Reginald Black

On the morning of April 30, it seemed like every housing advocate in the city had the same thought in mind.

A city council hearing on the budget for the District of Columbia Housing Authority would be a great opportunity to engage the city government on the issues of public housing.

First, members of the People for Fairness Coalition staged a march to the John. A. Wilson Building. They moved through the busy streets of downtown yelling that they wanted affordable, public housing and that the need was urgent.

Then Empower DC, a citywide, multi-issue, membership-based community organizing project, staged a rally.

Many of the protesters stayed for the hearing and also offered testimony before presiding councilmember and Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser.

They warned that some public housing communities are crumbling and more housing is needed.
District resident Felicia Smith told that committee she was turned down for public housing in 2012 and she is homeless.

“I work. It’s really hard to find housing,” she said. “It just needs to be better.”

Robert Lee, a former resident of the Highland Dwellings public housing complex, told the committee that frequent moves can be particularly hard on the poor and asked the committee to “consider the effect these changes have on the community”.

Claudette Bethea called for an immediate stop to the demolition of public housing, and claimed that more Section 8 vouchers are needed.

A total of nearly $43 million in local funding is proposed for the local housing authority, which owns and operates roughly 8,000 units of public housing in the District.

Adrianne Todman, executive director of the housing authority, said she knows public housing is a resource but the city needs to find a balance. She confirmed 72,000 people are on the housing authority waiting list. .

“We have not looked at our public housing asset as a value to our city,” she said, adding that DCHA will start cleansing its housing wait list in mid-May, and the list could be opened to new applicants by the end of October.

“We’re trying to make this as efficient as possible,” she said. “I do expect that 72,000 number to go down.”