D.C. housing wait list could close

October 3, 2012

Citing its unmanageable size and the need to make reforms, D.C. public housing officials said Wednesday that they are considering suspending the city’s waiting list for housing aid.

D.C. Housing Authority officials told a gathering of housing advocates this week that the list could close indefinitely before the end of the year as they determine how to improve its function.

There are more than 67,000 households on the list, spokeswoman Dena Michaelson said. Waiting times vary depending on the circumstances, she said, but a person seeking a one- or two-bedroom apartment can now expect to wait more than 20 years for one of about 8,000 DCHA-managed units or 10,500 federally funded vouchers.

“We’re talking about suspending the list in order to fix the problems,” Michaelson said. “We need to increase transparency, we need to manage expectations and we need to enhance choice.”

While Michaelson acknowledged that the list could temporarily close, she added that there is no specific date when that might happen.

The nonprofit Bread for the City was critical of that possibility, writing on its Web site that the list’s unwieldy length highlights the city’s lack of affordable housing. “Keeping the list open demonstrates the crushing need for low-income housing in this city,” said the group’s legal director, Vytas Vergeer.

Marian Siegel, executive director of Housing Counseling Services, a D.C. nonprofit group, said that the practical effect of the list’s closure would be minuscule.

“From our point of view, it will make no real difference in our provision of services to those with housing problems,” she said.

While Siegel’s group advises its clients to add their names to the list, “in the other breath we tell them don’t expect anything to come of that in the next ten years,” she said. It instead focuses on helping them access other public and private assistance programs.

Siegel agreed that the underlying problem is a lack of supply. “There’s simply not enough affordable housing, even for hardworking, long-term residents who have no intention of relying on public housing,” she said. “It’s a population you can’t just ignore and say, ‘Oh, well.’ ”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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