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Seems like an odd time to be reinventing your mayoralty, with rumors about federal investigations hanging low over the Wilson Building. But today, Mayor Vince Gray has some good news: He’s lured Michael Kelly, who served nine years as director of the D.C. Housing Authority before being tapped by its equivalent in New York City, back to head the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Gray’s announcement said that the switch was part of an effort to “sharpen his administration’s focus on the District’s need for affordable housing.” What about the guy who’s been there for more than a year now, John Hall?
In this instance, the problem wasn’t a massive public relations gaffe or the taint of scandal; Hall got a soft landing within the Department of Planning and Economic Development. Rather, I’m betting that Hall just didn’t have the firepower to move fast enough. Having come directly from middle management at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, he was out of his depth when it came to maneuvering effectively within D.C. government. He struggled to handle compliance with federal grants after a Washington Post investigation found widespread irregularities, as well as rot within his own staff.
“It’s taken quite a while for John to get up to speed at the department,” says Bob Pohlman, director of the umbrella Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. “I am sure that preoccupation with all that probably kept him from addressing all the issues that are out here.”
It’s also likely that Gray would’ve liked to have Kelly originally, but that Kelly was busy bringing the Philadelphia Housing Authority back from scandal (he stepped down last week, citing family reasons). “I think he would’ve been a very strong candidate if he had been available back at that time,” Pohlman says.
While at DCHA, Kelly was credited with bringing in a slew of federal grants that remade communities like Capper Carrolsburg and Northwest One. He’ll undoubtedly play a large role in the crafting of a new housing plan (it’s telling that the D.C. Housing Finance Agency’s Harry Sewell, not Hall, was picked to lead the effort).
It’s a positive step for D.C., especially if Kelly sticks around through the storms surrounding the guy who hired him.