The D.C. Housing Authority, led by Chief Brenda Donald, is at risk of being taken over by federal officials after the latest scandal, related to housing vouchers allegedly being dispersed to ineligible residents. (Photo by Brandon Griggs on Unsplash)

By Ron Taylor,
Special to the AFRO

D.C. Housing Authority chief Brenda Donald says that the scandal-plagued agency is reversing its troubled course by following a “zero-tolerance policy for fraud, waste and abuse.” 

Her statements come as the agency faces federal scrutiny on a housing voucher program for low-income residents. Donald is now on the verge of spelling out how the systemic deficiencies and abuses, detailed in a scathing 72-page, report will be addressed for federal overseers.

“There is hard work to be done. We are making progress,” Donald said in a March 30 statement. “We don’t fix these problems through press events or gotcha moments. We fix them by working together with urgency and good faith.”

Failing to correct its problems could result in a federal take-over of public housing and housing  policy in the nation’s capital, the HUD report said. The pressure is building at a time when D.C. authority over its own affairs is under threat by members of Congress. 

The most recent scandal centers around housing vouchers, which entitle holders to housing at sub-market rates, being issued to ineligible users. The person in charge of the program was said by investigators to be involved in an unreported conflict of interest with a landlord.

In addition to also facing claims of putting tenants in substandard, unclean and unsafe housing, DCHA is accused by HUD of charging unfair rent andis not in compliance with the federal Violence Against Women Act, according to the HUD report.

At a time when affordable housing is in short supply in D.C., the housing agency  “is failing residents, tenants, and voucher holders,” confirming “what housing advocates and residents have long known,” according to Empower DC, an organization with advocates who have been longtime critics of the department. 

“DCHA is a failed agency, and its failure has been happening in plain sight, with little or no oversight. The majority of public housing residents are Black, and DCHA’s failures disproportionately impact Black residents, particularly Black women and children,” Empower DC said.

Empower DC said residents in hearings about the agency often testify about unclean conditions “from mold, to lead, to constant leaks, to mouse and roach infestations.”

But Donald said that change is in the works. 

“In February and continuing into March we have seen the first net gain in occupancy in multiple years,” she said. “We are working to make our units safe and habitable for our current residents while simultaneously turning units in order to bring in new residents – 500 last year and we are on track to turn an additional 500 this year.”

“With our Urgent Needs Campaign, we have inspected more than 1000 units and are on track to complete inspections of our entire portfolio by the end of June.”