Human Rights & Democracy

March 21, 2023: PPC Guest Elissa Silverman

Posted on March 21, 2023 at 12:00 AM

By Jean Stewart, Secretary, Public Policy & Political Action

At our March 6, 2023 meeting, Pat Bitondo introduced former Council Member Elissa Silverman, who had served many years as an at-large DC Council Member. She was defeated for re-election in the 2022 DC election. WNDC President Laura Whitaker asked how the Club could best take positive action in the District, citing local government incompetence, especially with regard to the DC Housing Authority (DCHA). Elissa is excited that we’re excited about improving the bad situation with the DCHA, which she said needs more oversight by both government and the public. We taxpayers get so little in return, especially in terms of services for the less affluent. Government services are especially bad for poorer residents. DCHA’s responsibilities are 1) to manage public housing, and 2) to manage the voucher program, often referred to as Section 8 housing, and the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP). These are federal programs funded by HUD. Elissa referred to the scathing report issued by HUD in November, including an astounding backlog of voucher issuances, with applicants for vouchers waiting weeks, months, and often years to receive vouchers, due to the red tape involved in the application process. The Executive Director of DCHA, Brenda Donald, does not have the proper credentials to head such an organization.* The members of the Board, which is part of the governance of DCHA, do not have training in their fiduciary responsibilities.

Why has this bad situation continued? Elissa thinks it is because there’s no sense of urgency because the clientele is largely poor and Black, and therefore easy to ignore. Another factor is HUD’s declining resources, which has helped to create the huge backlog of deferred maintenance (similar the deferred maintenance for Metro, due to lack of federal funding). In response to questions about what we can do to improve the situation, Elissa suggested we “adopt” one or two public housing developments, suggesting Greenleaf, because it’s the biggest, and also across from the ballpark and the Navy Yard Metro Station. It’s on a really desirable piece of land and very attractive to developers. Garfield is another public housing development in a very desirable neighborhood, making it also ripe for development of largely unaffordable housing. More public–private partnerships are needed for equitable development of safe, clean housing that these residents can afford. It’s in the interest of the welfare of the city, because so many of these lower-income residents are essential workers in the hospitality industry, health care, and similar essential but lower-paid jobs. There are tenants’ associations in both of these public housing communities that we might want to meet and help amplify their voices. We can find out what developers they may be working with. We should also keep informed about what the DCHA Director and the new Board are doing, and hold them accountable. Elissa also suggested connecting with At-Large Council Member Robert White, who now chairs the City Council’s Housing Committee.

*According to her c.v., her background is mainly in child welfare services, not housing.

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