DC Housing Authority Headquarters
DC Housing Authority headquarters. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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The D.C. Housing Authority is still struggling to hold elections for three spots on its governing board and will miss a D.C. Council-imposed deadline for the process—but whenever it does finally count ballots, it looks like a major shakeup is on the way for the troubled body.

A quarter of the public housing agency’s 12-member Board of Commissioners, which reviews major contracts and development deals, has been facing legal limbo for months and DCHA has only made halting progress toward resolving the issue. The agency is now set to hold a pair of new elections for those three board positions designated to represent DCHA residents, but the process (like so much about the agency in recent months) has gotten messy.

DCHA officials made the rather inconvenient discovery several weeks ago that the terms for the three current board members—Kenneth Council, Aquarius Vann-Ghasri, and Antonio Taliaferro—expired last October, after the agency postponed elections during the pandemic. The Council agreed to extend their terms through March 31 (after legal questions stymied DCHA Director Brenda Donald’s original plan to have the board do that on its own), but with the condition that the agency actually make these long-awaited elections happen before then. And lawmakers have been especially attentive to the process, considering the scandal that enveloped former board chair Neil Albert and the revelation that his replacement, Dionne Bussey-Reeder, owed the city more than $15,000 in unpaid taxes. (She later settled those debts.)

But the housing authority won’t quite meet that timeline, either, after only one candidate managed to gather enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. Other prospective candidates expressed concern about the existence of any signature requirement whatsoever, considering the ongoing pandemic—anyone hoping to win the “senior/disabled” or “family” commissioner roles needed 200 signatures, while the at-large position required 300.

So DCHA’s board came up with a complex compromise at its Jan. 27 meeting.

An election for the lone candidate to gather the requisite signatures will go ahead on Feb. 21 and 22. Janet Parker will be the only person to appear on the ballot in that election for the senior/disabled commissioner role, per a DCHA spokeswoman.

For the other two spots, the board agreed to eliminate the signature requirements and hold a separate election on April 7 and 8, the spokeswoman said. That delay will give more candidates the chance to enter the race and meet federally mandated notice requirements for the elections.

The spokeswoman did not answer questions about how many people have expressed interest in running in those elections, but it seems clear that the board is set for big changes.

Vann-Ghasri, the board’s longtime family commissioner, has indicated during the past two DCHA board meetings that she does not plan to run again (she did not respond to a request for comment). Taliaferro, the current senior commissioner, would seem to be out of the running as well, considering that he will not appear alongside Parker on the ballot in that race, though he is technically eligible to run in the at-large race instead.

However, Loose Lips would wager that his time on the board is coming to an end after two DCHA employees accused him of threatening behavior (and an independent investigation found evidence to substantiate those concerns). Taliaferro, who did not respond to a request for comment, was briefly suspended by his board colleagues over that matter and has not attended their last few meetings.

That just leaves Council, who also did not respond to an email from LL, as he could run again for his at-large seat. DCHA will accept candidates for that post and the family commissioner spot through March 4.

If all that maneuvering has your head spinning, LL can’t blame you. DCHA and the D.C. Council have essentially needed to make up the rules for these elections on the fly, and they have big implications—Mayor Muriel Bowser’s appointees generally control the board, but there have been plenty of close votes on controversial issues in the past.

Donald herself said during the meeting that this is a mess “that should have been handled by the previous administration,” placing the blame squarely on former director Tyrone Garrett, who was forced out last spring.

“This election should have been put in place and conducted last summer,” Donald said. “It was not and we have had to scramble to back into it and to make sure we have an election that meets all of the requirements, that is done with integrity and in accordance with all of the rules. Some of those rules have not been adhered to before. Under my watch, we make sure we abide by the rules, as we understand them.”

Bussey-Reeder added that some residents have brought concerns to the board about the process, “saying this is not organized well and it really is a poor representation of their leadership.”

“And I agree,” she said. The compromise measure only passed on a 4-3 vote (the current resident commissioners recused themselves) with several commissioners raising concerns about fairness—one advisory neighborhood commissioner and resident council president, Muhsin Umar, told the board that he’d hoped to run for the senior commissioner position, but couldn’t collect enough signatures because he worried about close contact with strangers.

He could still run for an at-large spot now that the signature requirement is gone, but he won’t have the chance to be on the ballot with Parker.

“The bottom line is the way we have done it is not fair, period,” said Ann Hoffman, the board’s labor representative. “No matter what we do to correct it, it will not be fair.”

But the April elections, at least, should mark the end of this saga. Those may be just beyond the Council’s March 31 deadline, but Donald said “we do not expect to get pushback” from lawmakers about the plan.

This story was updated with information on Bussey-Reeder’s tax debts.