Housing Authority Whistleblower
Southwest Voice conducted a phone interview with a whistleblower associated with the senior leadership for the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA). We use the third person pronoun “they” to protect the source’s identity. They allege procurement violations, poor leadership by its executive director, and incompetencies among senior staff. Our January issue discussed the problematic selection of Pennrose, EYA, and Bozzuto Development as the potential co-developer for Greenleaf. Allegedly, three DCHA senior staff members including one from the Executive Director’s office, were assigned to attend the Greenleaf procurement meetings although they were not part of the voting panel. These staff members fully participated in the discussions and the evaluation process. One had specifically pushed the Pennrose team repeatedly throughout the process in violation of federal procurement rules. In one instance, this staff member purportedly said he would get feedback from the executive director and report back to the group. One of the voting panelists protested and sought clarity from a DCHA procurement official. That official apparently reassured the team that it was acceptable, but later recanted to a smaller group. The executive director is obligated to be hands-off from the application evaluation process. The source reported multiple irregularities during the Greenleaf evaluation process including considering factors that were not in the scoring criteria and DCHA development officials meeting with EYA about another project during the evaluation process where the Greenleaf proposal was discussed.
The source claims that the lack of a Board-approved procurement policy as required by HUD allows DCHA to play fast and loose with procurement rules. According to the source, procurement violations and irregularities are par for the course at DCHA. The source believes that senior officials at DCHA, particularly those brought in recently from DMPED have little understanding of the difference between federal and District procurement rules. In one instance, a senior DCHA official instructed development team members to make sure a particular developer “qualified” for the Sursum-Corda redevelopment RFP. As the source describes, when he was told this was a violation of federal law, the official looked dumbfounded. In another instance, the development team put out an RFP for Empowerment Zones consulting services. The RFP took well over a year to secure a contractor. However, DCHA leadership did not like the final selection, cancelled the RFP, reissued it and selected another contractor within a
couple of months. The selected contractor allegedly was a political fundraiser with no experience in real estate development or Empowerment Zones as the source claims.
The source stated to have delivered evidence of procurement violations directly to HUD and at least one DC Council member. When asked why HUD has not investigated these potential violations, the source said they believe the Trump administration was not interested in pursuing them. “When I turned over my evidence to HUD, I was told not to be surprised if it doesn’t go anywhere.” said the source. “According to the HUD official, they had attempted to investigate other allegations from other housing authorities and had been rebuffed by the Secretary’s office”. The source does believe that there is an ongoing investigation into the DCHA headquarters deal but did not have specific knowledge of it. The HUD Office of Inspector General did not return a request to confirm that an investigation was initiated.
The senior DCHA leadership is unstable and may indicate a desire to distance themselves from the ruckus. The departure of Jose Sousa, former DCHA Vice President of Communications, was the most recent change.
African American leaders in Southwest recently formed a legal and research team to identify pathways to stem Black displacement and violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and DC Human Rights Act. Their team includes prominent African American community leaders and attorneys from around the District. Members have successfully defended legal cases against St. Louis City in the wake of the shooting and death of Michael Brown and against Washington, DC. “We could not be more pleased and honored at the team we’ve assembled,” said the workgroup chair.
Housing Making Being Sick Even Sicker
Southwest Voice recently interviewed several residents familiar with the experiences of community members dealing with mold and poor air quality in public housing. At times, we have used pseudonyms to protect their identity. Their accounts are jarring and point to the multiple system failures that have left residents – often seniors and those with disabilities – little choice but to live in toxic conditions that exacerbate health conditions. Decades-long diminishing federal support for public housing maintenance, the District’s lack of permanent commitments to fixing conditions, and residents’ complaints about the patchwork jobs make for a major public health crisis.
Featured in a 2019 short documentary, Mrs. Pat Bishop has lived in Greenleaf for more than 15 years, suffers from multiple chronic diseases, and lives with disabilities. She described how poor air quality and mold issues from adjacent units threatens her health. She has insisted to no avail that the Housing Authority clean air ducts outside of her door and has complained that fixtures and appliances from mold-infested apartments under repair are placed uncovered in the hallway. She herself has had water damage in her apartment. She has one air purifier that was donated, but is not sufficient to cover her entire apartment and is working with her insurance company for additional units. Mrs. Bishop is confined to her apartment because of the pandemic and find her and her neighbors’ inhumane living conditions abhorrent. “They got people paying one-third of their income to live in unlivable conditions. Nobody wants to take responsibility. They don’t
care nothing about us.”
Her neighbor’s mold issues were such an immediate danger to his and his family’s health that his health insurance company placed him in a hotel. The Housing Authority had declared that there was no mold in the unit though it eventually accepted results on the presence of mold from a separate report from the insurance company. Another neighbor with chronic health issues was hospitalized and has taken stay at a relative’s home. Resident advocates are split on the policy solution. Even if vouchers or housing placement were secured, the legacy of displacing Blacks residents is imbued with racism and could set an ill-advised precedent for Greenleaf redevelopment. On the other hand, advocates maintain that certain buildings should be condemned because they are detrimental to human health.
