director Tyrone Garrett told City Paper last December that the agency has had to ask itself: “’Is [the disrepair] something that’s prevalent throughout our portfolio?’ And we’ve identified, yes it is.” A spokesperson for the Authority did not immediately respond to City Paper‘s request for comment on Tuesday.
The Authority 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 costing 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.
Last month, the D.C. Housing Authority’s board of commissioners passed a resolution to establish “a framework for the stabilization and repositioning [of] DCHA’s portfolio of properties.” In effect, it signaled the board’s belief that the most cost-effective way to stabilize the city’s public housing is to privatize or redevelop some of its most neglected properties. DCHA has already filed three demolition/disposition applications with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for Ward 1’s Park Morton, Ward 7’s Richardson Dwellings, and part of Ward 6’s Sibley Plaza. Garrett has said publicly that his office is in the process of identifying other public housing complexes to redevelop.
In a slideshow he presented to the board of commissioners before that meeting, Garrett identified 14 properties as being in “extremely urgent” condition. A spokesperson for the Housing Authority identified these properties to City Paper as Stoddert Terrace/Fort Dupont; Kelly Miller/LeDroit; Langston Terrace; Woodland Terrace; Greenleaf Senior; Greenleaf Gardens; Benning Terrace; Garfield Terrace; Judiciary House; Richardson Dwellings; Kenilworth Courts; Harvard Towers; Syphax Gardens; and Lincoln Heights. Together, these properties represent over 3,300 units of public housing.
As she introduced her bill to strip the Authority of its independent status on Tuesday morning, Nadeau cited DCHA’s desire to privatize much of its housing stock as an impetus for introducing the bill. The agency is “not responsive enough to meet the needs of our residents,” she said.
The agency has historically “been disconnected” from city-wide conversations about the preservation and production of affordable housing, Nadeau says. “We have to get them on the same page… and that’s just not possible if an agency is independent. We have to leverage every funding mechanism we have” for the production of affordable housing, she tells City Paper.
The Authority has asked HUD for additional housing vouchers so that it can re-home residents who are living in what DCHA has identified as its most uninhabitable units. DCHA has “limited use” to 272 emergency vouchers, the Authority says.