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Days before a Council-sponsored, long-awaited public roundtable about the status of beleaguered public housing property Barry Farm, a handful of residents and tenant advocates are crying foul over the timing of two unexpected DC Housing Authority housing voucher meetings, which residents say conflict with the Council’s schedule.
Barry Farm tenants claim that DCHA, which manages Barry Farm, intentionally scheduled critical information sessions about receiving housing vouchers to coincide with the Council roundtable at 2 p.m. on Thursday, July 12.
It is yet another obstacle, those tenants say, in staying apprised of the city’s plans with that housing project.
In late April, the D.C. Court of Appeals vacated the Zoning Commission’s approval of Barry Farm’s redevelopment. The city has long planned on turning it into a mixed-income community as part of the New Communities Initiative, but its fate became murky after the appeals court’s decision. And about one month later, the city withdrew its Planned Unit Development applications for the site from the Zoning Commission.
Daniel del Pielago, organizing director at the social justice outfit EmpowerDC, told City Paper that residents have been left wondering when redevelopment will begin––or if there are plans to continue the project as planned at all. “The question is, what’s happening now?” says del Pielago. “[DCHA Director Tyrone] Garrett said, ‘I can’t say at the moment.’ And so I asked him, you know, ‘Why are people still being displaced?’”
He continues: “I said, ‘You’ve been lying to people all along. You pulled the PUD, you can’t tell me what you’re going to do next, and that leads people to believe that what’s really happening is an effort to remove residents from their property.’”
Thursday’s Council roundtable is supposed to clear that up. It will “provide a forum for discussion of where the … redevelopment of Barry Farm stands,” the Council’s housing committee notice says. It encouraged “all interested members of the public––especially residents of Barry Farm––to share their concerns, comments, and suggestions on how to move forward in a way that is positive for, and responsive to, the Barry Farm community.”
But when EmpowerDC conducted an outreach effort and visited Barry Farm last Friday, July 6, residents told the activists that they couldn’t make it to the Council roundtable because DCHA scheduled information sessions at 10:00 a.m. and 4 p.m. that same day about how to receive housing vouchers, residents said, and they didn’t want to miss them.
City Paper received a copy of a voice message left to a Barry Farm resident by longtime DCHA employee Shernita Jefferson. (Jefferson did not return City Paper’s calls.) The message said, in part:
I’m calling from D.C. Housing Authority voucher program. Just wanted to see if you’d be interested in a housing choice voucher. If so, we are having a meeting about the voucher so you can get more information. We are having a meeting July the 12, that’s next Thursday, and we’re also having two sessions. It’s a 10:00 morning session and a 4:00 evening session. If you’re interested, please contact me […] to let me know what session you would like to attend, to give you more information about the housing choice voucher program and the programs that we offer along with being in the voucher program.
Del Pielago says that the apparent scheduling conflict has dissuaded Barry Farm residents from attending the Council’s roundtable.
“When we started knocking on doors and talking with people, we heard several people say, ‘Oh no, we can’t come, we have to go to this voucher meeting that the housing authority is having,’” del Pielago says. “I found that concerning, because we want a lot of people to come out and participate [in the roundtable]. We have pretty good connections at Barry Farm. And up until that day we’d not heard about the voucher meetings that the HA was going to hold.”
And when del Pielago reached out to the office of At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, whose housing committee is hosting the roundtable, a staffer in her office wrote him back to say that “we just spoke with the Housing Authority and were told that there are no such meetings,” per a copy of the email obtained by City Paper. (A spokesperson for Bonds did not immediately return City Paper‘s request for comment.)
City Paper asked a DCHA spokesperson to clarify when DCHA scheduled those two meetings and what kind of communication the agency had with Council staffers. In response, the spokesperson said, in part, that DCHA’s 10:00 a.m. housing voucher meeting is “informational and non-mandatory,” and that “our first concern continues to be the hundreds of people who planned to return to the redeveloped site in 2020. Over the last several months, Ward 8 families made the decision to relocate from the Barry Farm community while demolition and redevelopment are underway. These families will not be overlooked or forgotten.”
But del Pielago says that residents at the property are still confused about the timing, with some claiming they’ve received word that the 10:00 a.m. DCHA voucher meeting was cancelled, and others saying they plan on attending the DCHA meeting in lieu of the Council’s. DCHA is “now claiming they had planned this for a while, and that it had been on the books. But it’s super curious and coincidental that they only start telling people after the notice comes out [about the] hearing to get to the bottom of what’s happening at Barry Farm,” he says.