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D.C. Housing Authority teases plan to refinance about a third of its public housing units

The authority says it will “address” at least 2,400 ailing apartments over a two-year period

The Lincoln Heights public housing complex (2013)
The Washington Post/Getty Images

The independent agency that owns and manages more than 8,000 units of public housing in the city will “reposition” almost a third of its portfolio through a variety of financing models over the next 24 months, according to its leadership. On Friday, the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) previewed that plan in a release and late-night testimony before District lawmakers.

Tyrone Garrett, the head of DCHA, said that within the next two months, the authority will propose a “comprehensive portfolio repositioning plan” to the public and DCHA’s Board of Commissioners. The board must approve any new financing strategies, according to DCHA. The authority says it is aiming to “address” at least 2,400 housing units over 24 months, or 100 units a month on average. Thousands of DCHA apartments are in dilapidated condition.

Over the past few decades, the federal government has decreased funding for public housing across the country. DCHA says its funding for maintenance and capital repairs was cut in half between 2000 and 2012. Some of its properties were originally built as long ago as the 1930s.

In an open letter, Garrett wrote that “a day of reckoning” has arrived for the authority and its buildings. He said it needs more than $1.3 billion to keep dozens of properties “viabl[e]” over 20 years, but does not have it. So DCHA is examining what it called in its release “innovative financing approaches” to renovate its units. Those approaches include private equity and tax credits while DCHA would retain control in the ownership and management of its properties.

“I am not talking about selling off properties, but rather, unlocking private investments to provide housing assistance to our existing residents,” Garrett said in a statement on Friday. “Full dependence on federal funding is no longer an option and we have to find ways to bring other resources to the table.” The authority serves as a landlord to roughly 20,000 residents.

The D.C. Council’s housing committee held an annual oversight hearing on DCHA last week. In prepared testimony, Garrett appeared to hedge against recent criticism from activists and tenants that bringing the private sector into efforts to keep public housing solvent is still a form of privatization. “It is not just a simple answer of public versus private when the ultimate goal is to provide safe, quality housing for our families,” Garrett asserted.

DCHA said it will conduct a “strategic public engagement campaign” about its future plans. Lawmakers are currently considering bills to restructure how the authority does business. One would place DCHA under mayoral control.