Housing Complex

A Year After Closing Waiting List, Housing Authority Begins Its Purge

Park Morton is one of the city's public housing complexes in need of renovation.

Park Morton is one of the city's public housing complexes in need of renovation.

Slightly more than a year ago, in April 2013, the D.C. Housing Authority bowed to reality and closed its waiting list for people seeking housing assistance. In practice, housing assistance—in the form of housing subsidy vouchers or placement into public housing—was already off limits to people not already on the list, which had extended beyond 72,000 names. But the Housing Authority was devoting resources to managing the list, resources that could have been used to place more people from the list into housing. And so the list was suspended.

A Housing Authority spokeswoman at the time, Dena Michaelson, told me that the goal was to purge the list of households that were no longer eligible for or interested in housing assistance, and to bring it down to a manageable level. She hoped to have parts of the list open again within a year, possibly starting with seniors.

Now a year has come and gone, and the list remains closed. But tomorrow, the great purge begins.

The Housing Authority announced today that it is launching a 100-day effort to contact every household on the waiting list. The blitz will include emails, letters, outreach to advocacy groups and politicians, and, yes, a media campaign, in which I'm now complicit.

People on the waiting list are asked to respond by mail, by phone, online, or at one of 12 public kiosks. Anyone who verifies his or her interest and eligibility will be listed as active; anyone who hasn't after 100 days will be deemed inactive. People on the list who have been in contact with the Housing Authority in the past year, totaling more than 11,500 households, are automatically considered active. That leaves just more than 60,000 households to be verified.

"Our goal in reengineering is simple: to make the list easier to manage for the agency so that we may set realistic expectations for our clients as to how long it will take to get housed,” Housing Authority Executive Director Adrianne Todman said in a statement.

The need for an update to the unwieldy list is clear. Less obvious is why it's taken more than a year to get the process started.

"This is an extensive campaign that requires coordinating a lot of people and processes—including regulatory processes," says Housing Authority spokeswoman Christy Goodman in an email. "We’ve been in regular contact with housing advocates and community organizations to be sure our efforts not only followed regulations, but would reach our entire clientele. Once the planning was completed and DCHA received board approval, we put those plans in motion."

Todman has said it would take $1.3 billion just to bring all the city's public housing up to par. The city is working to redevelop several public housing complexes into mixed-income communities, with the promise of one-to-one replacement of all demolished public housing units. In at least two of these complexes—Park Morton and Barry Farm—the Housing Authority isn't backfilling vacated units because of the expectation that they'll soon be razed, meaning that ongoing delays in those redevelopments are keeping the waiting list longer that it might otherwise be.

A previous effort to purge names from the waiting list in 2008 cut the list from about 58,000 households to about 26,000 households. In the years that followed, the list nearly tripled, as the recession claimed homes and jobs and the recovery raised the cost of housing.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • MBG

    I've heard that 70,000 people number for over 10 years, if not 20. (Memorable (and unfeasible) because that's the equivalent of the population of a ward.)

  • Thunder

    Is there any attempt to verify the needs of existing public housing tenants? An elderly lady on my street lives alone in a DCHA three bedroom property. She has lived there for over well over seventeen years. She does need housing but not a three bedroom house. Seems like there should be a review process based on need.

    I do have to credit DCHA for finally renovating three vacant houses in my neighborhood. One was vacant since 1996, the one on my street has been vacant for five years (it took them over a year to figure out that it was vacant). The one behind me has been vacant for over two years. No ideas if they have sold the houses, or if they are going to continue to be public housing.

  • Northwesterneer

    MBG, I will bet you dollars to donuts that the elderly woman in question is the aunt or cousin of someone in power. I have heard these stories before and they often result in, "we're not going to do anything about HER" [wink wink] where I realize that she gamed the system.

    I don't know what percentage of DHCA properties go to political cronies and relatives of the staff, but it's a real thing. Your tax dollars pay for that.

    That's why I stand behind my controversial proposal: Fire all DC Employees and rehire them as contractors located in Iowa where no one is anyone's cousin and they can't be slipped $50s under the table.

  • Donise

    I just wish that they place working tax paying low wage people in better housing. Placing a parent of 8 on tanf in new development and a working parent of 3 in a run down development. I do agree we all need decent housing and no one should be a victim to poor housing, but it's not fair to the hard worker ti have live in run down units.

  • Nicki Pearce

    I've been on that waiting list since 1997. I've always updated my information while working there I.checked my status to find out I was removed from the list. Although I was able to show a receipt from them I was not placed back on the list. After losing my job, home etc I sat in the Virginia Williams center all day to be deemed homeless for them to tell me there was no where for my children nd I to go I can remember the worker saying rudely u need to go find there dad or somewhere to stay eventually I was given rerapid housing through cfsa which ran out within a year nd im still struggling to find housing. I was able to place my name in the list electronically but I'm sure they will give it to someone that will abuse or not need it like most employees there. So many people that work there giving friends nd skipping people on that list it's crazy they should start by purging the employees nd they shall see results!!!

  • Lotusflower226

    I have a friend that's been on the list for 23 years and has yet to receive a voucher. But emergency vouchers were given to Katrina victims immediately. We have people that live here in the District that are in dire need of housing...but you overlook them for "Outsiders"!!!

  • shaqattaq32

    There was no requirement that you had to live in DC to apply. I believe the 70,000 figure.