A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development team has produced a draft report concluding that expenditures by the District's public housing operation "are out of control" and recommending that the city create a board of commissioners to run public housing.
The report, which has been presented to Mayor Marion Barry, was prepared by a 13-member task force appointed after HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. decided in March that federal intervention was needed to help the District fully comply with recommendations made in a 1984 HUD audit.
The draft report recommends that the city appoint a temporary team to oversee public housing as the first step toward appointing a board of commissioners that would have the power to hire, fire and set policy.
A HUD official said the District, which has about 60,000 public housing residents in 11,732 units, is the only major city in the country where such a board does not operate public housing. While such a system is not considered mandatory, it is generally viewed as a means of making a housing authority more accountable to the community and of increasing the time devoted to the operation of public housing, HUD officials said.
The task force also recommends that the District's housing authority immediately appoint a public housing deputy director to better coordinate staff activities.
The city has had longstanding problems in these areas, and also has a severe problem with delinquent rent payments.
A HUD official familiar with the task force's work said the draft report is considered a first step before HUD begins to negotiate with the city over goals and a timetable for improving the public housing operation. Barry and housing director Madeline M. Petty said through spokesmen that they would have no comment on the HUD report because it is not final.
In recent years, a number of HUD audits have concluded that the housing department is plagued by major operational and managerial deficiencies. The task force noted that: Operating expenses for the District's public housing are higher than most other housing authorities of comparable size, including New York City, though the general condition of most District properties is "poor." Maintenance remains the "weakest link" in the operation and continues to have "massive" problems, despite a low ratio of 21 units per maintenance worker. In one case, HUD found that, based on work orders, three maintenance workers at the James Creek public housing complex in Southwest put in a total of eight hours of accountable working time during a 21-day period. Delinquent rents totaled $2.7 million by December 1985. HUD noted that the perception among most public housing managers was that nothing would happen to tenants who are delinquent in rent, and that many tenants believed withholding rent payments increased the chances of getting a unit repaired, since code violations have to be corrected before an eviction.
Pending the approval of a supplemental budget request, HUD noted, the District's appropriation of operating funds will total $38.6 million since 1981. Yet this infusion of money has not produced an efficient operation, according to the report. "The more compelling argument is that the level of spending is inductive of waste and mismanagement," the report stated.
As an example, HUD officials pointed out that the housing department recently requested an additional $5 million in operating funds from the District, although operating statements for a six-month period indicate that budget projections may have been off and that the supplemental funding may not be necessary.
D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), who is chairwoman of the Committee on Housing and Economic Development, said money added to the supplemental budget was for small capital expenses for which the housing department had demonstrated a need.
"We tend to monitor closely the use of local money and have always relied on HUD to do a review of HUD money," said Jarvis.