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D.C. Plans Repairs To Public Housing

Funds to Be Borrowed on Bond Market

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page B04

The District's public housing authority will borrow nearly $78 million on the private bond market to shore up and improve aging public housing complexes in the next three years, federal and local officials said yesterday.

A spokesman for the D.C. Housing Authority said the funds will be used to repair or replace roofs, windows, building facades and mechanical systems at nearly 7,000 units in 38 housing complexes across the city -- among them Barry Farm Dwellings, Benning Terrace and Park Morton.

Some funds will also go toward making complexes safer and more accessible for the disabled, officials said.

"This will preserve thousands of units of affordable rental housing for District residents and afford them the opportunity to be proud of where they are living," said Michael Kelly, executive director of the housing authority.

The agency won approval to borrow the money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been offering the financing option to housing agencies since 2001.

The District has never before participated in the program, which so far involves about $2.3 billion in funding for housing authorities, including those in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

Housing authority spokesman Zachary D. Smith called the level of funding "historic" for the District, which maintains 8,997 public housing units. "There's never been this much money available for the preservation and modernization of public housing" in the city, Smith said.

The authority's capital fund totaled about $18 million in 2004 and $11.6 million in 2003, Smith said.

Housing authorities first gained the ability to borrow on the private market for major capital repairs through an amendment to the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998, HUD officials said. But the financing tool was not used until three years later.

To date, 96 housing authorities across the country have been approved for bond financing, HUD officials said. An additional 25 deals are under review.

Housing authorities that borrow money through the program pledge to use a percentage of their future capital funds, which are subject to federal appropriation, to repay it. The District will pay off its debt over 20 years.

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