At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds was caught in the middle of conflicting narratives that emerged during a hearing yesterday in the Committee on Housing and Executive Administration, which she chairs. The committee considered the renominations of three members of the D.C. Housing Finance Agency Board, which is responsible for handing out tax-exempt bonds that help fund affordable housing projects.
On one side you had At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who cited figures her staff compiled showing that in 26 out of the 40 votes the DCHFA board took in the past 20 months, at least one board member had to recuse themself because they were involved in the project that had applied for funding.
“There’s a perception in the development community that if you want D.C. government funding, you need to work with a certain group of people,” Silverman said, adding that she’d just had a coffee conversation with a developer who told her “there’s a small group of developers in the District who get access to the pie.”
“Either the board is only selecting projects in which fellow board members are a part of or, and this is what I’m hearing more of, you need to have a DCHFA board member involved in your project,” she said.
On the other side, you had the three board members up for renomination—Heather Howard, Bryan “Scottie” Irving, and Stanley Jackson—all of whom pushed back against Silverman’s claims that their dual roles as applicants and board members is problematic.
Jackson, who served as deputy mayor for planning and economic development under Mayor Anthony Williams, said sometimes board members play a very minor role in projects that come before the board.
“I don’t think anything negative about it,” Jackson said of Silverman’s figures. “Unless you break up the transaction to find out what role [board members] are playing, they could play a very minor role, such as doing no more than providing workforce development support. Why would we have an issue because a board member is helping his community engage in workforce development.”
Irving agreed, saying he’s more concerned about the number of affordable housing units built than on the number of times a board member had to recuse themselves.
“I think it’s an unfair perception that we’re violating the law,” he said.
Irving, president and CEO of Blue Skye Construction and Development, said one reason the pool of Black and brown affordable housing developers is relatively small in D.C. is because “our city needs to stop putting its money with White banks that don’t … loan Black people money.”
He said one of the major questions applicants for tax credits and bonds must answer is: “Are you liquid? Do you have any money if this thing goes south?
“And if minority developers don’t have money, then they cannot get bonds, they cannot get tax credits,” Irving said. “So the city should do a better job, or the Council should pass better laws to make sure that smaller brown and Black people get the same money that we’re setting aside for our other community.”
Former board Chair Buwa Binitie faced similar questions during his confirmation hearing in 2019. He told Bonds and Silverman then that he recuses himself from every transaction before the board that his firm, Dantes Partners, is involved in.
As City Paper previously reported, Binitie voted on a $1 million loan for the Clara in May of 2019, according to board minutes. But he later recused himself from a vote on the same project in April 2021 after his firm became involved as a development consultant and property manager. Binitie resigned from the board this past summer after his term expired.
Before his resignation, it appears Binitie had been investigated for an alleged conflict of interest, based on DCHFA’s response to City Paper’s Freedom of Information Act request. The agency declined to release any materials related to the investigation, describing it as “privileged,” and it’s unclear what specific allegations he faced or how the investigation was resolved. Binitie did not respond to an email asking for comment.
In DCHFA board meetings between 2015 to December 2021 where the board voted on an application for financing, at least one board member recused themselves 40 percent of the time, according to City Paper’s review of minutes.
Silverman introduced a bill in 2020 that would have prohibited DCHFA board members from receiving government subsidies while they served. The bill was referred to Bonds’ housing committee. At least five other councilmembers supported the bill, but it died in Bonds’ committee without a hearing.
And it doesn’t appear she has an appetite to revive it. In her closing remarks during Thursday’s hearing, Bonds said, “I don’t know that we’ve been fair with you, the nominees, to try and press all these buttons.”
She acknowledged that the conversation about potential conflicts on the DCHFA board is overdue and but said it “would be more wholesome” to explore the questions Silverman had raised in a roundtable discussion. “Then my colleagues can grow, as I have grown over the eight years of understanding and coming to the table with my 14 years on the executive side of having some understanding on this.
“We want to come to the table with sincerity as opposed to, ‘Oh, well this is what someone is saying,’” Bonds said. “People are always saying stuff. But the reality is money runs these enterprises, and how you gain access to the money is tantamount.”