Mayoral candidate Patricia Roberts Harris criticized Mayor Marion Barry's administration yesterday for having renovated only 50 units of D.C. public housing since 1979, while millions of dollars set aside to improve thousands of other units have gone unspent.
Harris told reporters called to the dilapidated Barry Farms housing project in Southeast Washington that it was "inexcusable" that 8,000 people must wait five years or longer to get into public housing, when hundreds of rental units lie vacant because the city is slow to use its federal and local renovation funds.
Harris, who is challenging Barry in the Democratic mayoral primary, also charged that the city's public housing authority has done a poor job of making routine repairs, providing security and collecting rents at the city's 52 public housing projects.
"The appalling condition of public housing in the District of Columbia is totally unjustifiable, totally unacceptable and totally unncessary," Harris said. "As mayor, Pat Harris will not accept one-tenth of our city ill-housed in housing units owned by the District of Columbia."
Sidney Glee, the city's public housing director, acknowledged that only 50 units have been completely renovated since Barry took office -- all at the James Creek project in Southwest -- but insisted that work would begin within months on about 2,000 units.
Glee also claimed that the city has done less extensive work on many hundreds of other units, although as of late yesterday he was unable to provide a list of recently completed improvements.
Glee said his Property Management Administration was doing "a very commendable" job of maintaining the city's 12,000 units of public housing in the face of sharp budget cutbacks and rising costs.
"You're really between a rock and a hard place, and each year these places continue to deteriorate," Glee said.
According to Lea Adams, Barry's campaign press secretary, "The people who live in public housing projects throughout the city know of the mayor's ongoing commitment to improving their living conditions. Mayor Barry is no stranger to them. He does not wait to visit public housing developments until he's ready to give a press conference."
Citing Property Management Administration documents, Harris told reporters that the city has yet to spend about $40 million in public-housing rehabiliation funds available to it.
About three-fourths of those federal and local funds were earmarked to rehabilitate about 2,000 units.
Those include the 200 remaining units at James Creek and units in East Capitol Dwellings, 5725 East Capitol St.; Lincoln Heights, 400 50th St. NE; Valley Green, 3916 Wheeler Road SE; the Richardson apartments in Northeast Washington, and Fort Dupont housing project in Southeast Washington.
Harris claims the city took too long to begin much of that planned work. She said that if elected she would replace Glee with a more experienced public housing manager and create standards of performance for maintenance, occupancy, rent collections, budget and security improvements.
She declined to say how many units of public housing she planned to renovate in her first term.