The D.C. Housing Authority Board of Commissioners rejected a resolution that would have authorized Director Tyrone Garrett to begin negotiations with a development team about Greenleaf Gardens, one of its properties most in need of repair.
The failed resolution will delay overdue and desperately needed repairs to DCHA’s 15-acre, 493-unit public housing complex in Southwest. Issues at the property include lead hazards, roach, rodent, and bed bug infestations, mold, and sewage that leaks through the walls.
Last year, City Paper wrote about a school-aged Greenleaf Gardens tenant with such a severe mold allergy that she went into respiratory failure and landed in the hospital. The girl’s doctors wrote in a letter that her living conditions were dangerous enough to kill her.
The board’s 4-5 vote this week will delay residents’ long awaited rehabilitation of the building. The vote also marks the third time in two months that Garrett has failed to get commissioners’ approval for preliminary steps on individual projects that are key to his plan to revitalize D.C.’s decrepit public housing stock.
Last month, the DCHA board rejected Garrett’s requests to submit two applications to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program, a financial restructuring tool that allows private companies to invest in the maintenance and management of public housing. The RAD applications for Kelly Miller Townhomes and LeDroit Senior Apartments, and the Judiciary House Apartments would have unlocked financing for needed repairs.
Commissioners voted down Garrett’s requests for RAD applications last month, in part, because he did not provide the board with promised information about the projects’ overall impact on the housing authority’s portfolio. The status of those applications is unclear.
In the most recent failed resolution for Greenleaf Gardens, Garrett asked the board for permission to exclusively negotiate with Greenleaf District Partners, a development team made up of Pennrose, EYA, and the Bozzuto Group. Garrett emphasized that the development team presented a strong “build first” plan, where residents move into new, offsite buildings before demolition of the main building begins. The strategy is meant to minimize displacement.
Ahead of the vote, Commissioner Bill Slover clashed with Garrett and his team over information he says the board needs in order to allow the project to move forward but that the agency had not provided—a familiar refrain. Specifically, Slover asked to see the development team’s financing plan and the financial considerations offered for the housing authority, both of which were factors that a panel of professionals considered when selecting Greenleaf District Partners, according to the resolution.
Senthil Sankaran, a senior vice president in the housing authority, said publicly providing such information would hamstring the agency’s ability to effectively negotiate. Slover disagreed.
“I’m not asking you to give me any terms right now,” Slover said. “I’m suggesting that you’re asking the board to give you approval to do something which we don’t have, in my personal opinion, enough information to allow us to proceed. We don’t understand what the goal is. We don’t understand where we’re starting.”
Slover also butted heads with Garrett and his team over which terms of a future deal the board would have the opportunity to approve. Slover sought assurances that DHCA would seek board approval for the redevelopment’s total number of units, the possible location of replacement units, unit sizes, land lease terms, and the terms of minority business participation.
Sankaran promised to “keep the board abreast” of those details but offered no assurances they would have the opportunity to weigh in with a vote.
Board Chair Neil Albert later said he only wished that the board have an opportunity to comment, but not necessarily vote on “major decision points,” such as the project’s financing, potential movement of residents during redevelopment, and minority business participation.
In an emailed statement, DCHA spokesperson Jose Sousa expressed confidence in the selected development team, and emphasized DCHA’s commitment to engagement with the community throughout the process.
“Doing nothing is not an option, and we will return to this board for their reconsideration of this measure,” Sousa wrote.
He did not respond to a phone call or follow-up questions.