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D.C.’s public housing will be overhauled under new 20-year plan

Officials say the properties need at least $2.2 billion in deferred maintenance

A public housing complex in Washington, D.C. A man rides a bicycle on the street in front of the complex.
The Greenleaf Gardens public housing complex in Southwest
The Washington Post/Getty Images

One of the District’s biggest landlords has put out an ambitious plan to refinance, repair, and redevelop roughly a third of its overall portfolio. That landlord is the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA), which owns and manages over 8,000 public housing units citywide. While it is still in draft form, the plan—first discussed earlier this year during the D.C. government’s annual budget negotiations—aims to preliminarily address 2,610 units that require urgent upgrades.

Those units are spread across 14 properties located in all four quadrants of the District. Four of the properties containing 463 units would be stabilized in the short term, while the other 10 would undergo sweeping renovations or redevelopments because their conditions are so severe, according to DCHA. The housing authority says it requires between $2.2 billion and $2.5 billion in deferred maintenance to preserve these 14 properties, plus 27 others, over the next 20 years. To bankroll it all, some properties would need different subsidy arrangements.

The plan, framed as a “roadmap for the transformation” of the city’s public housing, follows a top-to-bottom review of DCHA’s portfolio last year. The authority’s director, Tyrone Garrett, says the goal is to ensure public housing residents live in safe conditions that enable them to succeed. The housing authority’s 11-member board would need to approve any final proposal.

In an opening letter to the plan, Garrett writes that DCHA faces a “crisis.” “Like many of the nation’s public housing authorities, DCHA operates in an environment in which the political will to prioritize housing some of the most vulnerable citizens has evaporated,” he points out. “Daily, we confront the impact of decades of declining federal capital and operating funding, and while local funding efforts are welcomed, they are inadequate to fill the gap.” In recent years, the U.S. government has dramatically scaled back subsidies for local public housing.

A line graph showing declining U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding for public housing since 2000.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding for public housing has steadily decreased.
D.C. Housing Authority

DCHA’s plan says the minimum $2.2 billion in backlogged repairs “is about 150 times the typical annual capital improvements funding [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and the District of Columbia provide.” Still, the authority adds, D.C. is well positioned among cities to tap alternative financing strategies promoted by HUD—such as the Rental Assistance Demonstration and Demolition and Disposition programs—due to its strong land values and public-private opportunities. The details, though, remain to be seen.

The four properties that will be immediately tackled, thanks in part to $24.5 million in funds that the District allocated in 2019, are the Kelly Miller Townhomes, the LeDroit Apartments, Judiciary House, and Langston Additions. DCHA says some of their residents might need to temporarily relocate during construction, and that, at its other sites, it seeks to relocate “no more than 400 families per year” in the coming years. The 10 other targeted properties are:

Public comments on the plan are open through September 27. DCHA says it will present an overview of the plan to the authority’s board at DCHA’s headquarters September 11 at 1 p.m.