DC Housing Authority headquarters. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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A series of missteps is once again prompting questions about the D.C. Housing Authority’s leadership, the first of which is whether anyone at the agency knows how to set a calendar reminder.

Terms for the three DCHA board commissioners who represent public housing residents—Kenneth Council, Aquarius Vann-Ghasri, and Antonio Taliaferro—expired Oct. 1 and an election for their replacements has yet to be held.

The issue comes as the board’s former chairman, Neil Albert, recently resigned in disgrace following news reports that he steered contracts worth millions of dollars to a girlfriend, Paola Moya. The seat reserved for a housing voucher holder has been vacant for more than a year, after Franselene St. Jean‘s abrupt dismissal.

That leaves six people on the 11-member board of the agency that oversees housing for about 50,000 low-income residents in public housing properties and D.C.’s housing voucher programs. Now, after Executive Director Brenda Donald‘s failed attempt to extend Council, Vann-Ghasri, and Taliaferro’s terms by amending DCHA’s bylaws, the D.C. Council will decide whether to bail out the agency.

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Donald asked the six remaining commissioners to amend DCHA’s bylaws to allow the three resident commissioners to remain on the board until the agency can hold an election for their replacements during their November meeting. But that request crumbled after DCHA Commissioner Bill Slover asked whether the board has the legal authority to extend its own members’ terms.

Donald said DCHA’s general counsel believed an amendment to the bylaws would be sufficient. She promised to get back to the board with a legal opinion.

But Donald’s request to amend the bylaws does not appear on DCHA’s agenda for the board’s Dec. 8 meeting. Instead, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds introduced emergency legislation to extend the three resident commissioners’ terms. The legislation says DCHA intends to hold an election before March 31, 2022.

Bonds did not return LL’s phone message or email, and she was not in her Wilson Building office when he stopped by this afternoon. But her bill raises more questions for LL.

The first: What’s the emergency? The board is able to function with six members and has done so since the beginning of October. Plus, the board seat reserved for a housing voucher holder has been vacant since August 2020 and neither Bonds nor housing authority leadership have made a peep.

St. Jean was notified by the mayor’s office that she was getting kicked off the board because she no longer qualified for the voucher-holder seat. St. Jean confirmed that she no longer uses a housing voucher, but she said that had been the case for at least two years prior to her removal from the board.

Hours before St. Jean was kicked off the board, she had been asking pesky questions about touchy subjects at DCHA, including a whistleblower lawsuit and whether the redevelopment deal for the agency’s headquarters would include units for people in the lowest income brackets. Mayor Muriel Bowser nominated Ronnie Harris to replace St. Jean on Oct. 22, but the Council has not acted on the nomination.

LL’s second question: Will Commissioner Taliaferro rejoin the board despite his suspension?

Taliaferro, who represents senior and disabled public housing residents, was the subject of anti-stalking petitions two DCHA employees filed in D.C. Superior Court, which were dismissed on technicalities. The agency later suspended him following an investigation into his alleged threatening and aggressive behavior.

The petitions accused Taliaferro of repeatedly threatening and harassing the two employees. In one instance, Taliaferro is alleged to have asked for a personal favor for a relative who lives in public housing, then demanded a DCHA supervisor retaliate against their employee for refusing his request.

Multiple DCHA employees told LL that they started reporting Taliaferro’s behavior to DCHA’s human resources staff, and to Donald, in July. But Venable LLP, the law firm hired to investigate the allegations, did not start its investigation until Aug. 31, according to the firm’s report.

Taliaferro was suspended Sept. 30, after the law firm completed its investigation. The report, first reported by WTOP, describes how Taliaferro harassed and threatened to fire employees, at times in front of Donald.

Under DCHA’s disciplinary procedures, the commission had 30 days from the time Taliaferro was notified of the charges to hold a hearing, but it failed to do so.

In the law firm’s report, one employee described a property tour with Donald during which Taliaferro told employees “you all get an F, and you need to be fired.” The employee “believed Director Donald condoned and/or agreed with Commissioner Taliaferro’s comments because she did not intervene,” the report says.

Another employee said Taliaferro asked them to co-sign a car loan, which they declined to do. That employee also said Taliaferro boasted that he “holds the tie-breaking vote on the Board,” according to the law firm’s report.

Yet another employee, who works at the building where Taliaferro lives, told investigators they believe Taliaferro has an unauthorized pet and was subleasing a room in his unit, in violation of his lease.

Venable lawyers concluded that, if true, the allegations against Taliaferro amount to multiple violation of the board’s standards of conduct.

DCHA spokesperson Tony Robinson says if Bonds’ emergency bill passes, Taliaferro will be reinstated as a boardmember. He would not be suspended, but he could be subject to disciplinary action if the board decides to restart the process.

Dena Walker, president of the Greenleaf Gardens resident council, wrote to all 13 councilmembers in opposition to the bill.

“On behalf of the resident council of the Greenleaf properties, we are imploring you not to support the DC Housing Authority’s last minute request to approve the temporary extension of the resident commissioners’ terms,” Walker wrote to councilmembers. “This is DCHA’s roundabout way to have resident representation on the board so that they can vote on development resolutions that impact residents.”

In an interview with LL, Walker points to a resolution on the DCHA board’s agenda for its Dec. 8, that would give the agency a 135-day extension to negotiate a master development plan for the five Greenleaf properties. The board initially approved negotiations with the development team in November 2020 with a 180-day deadline, which expires on Christmas.

Walker objects to the delay and believes DCHA is pushing an emergency bill so it can vote on the resolution to extend the negotiation deadline with input from the resident commissioners. She’s concerned Taliaferro would vote in favor of the extension.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson called the bill a “non issue” and doesn’t believe it will be controversial when it comes up for a vote tomorrow. But At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman says she will likely oppose the legislation.

“After the Neil Albert scandal, we should be concerned about what we’re doing with the housing authority board,” she says. “This is a federal issue, and we need to be above board with the resident commissioner spots.” (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires housing authority boards to have at least one resident representative.)

Robinson says DCHA has already hired an independent monitor to oversee the election and hopes to complete the process in 90 days.