Editor’s Note: A full interview with Councilwoman Elissa Silverman, who voted against the proposal, is at the bottom of this article.
WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — The DC City Council voted on Tuesday to overhaul the District’s Housing Authority board by reducing its members and giving the mayor more control as officials seek to stem decades of problems.
The proposal passed in a 9-4 vote and was pushed hard by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who sought an alternative to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to reduce the number of board members from 13 to 7 and with her appointing every member.
The new board would consist of nine members — one of whom is a housing tenant and the council’s representative already in place — and an additional 10th member who would be another tenant but with no voting power.
“I am happy that we are moving forward to right the situation that we all feel is an egregious situation with our housing authority,” said Councilwoman Anita Bonds. “It has to be done. We can’t leave it as it is. So that’s what this proposal is about today”
Critics on the council who strongly opposed the measure said the solution isn’t to give the mayor more power. They say the board should rather be independent to truly address the housing ills such as years of waiting lists and deplorable conditions outlined in a recent but scathing report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Councilwoman Elissa Silverman, who voted against the proposal, said “there has been a lot of focus about who’s rung the alarm bells” and whether those people would be replaced on the board.
The problem, she says, is having the board in the control of the mayor when her track record isn’t seen as a success when she’s appointed the majority of 13 members and conditions haven’t changed.
“DCHA has a specific mission to house our lowest income residents and it needs an independent board focus,” Silverman said. “This plan is designed to move the authority out of the board’s hands and squarely into the mayor’s.”
But Councilman Robert White something needed to be done with HUD officials expecting vast improvements that improve the conditions of people’s homes and provides them with needed housing.
“It is no surprise as a unique conclusion that we have to do something and we have to do something urgently,” he said. “We have to reform the board, we have to reform the agency and we have to perform oversight.”
Among other things, the measure also requires board members to serve for two years, not three years for previous members. It also requires “robust engagement” with the City-Wide Resident Advisory Board. The board must also conduct four “listening sessions” with public housing residents by May 2023.