Advocacy Performance Oversight Hearing: To the Committee on Housing & Executive Administration Fiscal Year 2020-2021

Nechama Masliansky, Senior Advocacy Advisor At SOME

Good morning, Chairperson ­­Bonds and members of the Committee. My name is Nechama Masliansky. I am Senior Advocacy Advisor at SOME, Inc. (also known as So Others Might Eat). Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Performance Oversight Hearing on the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA).

SOME is a 50-year-old interfaith, non-profit organization that provides comprehensive services—from emergency food through to permanent housing-- to District residents who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. SOME recognized 16 years ago that the city’s lack of affordable housing drives people into homelessness. As a result, we started our Housing Development Initiative with the goal of developing 1,000 net new units for 2,000 homeless and low-income District residents.  To date, we have developed 759 new units that are home to about 1,400 persons, each of whom receives individualized supportive services, and we have 227 units in development.

The DCHA has been, and continues to be, an important and valued partner in our Housing Development effort. 

We look forward to discussing with you during the Budget process the amount of Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) funding that will be needed to partner with the Housing Production Trust Fund in FY22 and the amount of funding needed by DCHA for repair and replacement of Public Housing units.

We have a request regarding LRSP, to help expedite our projects. For projects approved for awards through the Consolidated RFP, we need for DCHA to commit the LRSP dollars that were put into that RFP, even if those dollars won’t be used until future years.  DCHA often delays confirming that LRSP will be available, and, further, DCHA delays entering in the “agreement to enter into an LRSP agreement”. We cannot go to closing without that agreement.

Unfortunately, we also need to add our voices to reports of concerns about systemic issues with DCHA. As public witnesses testified at the Committee on Human Services Performance Oversight Hearing on DCHA on March 1, 2021, these systemic issues are causing homeless persons to remain on the streets for months longer than necessary. We are adding that these systemic issues are costing SOME, specifically, more than $150,000 in lost rent.

  1. Over a period of years, SOME and other housing providers have reported to DCHA about recurring, extensive delays in having units inspected. The DCHA has not responded to this recurring issue on a systemic level. Instead, when they finally respond after repeated requests and pleas, they ask for information on a provider-by-provider, building-by-building, and unit-by-unit basis.

 

DCHA has informed us that the lease-up process should be completed within two months from submission of an application.  Unfortunately, in our experience, the time to lease up a new resident is much longer. Currently, SOME has 25 individuals and families in lease-up with DCHA.   The average number of days these residents and potential residents have been in lease-up is 275 days, i.e., just over nine months for each one.

SOME will not be paid rent for these 25 households until after they have passed an inspection. Thirteen of these individuals and families are approved for eligibility but are waiting for an inspection. The inspection process has slowed dramatically.  The process adopted because of COVID does not seem to be working.  Currently, SOME’s budget assumes a loss of 2 months of subsidy when a household moves in.  It costs SOME $23,582 a month to cover the lost rent for the 25 single adults and families waiting for lease up.  As of last month, we have lost $153,849 in rents (beyond the budgeted 2-month loss) because of the slow lease up/ inspection process. 

This is a systemic issue. It causes actual harm. It is unacceptable.  We have waited respectfully for a long time before making this concern public, but it would be a disservice to the public to remain silent on this matter.

  1. Another issue of long standing that we and other providers experience regularly involves communications.

 

It appears that the agency is understaffed. Emails go unanswered.  Documents submitted by email go unopened.  Sometimes, DCHA withdraws a household’s application because DCHA has been awaiting documentation that they never even requested.  On other occasions, duplicate requests by DCHA staff for the same information cause further uncertainty and hardship for applicants.  DCHA staff members—the contact persons for specific cases-- leave DCHA, and we are not informed of their departure. 

Another example of inadequate communication involves the matter of transfers between units. Last year, DCHA stopped allowing transfers, but then we were told transfers could occur, and then informed that they could not.  Now, apparently, we can request a transfer, but we would not have learned this had we not reached out proactively to DCHA. 

  1. Recommendations: SOME supports the testimony of Jubilee Housing, which recommends: Formal online LRSP submission process through a DCHA portal; Coordination of unit inspection; Identification of a Primary LRSP Contact at DCHA: and updating of LRSP forms. We would add that coordination of inspections be automated (reservation system) and that commitment to a timeframe from inspection to approval is also desired. 
  2. In conclusion: SOME and others cannot expand our extremely low-income housing portfolio without the active participation of DCHA.  They are a vital partner.  We are invested in finding lasting solutions and would like to be a partner in helping to fix this situation. We ask that DCHA meet with us and other housing providers to develop a strategy to make this work.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.