Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Legal Aid Housing Attorneys Submit Council Testimony on Agencies’ Performance

Two agencies that are very important to District of Columbia tenants—the D.C. Housing Authority and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—had oversight hearings before the D.C. Council over the last few weeks. These hearings are an important opportunity for Legal Aid (and other organizations and individuals) to share their thoughts about the agencies’ performance and to give suggestions for improvement.

Adam Wilson testified before the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs about the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on February 29, 2016. This agency has a number of important duties; most importantly for D.C. tenants, it is charged with enforcing the Housing Code, which it does by conducting inspections and levying fines against noncompliant landlords. Legal Aid’s main recommendations were that DCRA: 1) conduct an education campaign to make more tenants aware of the availability of housing code inspections; 2) remove barriers to tenants accessing DCRA’s inspection services, especially at the point when tenants initially call to request an inspection; and 3) increase transparency by quickly issuing inspection reports after each inspection and keeping tenants informed about the enforcement process.

These recommendations were based on our clients’ experience with DCRA and on a survey of 78 tenants about their experiences with and impressions of DCRA that Legal Aid volunteers conducted in January 2016.

Shirley Horng submitted written testimony to the Committee on Housing and Community Development about the D.C. Housing Authority on February 26, 2016. In addition to owning and managing most of the city’s public housing, the D.C. Housing Authority also runs the Housing Choice Voucher Program (otherwise known as Section 8) and several smaller housing subsidy programs in the District of Columbia. Legal Aid raised concerns about privately managed public housing. (In the past, the D.C. Housing Authority has shifted management responsibility to a private company after a public housing property is redeveloped.) We have observed that tenants in these types of properties have been deprived of important rights that public housing tenants possess. These include the right to request a hearing about their rent calculation, to transfer to another property, and to request a reasonable accommodation due to a disability.

Legal Aid also recommended that the D.C. Council allocate additional funds to the Housing Authority to make much-needed repairs. These funds would allow the Housing Authority to bring units back into habitable condition and move tenants into them, increasing the stock of affordable housing. They would also permit the Housing Authority to make repairs to currently occupied units. As the Housing Authority’s buildings age, they need continued maintenance to ensure that they remain safe and healthy homes, but the Housing Authority has had to defer maintenance due to funding shortages. Increased funding would allow the Housing Authority to improve living conditions for its residents and to spend less time in court litigating about the condition of its units.

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