Technical assistance

DCHA mismanagement detailed in HUD audit

Inadequate management, poor oversight and poor governance have led the DC Housing Authority’s failure to provide ‘decent, safe and sanitary’ housing to its residents in violation of federal requirements, HUD concluded the investigators.

A damning 72-page report by the agency paints a housing authority in disarray and at risk of breaching its deal with the federal government. The auditors listed 82 findings of deficiencies on which DCHA must make substantial progress within three months or risk escalating actions from HUD, which delivered its findings to DCHA in recent days.

The sweeping findings detailed in the report, a copy of which has been reviewed by The Washington Post, reveal dangerous conditions at properties that form one of the last lines of defense for district residents who cannot afford homes, including violence, lead paint hazards, out-of-code plumbing, water damage and mold. A DCHA maintenance foreman told HUD evaluators that emergency work orders are not processed at night due to security concerns. Potential tenants are refusing homes for fear of crime, the report said.

HUD noted that DCHA’s occupancy rate is the lowest of any major public housing authority in the nation, with one in four of its roughly 8,000 physical units vacant. Vacancies translate to fewer people being housed and millions of dollars each year in lost revenue, according to the report. He attributed the problem to management failure and said the vacant jobs accelerated the steady deterioration of the agency’s financial situation.

DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) appoints seven of 13 DCHA board members and selects the chair. The commissioners include the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, now John Falcicchio, who is an ex-officio member, giving Bowser appointees majority control.

Some board members believe that Bowser-appointed members “vote as a group without individual consideration of the action requested,” the report says, and feel that they do not receive enough information to make decisions at meetings.

Falcicchio referred specific questions about the report to an agency spokesperson on Friday and said the board would be briefed on Wednesday. LaToya Foster, spokeswoman for Bowser, said the mayor would wait for DCHA’s official response to HUD before commenting.

The housing authority has 60 days – until November 30 – to respond to the findings and recommendations. Housing authority director Brenda Donald said she and her staff received the report this week and were “putting together our responses”.

HUD spokeswoman Shantae Goodloe said Friday that the federal agency would not speculate on future consequences for DCHA.

“The purpose of any surveillance review is to provide the results, to provide technical assistance to the Public Housing Authority (PHA) if necessary, and for the PHA to resolve the results in a timely manner,” Goodloe said in an e-mail. mail.

Board member Bill Slover, whose seat is selected by the DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers, has long said HUD needs place the agency under his direct control, or that of a designated receiver, to put it right.

“The HUD report makes it clear that the DCHA must reclaim its independence through a dramatic change in leadership at the executive and board level,” Slover said Friday. “Only by doing this can the agency focus on its core mission of serving its residents first, something this agency has long neglected to do.

The report recommends that Donald, whom the council hired last year without a national search, receive training in the core functions of housing administration, including “the general role of the executive director and the council”, purchasing, HUD policies and financial management. Donald “has no experience in real estate development, property management, or managing federal housing programs,” the reviewers noted.

“My goal, my mandate, was to rebuild public trust and stabilize the organization,” Donald said Friday. “But I clearly inherited an organization that was in disarray. It didn’t happen overnight, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to think it would be fixed overnight. , although we have had some major achievements over the past year.

Donald was previously director of the city’s Child and Family Services Agency and has been credited with making improvements there. She said on Friday that she never claimed to have a background in social housing. “I’m definitely willing to take the specific training they recommend, which is also the specific training they recommend for my board,” she said.

DCHA has 8,084 traditional social housing units. The report notes that the occupancy rate has been “continuously declining” in recent years. In June, 1,628 units were vacant, the report said. An online HUD dashboard shows that number has climbed in recent months to 1,973, bringing the occupancy rate below 74%.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that DCHA lacks an accurate system for tracking vacant units. It also lacks adequate procedures for returning empty units and selecting new tenants. The agency’s property management staff “are unaware of unit rotation procedures and cannot provide the status of vacant units,” the report said.

The report notes that DCHA’s waiting list for public housing and vouchers was frozen in 2013. The agency “was unable to provide documentation of the number of people on its waiting list for public housing,” has not updated the list for ten years and “may not provide the method it used to remove families from it,” the report said.

The report includes photos of a vacant unit encountered by HUD during its evaluation. There was black mold and green moss growing inside due to an “active leak” that had not been repaired, according to the report. “DCHA must inspect every unit in every building that contains at least one occupied dwelling and create a list of mold units and units with active leaks.”

Illustrating that DCHA is not adequately addressing crimes on its properties, the report says housing authorities sent police escorts with a HUD evaluator to ‘make sure nothing happened’ during an inspection . “Several housing managers reported that some applicants were turning down units in their developments due to high crime rates,” the report said. “Additionally, a maintenance foreman advised HUD that emergency work orders are not being processed, overnight, for safety reasons.”

The report also targeted the housing authority’s supply systems, saying ‘systemic problems exist’ due to the ‘lack of proper oversight by executive management and council’. He recommended that DCHA “engage an integrity monitoring company to review all existing contracts to determine if they comply with its procurement policy and HUD requirements.”

DC Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who chairs the legislature’s housing committee, said in an interview Friday that she had yet to read the full report. But she said she was “not totally surprised” by its contents.

“I’m glad HUD is upfront with us,” she said. “I didn’t expect him to say we’re running on all burners… But I do expect us to grow and continue to do everything we can to return quality of life properties. “

Bonds said her story with Donald “was one where she was able to solve problems, embrace a problem and put the agencies right”.

In the 1990s, the agency was considered the worst performing housing authority in the nation by HUD. Homeless advocates sued the district on behalf of the families then on the waiting list. Because of the lawsuit, a DC Superior Court judge removed the agency from city government control and placed it in receivership.

The receiver, David I. Gilmore, spent five years overseeing a dramatic turnaround.