Southwest DC’s inequality and gentrification are a major topic of discussion for our newspaper. Gentrification attracts wealthy people, so prices increase, restaurants target affluent newcomers, and the area becomes unaffordable for many residents who have lived here for a long time. Not only that, a large group of families that are currently able to sustain their Southwest live are not be able to once their family expands and bigger housing is required. My wife and I moved out of Southwest DC a few weeks ago since we cannot afford a house here in DC. We are both very fortunate to have good jobs, but the cost of living is simply too high if you want to reside somewhere that is not a studio or 1-bedroom apartment. We barely know anyone personally that can buy or rent a house in Southwest DC. Based on my household income and the number of people in my household, the Pew Research Center classifies my wife and I in the upper income tier. That indicates that Southwest is slowly becoming an
exclusive neighborhood that is inaccessible to people with incomes less than the top tier of the upper class. These ever-increasing disparities between the super wealthy and the rest of us can be attributed to a market-led “liberalization of society”. Liberalization for the rich that is, less freedom for all other earthlings. Read more (http://southwestvoicedc.com/tomdeman)
The DC Council is expected to start the mark-up process on the Comprehensive Plan in mid-March. The mayor has proposed 200 million square feet of land density increases across the city – known as Upfluming. Although DC Council and the mayor acknowledge the racial implications of poor housing policy and resulting Black displacement, the public has little reassurance that officials understand the incompatibility of the current proposal with racial equity goals, much less the consequences of increasing density.
Click here: Read about the consequences of redevelopment for Southwest, especially Black residents
Bard (Shakespeare Theater): Changes in the land use map after a PUD approval but prior to building construction is problematic. We suspect the Upfluming obviates the need for the PUD and associated community benefits agreements which could all be extinguished by the PUD applicant. Read More
Greenleaf: Changes in land use have major implications for this project. Typically, this kind of project would go through a PUD process that allows community input and establishment of community benefits. Allowing the District to change land use will seriously compromise the clear mandate for community-led equitable development. Read More
A resident-led Greenleaf advisory group has formed to provide guidance on the redevelopment. The Greenleaf Redevelopment Resident Advisory Group is a direct response to the Housing Authority’s attempt to minimize the influence of residents. The first umbrage was the Housing Authority’s handpicked Greenleaf Advisory Board that overwhelmingly included non-residents and many people with questionable ties or interests to Greenleaf. Second, the Housing Authority listened to this advisory board over the opposition of residents in passing a board resolution in November to select Pennrose, EYA, and Bozzuto Development as the final developer. Residents subsequently exercised their rights under federal law to self-organize and establish their priorities for the redevelopment. Although the Housing Authority has recognized this group, it is not willing to formalize commitments through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which could protect residents against any reneging on commitments. President
Biden’s executive order on eliminating housing discrimination and promoting HUD’s statutory duty to affirmatively further fair housing will help the cause of residents.
Watch: Mrs. Deena Walker, Greenleaf Gardens President, defends residents against potential plans to prioritize market renters over public housing residents in redevelopment.
Objectives of the Greenleaf Redevelopment Resident Advisory Group
• Stipulate resident-led oversight of Greenleaf planning and redevelopment
• Require equitable participation in the redevelopment planning process with the DCHA and co-development team.
• Provide DCHA and co-development team with all questions and concerns related to the whole redevelopment process and have them addressed in an accurate and comprehensive written format to Greenleaf residents.
• To continue updating the objectives for the residents’ plan of action as the Greenleaf redevelopment plans move forward
Dr. Cheri A. Ward is the newly appointed Poet Laureate for DC Council. Currently, Dr. Ward is Director of the Jim Vance Media Program for Archbishop Carroll High School, Director of Communications & Educational Media Content Producer/Consultant for the Whole Genome Science Foundation, and an Adjunct Professor of Foundations of Oral Communication at the University of the District of Columbia. She is co-founder and former Executive Producer/ Event Coordinator for TEDxHowardUniversity, an independently organized event. For further information and creative works of Dr. Ward, go to: https://www.portfoliogen.com/cherieward
By Dr. Cherie A. Ward
Life is short
You must put into it, all that you want to get,
if you find your station in life
Dig down deep, soul search
evaluate the odds,
weigh the circumstances
and you’ll find it’s not as hard–
As you think
if you but try,
realize there are no limits
you can touch the sky—
there’s so much more
to life than day to day ex-is-tence,
no matter what one achieves
there’s always an ex-pense–
A price you pay,
realizing what you give
is what you get,
if you find your station in life
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