WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- The D.C. Housing Authority is being accused of furthering gentrification. Reports say DCHA is flipping houses in some of the city's hottest neighborhoods while pushing the public housing tenants in those houses out.
"That would've been my first home. Yeah, that would've been my first," said 84-year-old Levant Graham, a mother of 12 who told WUSA9 she lived in a T Street NW home for about four decades before the DCHA suddenly forced her out about a year ago.
"I don't know what the real purpose for me moving out the house was cause I offered to buy it several times," said Graham in a new affordable-housing apartment DCHA located her to. The senior citizen told WUSA9 she doesn't trust the new neighborhood she is in and does not go out much on her own because of it.
"We have a housing crisis precisely because of this type of action that the housing authority is engaged in. They are acting as a luxury developer rather than serving their mission of housing lower income in our city," Parisa Norouzi, Executive Director of Empower D.C., said. Empower D.C. is a non-profit that advocates for tenants like Graham.
"I lived on this block here for 10-years and our homes when we started were vacant," Graham said. She highlighted one example of a housing authority home flipped and sold for $920,000, according to WAMU 88.5. A report from our editorial partners at The Washington Post said renovations cost more than $300,000 per home. These house are being outfitted with luxury amenities and it's said some of the houses have sold for nearly $900,000, much like the Euclid St. NW home Norouzi showed WUSA 9.
"They're actually contributing to the escalation of prices in this neighborhood. We don't have to do it this way. It does not have to be that we erase people's social networks, their neighborhood, their history, their identity," said Norouzi, who added that Housing Authority Apartment Buildings are no better off.
Barry Farms in SE, Norouzi said, will soon undergo rebuilding to include higher income tenants, displacing roughly 400-public housing families inside.
When asked about the recent reports and accusations earlier, Mayor Bowser told WUSA9, "The Housing Authority reports to a board so this is not a policy that's coming out of my office so I want to make sure it lines up with our goals of preserving housing in all parts of the city."
A City Administrator will review DCHA's actions as-well-as empaneled a Housing Preservation Strike Force to look at vulnerable units, the Mayor told WUSA 9.
In response to recent reports, a D.C. Housing Authority Spokesperson released these responses in bullet points:
- ALL FAMILIES ARE HOUSED.
"Each affected elderly family continues to be a DCHA customer living in a home they selected from DCHA portfolio or with a housing choice voucher (formerly Section 8). The families were never at risk of losing their housing assistance."
- EACH HOME REQUIRED MAJOR REHAB.
"Each of the single-family homes required major systems overhaul (plumbing, HVAC, electrical, etc.) and needed a major rehab."
- NO AVAILABLE FUNDING.
"DCHA continued to maintain the homes (repairs, etc.) over the years but with major federal funding cuts, DCHA made the decision to increase the number of families we could serve by investing in multifamily properties."
- OPPORTUNITY TO PURCHASE.
"Each of the affected families, by federal rule and DCHA policy, was afforded the opportunity to purchase the home. DCHA worked with each family for months but none of the families were able to secure private financing and therefore could not purchase the home."
- DCHA IS INCREASING AFFORDABLE HOMEOWNERSHIP.
"In addition to market rate sales, DCHA has and will continue to sell single-family homes to families who qualify for affordable housing programs. In 2015, 47 new homeowners participated in DCHA's homeownership programs. An additional 132 families are enrolled and scheduled to graduate in 2016."
Families who qualify for the homeownership programs have up to five years to purchase a home. DCHA helps residents set up escrow accounts to help with down payments. Others use their housing choice voucher (formerly section 8) to support their mortgages. The purchaser is required to take classes, such as first-time home buying, receive credit counseling, and partner with other public and private agencies for guidance with local lenders and real estate agents. DCHA offers support throughout the entire process of a family's self-sufficiency."
Graham told WUSA 9 she put a great deal of money into the Shaw home over the decades there and lost a great deal of money in property when she was forced out.
"You know, I thought that would be a forever home for me and the kids," the 84-year-old said. When asked about the DCHA's response, Graham said, "I think they put a lot of people out of places where they might would've been able to buy like I were. And they probably got put out like I did … You don't' have to live about stuff, you know, just tell people the truth, you know, ‘Why I want you out of here.' But nobody could give me an answer why I had to move."
Graham's former home appears to just be sitting there. Her children go by it when they're in town but the 84-year-old said she just can't.
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