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'We can do this' | DC Housing leaders say they can fix problems in public housing by March

DCHA submitted its response to the scathing HUD report that described the agency as among the worst in the nation.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — The DC Housing Authority is responding to a scathing federal report describing the agency as one of the worst in the nation.

This past spring, WUSA9 showed you the horrible conditions inside some of our public housing units. We're talking mold, bugs, and rats. Months later, the Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed in a 72-page report saying the agency's mismanagement is forcing some of our most vulnerable neighbors to live in filth.

Now DCHA said they can improve these conditions by March. DCHA met its first deadline Tuesday by submitting a response to the HUD report citing systemic failures, mismanagement, horrible living conditions, and decades-long waiting lists in the housing authority.

In the 60-page report, DCHA agreed with many of HUD’s 82 findings and said 14 are already done. But the agency is challenging a handful of statements.

Among the top arguments is that the agency does not have to repay HUD for contracts alleged to be inappropriate and they are following lead testing requirements. After answering the feds, the top leaders of DC Housing had to answer to councilmembers in a round table on the agency’s progress. 

“By the end of March, HUD has to give us its stamp of approval or other decisions have to be made,” said Executive Director Brenda Donald. “We know we can do this.”

“What will be the difference this time?” asked Councilmember At-Large Robert White, “Federal receivership aside from being an embarrassment for the city generally does not end well for residents. So we are here; we can put the agency on the best road to succeed for the residents they serve.”

Councilmember Brooke Pinto added, “The failure to housing residents in available housing units is a direct cause of displacement and homelessness for our District residents.”

“If we’re serious about public safety, mental health, education, and economic equality, it also starts with housing,” said Councilmember Janeese Lewis-George, “The city has to step up in a serious way to make changes and not just optics and plans to make plans.”

“I’m sympathetic to director Donald in the sense that you were handed this mess,” said Councilmember At-large Elissa Silverman. “But as HUD cited you don’t have the background this mess requires.”

“I have a proven track record of bringing people and systems together to solve complex problems,” answered Donald.

The executive director testified at Wednesday’s round table while she was sitting at a table of her top execs, many of who just received annual bonuses. She said they are “chipping away” at the long waiting lists and work orders. 

According to Donald, 3,000 residents have been housed in recent months. Still, 37,000 are still waiting. Another 14,000 work orders are complete, yet 9,000 remain. There are 3,198 units occupied, 609 units are “move in” ready, yet 1,435 vacant units need repairs.

“We are taking on the challenge to fix a multitude of problems that didn’t materialize and can’t be fixed overnight. We operate with a sense of urgency; our residents are on our minds every single day,” said Donald.

DCHA said they are contracting vendors with the Department of General Services in January to begin the work to inspect and repair properties. Work they scheduled to last 16 weeks.    

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