WASHINGTON — Following WUSA9’s relentless reporting on the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs since 2018, District Councilmembers overrode the Mayor’s veto Tuesday and voted to break up the agency they call too big and too dysfunctional.
They weren’t the only ones raising an alarm.
Countless complaints from people testifying against the agency caught the eye of WUSA9 producer Stephanie Wilson and launched our three-year investigation.
“I’m not completely satisfied but it’s a good first step in the right direction,” Audrick Payne said. Payne is a DCRA elevator inspector and long-time agency whistleblower who’s testified before the Council for more than a decade.
“I'm not sure how much is going to change,” added Mamie Preston.
Preston testified too. Preston’s home is barely standing after DCRA allowed crews renovating a rowhouse next door to dig under her foundation without a permit. We visited her home on 13th Street, NW a year ago where she showed us walls sheered away from the building and a ceiling collapsed into her basement door.
“I am still living in my house, by God's grace, we're safe,” Preston said.
She said she and her son now have movement monitors, visits by structural engineers, DCRA even made the new developer put in large wooden beams on the home to reinforce the structure.
But she said the damage was already done.
“After 30 years, it's hard to argue that ‘oh, well, tomorrow will be a sunny day,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said. “I mean, it's just hard to do that. The fact is, is that agency is too big, and that it is typically year after year, under-resourced, and we need to break it up and create an agency that is focused.”
The Council Chairman has been driving the push to break up DCRA. The bill now calls for two agencies: one for Housing code enforcement, another for Building permit construction.
WUSA9 contacted DCRA and they referred us to letters by Mayor Muriel Bowser explaining why she first vetoed the bill. The Mayor said the agency has improved under the leadership of the new director, Ernest Chrappah.
He replaced Melinda Bowling who left a year after our investigations began. The Mayor also said it’s just too expensive and costs $33 million over four years. Mendelson argued that District residents have already paid too high a price, including the loss of lives during the Kennedy Street fire, for DCRA’s failures.
“This is an agency as much as it has tried in the last couple of years to recover - when I say recover, I mean just get back to how bad it was before - It's just it's underwater,” Mendelson said.
As for Preston, she hopes the move to break up DCRA comes with holding people responsible. “My hope is that there are oversight agencies that will regulate the more they will be better monitored and held accountable,” she said. “I will continue to blow the whistle and I will continue to walk around with a whistle in my briefcase - just in case,” Payne chuckled.