For those unfamiliar with the housing choice voucher program, it is a voucher that low- and moderate-income participants use to pay rent in privately owned properties throughout the District. For many of its participants, the housing choice voucher is the only thing standing between shelter and homelessness. Landlords, especially those in Cleveland Park, may be handsomely compensated for accepting vouchers (though they are already required to do so by law): the maximum housing choice voucher incentive for landlords is well above market-rate rent and is too high. I believe it’s $2,648 for a one-bedroom with utilities in Cleveland Park. This creates an enormous incentive for landlords, especially landlords of rent-stabilized buildings, to pit tenants with vouchers against tenants without vouchers as the landlords seek to maximize profit. This has driven some long-term tenants out of buildings like those managed by DARO, especially as a lack of sufficient wraparound services and security has reduced the quality of life in some buildings, particularly those managed by DARO and Equity. The office of the Attorney General recently hit DARO with a settlement, where DARO pays a fine and also has to relinquish management of its properties.
I have a multi-pronged approach to protecting and enhancing tenants rights while helping ensure that the housing choice voucher program lives up to its promise. We cannot allow the program to be repurposed as a way to boost profits for management companies and landlords. We need to make sure that tenants within our ANC and within our Ward are connected and protected.
Establish a Housing Committee on ANC 3C to compile tenant and tenant association issues with rental buildings in ANC 3C to identify problem properties or management companies, rectify ongoing concerns, and coordinate with other ANCs;
Push Council to allow housing providers (e.g., Friendship Place) to be able to share behavioral health information and coordinate with each other and the Metropolitan Police Department to ensure that those who need help get help, as quickly as possible;
Continue to bring tenant concerns, especially safety concerns, to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Office of Tenant Advocate, DC Housing Authority, the Department of Behavioral Health, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the Department of Buildings;
Work with OAG and the Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) to ensure that tenant concerns with DARO properties are addressed by new management;
Work with Council and the Department of Buildings to ensure adequate security over the long term for all residents;
Work to reduce the incentive to landlords and put those monies into the supportive part of permanent supportive housing;
Work with Council to provide relocation assistance to tenants when a building is no longer in livable condition;
Push the Mayor and Council to build dedicated transitional and permanent supportive housing.
I have already been working with two fellow commissioners on creating a Housing Committee to ensure that tenants’ rights are protected. We need to lower the incentive drastically and use the savings to provide the intensive case management that the housing choice voucher program promises. This, along with building more transitional and permanent supportive housing, will help over the long-term, but we’ll still need short- and medium-term solutions including more security, better data, and better coordination by the housing providers that supply wraparound services with each other, the District, and law enforcement.
Regarding DARO's Settlement
The Office of the Attorney General announced the settlement against DARO. This is a critical time for tenants of DARO properties as the management of the buildings transitions. We should be figuring out how to make sure that the transition protects tenants rights but even before that, how do we ensure that DARO keeps maintaining the properties as they are supposed to.
I have reached out to the Civil Rights Section at the Office of the Attorney General to ask how this process will play out, how they plan on protecting tenants rights through this process, and what opportunities the ANC has for advocacy. I will be working with David Cristeal, commissioner in 3F01 and currently representing two DARO properties, to see what we can do in the immediate term. From my perspective, this is a critical time and we should act now.
For a broader perspective, I presented to you all the advocacy I plan on doing for residents in DARO buildings, particularly about the safety concerns everyone has raised. One prong of my approach is above, to figure out the right DC agency that can help us. The second prong is working with our local nonprofits, such as Friendship Place and Woodley House, who have resources to help advocate for our neighbors experiencing mental health issues and those most vulnerable. And finally, the last part is holding DHCD accountable for not providing our neighbors with the services they deserve.