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This morning, a crowd gathered outside the D.C. Housing Authority to protest a change that is really only symbolic.

Today marks the official suspension of the DCHA’s waiting list for housing assistance. Practically speaking, though, the list has been closed for some time: It’s around 70,000 names long, and low-income residents who joined recently may have to wait several decades before they receive public housing or a voucher.

DCHA made the decision in the fall to stop accepting new applications to the list, since it’s already dauntingly long and maintaining it is a useless drain on city resources. That change went into effect today.

“It’s unwieldy, and we have a whole department whose job is managing the waiting list,” says DCHA spokeswoman Dena Michaelson. “We’d prefer for their jobs to be getting people into housing.”

Michaelson expects part of the list to reopen within a year, possibly for seniors. Other parts will take longer. The goal is to clean up the list—-purging people who are no longer interested or eligible—-and to reorganize it to better reflect the needs of applicants. Residents seeking public housing will likely be able to specify which locations they’re interested in. Currently, they can turn down the first housing offered to them, but the second offer is their final one.

“What we’re envisioning is for people to be able to say, ‘I want these three places,'” Michaelson says. “That’s what we’re going to be studying and going through in the next year.”

Michaelson says DCHA attempted to clean up the list in 2008 while it was still open, and it was a “cumbersome” process. Closing it temporarily this time around while DCHA contacts everyone currently on the list ought to make the process smoother.