Mayor Marion Barry announced yesterday that his administration would request $180 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over the next five years as part of a comprehensive plan to repair 60 percent of the District's 11,000 public housing units.
Barry said the plan would move the city's housing authority, which HUD lists as operationally troubled, toward solving major deficiencies that remain despite the expenditure of $66 million in District funds and a similar amount in federal money for modernization in the last decade.
"I want HUD on the line," Barry said of his request for federal funds. "This belongs to them . . . . It is the federal responsibility to pay for it. This is a modest, bare-bones request. It is not a Cadillac or Rolls-Royce budget."
I. Margaret White, who heads HUD's Washington field office, said the five-year funding request sounded "reasonable" in light of conditions she has observed, but stressed that HUD must review the plan, required of all authorities seeking modernization funds, and will make allocations based on the District's yearly applications under the modernization program.
Despite the renovation needs, the city received no federal public housing modernization funds in fiscal 1986 because delays on other renovation projects in the city had shaken HUD's confidence in the District, which in some years failed to spend all of its modernization money.
"We feel there have been some definite indications of change," White said yesterday. "There is some evidence that the city should be turning the corner."
White said one of those indications was the Barry administration's comprehensive plan, an 804-page document containing the most extensive survey of public housing conditions ever done by the city.
The plan calls for minor to major repairs for 7,083 of its 11,000 public housing units. The majority of the repair work would be done in the first, third and fifth years of the plan, with the largest amount, $60 million, requested for fiscal 1988.
The $60 million is more than one-fourth of the $201.9 million in HUD modernization funds allocated for Region 3, which is made up of the District, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. In fiscal 1986, the New York City housing authority, which has 200,000 units and is the nation's largest, received $90.1 million in modernization funds, White said.
In addition to capital improvements, the comprehensive plan is a blueprint for management changes that Barry wants implemented as part of a housing department reorganization. In September, he plans to send the D.C. Council a proposal to create a new public housing department, removing it from the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Alphonso Jackson, a former St. Louis housing official and Barry's choice to head the new department, maintains that the current organization structure and management problems have led to serious internal problems.
Jackson, who has been in charge of public housing since May, said the department was forced to use contractors to make minor repairs on vacant units because it lacked the necessary supplies. After looking into the supply problem, Jackson said, he discovered that about $7,000 worth of supplies -- including lawn mowers and refrigerators -- disappeared weekly from the warehouse. He has installed a new security system.
Jackson said he also discovered that even as the department has been stepping up its efforts to collect $3.5 million in delinquent rents, at least 45 housing employes who live in public housing owe from $500 to $5,000 in back rent. He said steps were being taken to collect the money.
Under the comprehensive plan, the targeted areas of improvement include property management, maintenance services, inventory management, development of an automated management information system and a reorganization of the budget system.
A greater effort will be made to screen public housing tenants to weed out those who have poor rent-payment histories or who would be considered disruptive or undesirable, such as drug users.
Jackson added that he was streamlining the procedures for eviction. He noted that while there were probably fewer than 10 evictions last year, there were nine evictions last week and seven more are planned for this week.
"People are going to pay rent," Jackson said.
In the area of maintenance, Jackson predicted that residents would see changes but cautioned that it would take time. The plan calls for a year to realign and organize the department's maintenance operation and 17 months to develop and implement an annual inspection program to monitor maintenance.
Meanwhile, maintenance workers and other employes will receive special training through a new center to be established under the reorganization plan. The program will include instruction ranging from how to complete interior finishes on units to how to be an effective manager.
Under the plan, Jackson said, the current complement of 1,100 public housing employes eventually will be scaled back through retirement and other changes to about 900. He said that some upper-level employes will be hired initially for one or two years rather than as permanent staff members.
"A lot of people who knew someone or had friends got career appointments but didn't have the skills to do the job," said Jackson. "I don't think we should be strapped any longer with employes who are not capable of carrying out their responsibilities."
Many of the management changes proposed in the comprehensive plan have been recommended in numerous federal audit reports and by review panels, and previous housing directors have proposed implementing similar changes.
Some tenants who heard Barry's presentation yesterday said the plan sounded much too familiar.
"If it's true, it's good," said Helen Hawkins, who has lived in public housing for more than 40 years. "They have talked so much about the same thing and they never seem to get around to things. They promised to remodel bathrooms at my place six years ago."
But Ivory D. Walters and other tenants who participated in developing the comprehensive plan said they are more optimistic.
"We had an input and we residents are pushing for it," said Walters. "We are on the property, and if the changes don't come we know how to squawk."