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Update, 4:30 p.m.: The D.C. Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners has voted to enter into contract negotiations with Tyrone Garrett, the executive director of the Long Branch, N.J. housing authority, to become DCHA’s next director.
Garrett oversaw the Long Branch Housing Authority when it received more than $72 million in tax credits for affordable housing projects and also when it led a $20 million redevelopment project under a federal government program called HOPE VI that replaces distressed public housing with mixed-income development, according to a DCHA press release.
Neil Albert, who chairs the DCHA board, says in a statement that its members trust Garrett’s ability to lead the agency. “The opportunities and challenges we face are familiar to Garrett and we are confident that his effective leadership style and capacity is in line with what the District needs.” Garrett adds that DCHA is set to continue to be a “national model.”
A DCHA spokesperson says that if the negotiations are successful, Garrett would start as executive director Oct. 2, once the 2018 fiscal year begins. Although the spokesperson says DCHA cannot discuss Garrett’s prospective compensation because negotiations are ongoing, they add that the board chose Garrett after narrowing down the number of applicants to 38.
D.C.’s largest landlord of affordable housing will soon have a new chief executive, but it’s not yet clear who will take on the role. More than two months after its last permanent director Adrianne Todman stepped down for a job in the nonprofit sector, the D.C. Housing Authority—which oversees the District’s nearly 8,300 units of public housing and over 13,000 vouchers for private units—is poised to get a new leader.
The authority’s board of commissioners is set to meet at 3 p.m. today for a “special” session to discuss the issue, though the board will likely opt to do so behind closed doors because it involves personnel, a DCHA spokesperson says. The agenda for the meeting, which is posted on DCHA’s website, notes that the 11-member board can invoke protections from public disclosure if at least six commissioners approve a relevant motion.
Since Todman left the authority in early June, a private consulting firm has been conducting a nationwide search for her replacement and interviewing various panels of affected parties—including housing advocates, public housing residents, and government officials—in the process. But according to two sources from within the affordable housing advocacy community, who spoke on background because that process is not public, community activists have not heard more from the search committee for months. (A few board members have declined to comment about who is under consideration for the role.) Nathan Bovelle, DCHA’s deputy director of operations, has been serving as interim director since Todman’s departure.
The spokesperson for the authority says the board is still in negotiations over Todman’s successor and may not make a decision for several additional weeks. The meeting is being held at the offices of the Downtown Business Improvement District, which the board’s recently appointed chairman, former City Administrator and Deputy Mayor Neil Albert, leads.
The special session comes during an anxious time for public housing residents and advocates. Ben Carson‘s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which in part funds local housing authorities like DCHA, faces roughly $7 billion in cuts under Donald Trump‘s proposed budget—or the equivalent a 15-percent reduction in HUD’s current overall budget. Advocates worry that the cuts, amid historic disinvestment in public housing operations and capital repairs, will harm some of the country’s lowest-income families and exacerbate poverty.
Patty Mullahy Fugere, who directs the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, says the stakes of the DCHA board’s decision are “huge,” not only because leadership at the national level is lacking but also because the District confronts a severe affordable housing crisis that has resulted in the displacement of native Washingtonians. She says the authority’s future director should work to improve resident services, like employment programs, through creative new partnerships.
“It could be a defining moment for the housing authority at a time when the need for real, strong, independent leadership with regard to affordable housing in the District of Columbia is so great,” Fugere argues. “Our hope is that whoever wins the vote to become the new director, whenever that vote takes place, is someone that will see their primary mission as serving the needs of both [DCHA’s current] residents and other D.C. residents who are hoping some day to see their names at the top of the waiting list [for housing assistance].”
There are about 40,000 families on that waitlist as of today.