**FILE** D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

The D.C. Council on Tuesday approved emergency legislation dismantling the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) Board of Commissioners and replacing it with the Stabilization and Reform Board, a temporary entity that would recommend a work plan to improve oversight of D.C.’s public housing. 

Earlier this month, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D) introduced the legislation in response to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report detailing DCHA’s failure to provide safe, affordable housing. 

Housing advocates who took issue with the legislation criticized it as an attempt to quash divergent voices on the board, including Board Commissioner Bill Slover, who in years past has questioned city contracts and the qualifications of DCHA leadership. 

In regard to the timeliness of the emergency legislation, Council member Brook Pinto (D-Ward 2) described it as rushed and without sufficient constituent input. 

In the moments before she and Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At large), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) voted against the emergency legislation, Pinto implored her colleagues to wait until the next Council period to work on more substantial changes within the Authority. 

On Dec. 16, Pinto and Silverman introduced legislation making more permanent changes to DCHA, including its re-establishment as an independent board. 

“At the end of the day, trying to make improvements around the edges to make reform on emergency is not right,” Pinto said. 

“We don’t need to settle for a proposal,” Pinto said. 

“We can deliver what our residents deserve through consideration of the permanent legislation proposed last week. We should move at the beginning of the next council period.” 

Since its establishment nearly 50 years ago, DCHA has been charged with providing the District’s lowest-income residents with safe, affordable housing through public housing and voucher programs. The Authority owns 52 properties and has purview over more than 30,000 households. 

Its Board of Commissioners currently consists of 13 members, including the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development, six members appointed by the mayor, one appointed by the D.C. Council,  and a housing advocacy representative. 

While mostly under the control of the mayor, DCHA has struggled to overcome several challenges, including housing unit vacancies, an ever-expanding waitlist and asbestos and mold problems on its properties.

HUD’s report in September indicted DCHA on its failure to provide safe and decent housing and adhere to HUD program requirements and rules. Recommendations included increasing transparency within the Board of Commissioners and training board members on their roles and HUD redevelopment of properties. 

As Bowser and Mendelson’s bill made it through the Council, it underwent several adjustments, including the reduction of the Stabilization and Reform Board’s lifespan from three years to two. Other changes increased resident participation and expanded participation to those who aren’t mayoral allies. 

The approved legislation also facilitates the creation of a new DCHA board within 18 months. 

D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At large) lauded the legislation as a step in the right direction. 

“We …need to make a clear statement that this plan is designed to move the Authority forward with the input from those who live on the properties and those in housing throughout the city that have benefited through the voucher [program],” Bonds said. 

“There are many hopes that we are changing the governance structure by changing the process by which individuals will see the benefits. It has to be done. We can’t leave it as is.” 

However, Silverman, in her last legislative session, as she was not re-elected, vehemently questioned whether the emergency legislation would make the substantive changes desired. 

On Tuesday, she held up a copy of a 1994 news article about dismal public housing conditions, while explaining her disappointment about what she described as the lack of progress District officials have made in public housing over the last 30 years. 

“We keep making the same mistake again and again,” Silverman said. 

“There’s no argument that the DCHA Board of Commissioners needs subject-matter expertise. The amendments are worthy in that it takes a flawed idea… and makes it a little better,” she added. 

“That’s not the same as reforming this agency. Let’s not cross our fingers and hope that this will make the changes we need this time.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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