There was a familiar ring to D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe's recent stinging criticism of Mayor Marion Barry's housing agency for consistently bungling or mismanaging important housing and redevelopment projects.
That's because it was largely the same criticism the mayor shrugged off last year, at the height of the Democratic mayoral campaign.
Back then, Barry had little difficulty fending off most of the attacks on his first four years in office as he rolled to an impressive reelection victory. He made a persuasive case that he had made substantial progress in straightening out the District's tangled finances, correcting the horrendous errors in the water-billing system, improving garbage collection and beefing up job-training programs.
But the mayor had remarkably little to say in defense of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, which his opponents claimed had been grossly inept or careless in overseeing federally funded renovation and redevelopment projects.
The most glaring example cited then was the Bates Street housing renovation project, the centerpiece of Barry's housing program, which was far behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. Patricia Roberts Harris, the former U.S. housing secretary who mounted the strongest challenge to Barry, described the Bates street project as a "disaster" that lined the pockets of developers but did little to alleviate the serious housing shortage in the city.
Harris said the city's housing program was "in shambles" and the housing agency needed to exert stricter controls over federally financed programs. She also highlighted major problems with the city's housing projects, noting at the time that only 50 units of public housing had been renovated since 1979, even though millions of dollars in federal funds earmarked for improving thousands of other units had gone unspent.
"The appalling condition of public housing in the District of Columbia is totally unjustifiable, totally unacceptable and totally unnecessary," Harris said.
The concerns about Barry's housing policies were pretty much forgotten after the election. As part of a major reorganization, Robert Moore stepped down as director of housing, after he arranged to be kept on as a high-priced consultant on housing matters. James E. Clay, who had been Moore's deputy throughout most of Barry's first term before taking a job in Kansas City, returned in January to replace Moore.
But last week Troupe rekindled the controversy when he issued a preliminary audit that cited "serious deficiencies" in the operation of a federally funded H Street NE commercial renovation project. The audit said nearly $50,000 hasn't been accounted for and blamed the housing department for failing to monitor the project adequately.
Troupe told a reporter the H Street project was actually part of a pattern of mismanagement by the housing agency, and he indicated he intended to open new inquiries into Bates Street and the Kenesaw apartments at 16th and Irving streets NW, another troubled renovation project.
"There is a pattern at DHCD--they never monitor," Troupe said.
Clay has declined public comment on the controversy until he and the city administrator have responded to the H Street audit. Barry sought to play down the significance of the controversy at his press conference last week.
Barry said the housing department is doing everything it can to clear up administrative snafus. He credited Clay with resolving one major dispute with the federal government that had kept the District from receiving its full share of federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
Asked whether he was concerned about the problems cited by Troupe, the mayor offered these reassuring words:
"I'm concerned about everything that is not perfect. . . . Obviously we want to make sure that our departments work well, that people are doing their jobs well. On the other hand, this is a major agency, a big agency . . . and obviously Mr. Clay and I would like things to be perfect and this is not a perfect world."