D.C. public housing waiting list to close; no new applicants after April 12

The District’s public housing agency is planning to close its waiting list for the first time next week, and it is encouraging needy families to sign up before the list is suspended indefinitely.

The closure of the list, which stretches to more than 70,000 names, has been contemplated for months as officials acknowledge that demand for public housing units and rental vouchers far outstrips the city’s supply.

A report completed last month by the District inspector general’s office concluded that the D.C. Housing Authority should stop taking new applicants, saying its “perpetually open” wait lists have contributed to “unreasonable” time frames for placement.

According to data cited in the report, a resident seeking a one-bedroom apartment can expect to wait 28 years. In 2011, the authority placed 1,700 people — about 4 percent of the more than 40,000 on the list at that time.

Once the list is closed on April 12, authority officials will undertake a “thorough examination” of the wait list, they said, including a reassessment of how to handle future placements. Names on the list will remain there, though some names that have not been recently updated could be purged. At least 10 people on the list in 2011 were deceased, the inspector general’s office found.

“We’re going to be moving to make this waiting-list process more transparent, give people more choices and give people a real understanding of where they are,” said Dena Michaelson, an agency spokeswoman. For the first time, she said, applicants will be able to specify on which properties they would prefer to live.

Advocacy groups, which have been enlisted to get word out about the impending closure, have generally supported efforts to suspend and re-engineer the public housing waiting list.

“If it works, I think it will be much easier for people to understand where they are on the list and how long it will be before they might come up,” said Stacey Johnson, a housing social worker for the nonprofit Bread for the City.

Residents can add their names to the list by visiting ­dchousing.org, calling 202-535-1000 or visiting one of 42 locations where assistance is available.

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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