The new director of the District's troubled public housing program said yesterday that his agency is riddled with employes "who are not capable of doing their jobs," and that he hopes to retrain and possibly reassign many of them if a proposed reorganization plan is approved by the D.C. Council.
Alphonso Jackson, who has headed the housing program since May, said the public housing agency has a plumber "who knows nothing about plumbing, and he's been here for 15 years.
"I would think by a process of osmosis he would learn something about plumbing," Jackson told the council's Committee on Housing and Economic Development, "but he hasn't."
Jackson said the agency also had been plagued by property managers who "just sat in their offices all day" and were not certified to do their jobs, by poorly trained engineers who have been "creating havoc in our boiler rooms," and by mid-level administrators who regularly submitted inaccurate data in reports.
"That's the way life has been" at the Department of Housing and Community Development, said Jackson, who came from St. Louis as its deputy director for public housing. "We're trying to change that."
About 50,000 people live in District public housing, with nearly 13,000 applicants on waiting lists. About 17 percent of the city's units are vacant, many because of slow-moving efforts at modernization.
On Friday a commission appointed by Mayor Marion Barry reported that 47 percent of public housing tenants are behind in rent, and that drug problems are pervasive in many of the city's 58 public housing projects and buildings.
The commission, headed by Irving M. Kriegsfeld, head of a private housing management firm, supported a proposal by Barry to place the public housing program, which manages 11,800 units, under a new Department of Public and Assisted Housing. The Department of Housing and Community Development, which has been headed by an acting director since April, would continue to run programs to encourage private housing construction and home ownership.
Yesterday Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairman of the council committee, said she also favored the agency, although she said she had questions about Barry's proposal that it handle two major housing subsidy programs -- Section 8 and the tenant assistance program -- in addition to public housing.
The city's public housing program has been criticized in a series of federal reports since the early 1970s.
Jarvis said Jackson seemed "highly motivated to turn the public housing situation around . . . . I hope he can sustain his high level of energy in a job that has had many years of poor management and neglect."
If the reorganization is approved, Jackson said the job classification of the nearly 1,000 public housing employes will be reviewed. He said those who need retraining will receive it, and then "we will look very seriously at assigning some people to a more appropriate place."
He said the agency has already cracked down on tenants who are far behind in their rent, evicting more than 50 in the last six months compared with eight evictions in the previous year.
Kimi Gray, president of the citywide public housing residents advisory board, praised the reorganization plan and said she agreed with Jackson that the agency's employes "will have to change their attitude." But Gray said the key to improving public housing is to give more responsibility to tenants. Gray is head of the resident management corporation at the Kenilworth-Parkside apartments in Northeast, the only one of its kind in the city.