D.C. lawmakers seek broader investigation into housing authority Whistleblowers have reported unethical and potentially criminal behavior inside the public housing agency, lawmakers say.
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D.C. lawmakers seek broader investigation into housing authority

The D.C. Housing Authority oversees more than 8,300 units of public housing in the District, including the apartments at Park Morton, shown here. Its board of commissioners has been embroiled in scandal. Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist

Days after the chair of D.C.'s Housing Authority board resigned following revelations that he had approved lucrative contracts for a romantic partner, D.C. Councilmembers want the city's inspector general to ramp up their ongoing investigation into the public housing agency.

On Friday, members of the council's housing committee sent a letter to Inspector General Daniel Lucas, asking his office to "expand" the inquiry into "broader issues regarding procurement and contracting irregularities, conflicts of interest involving DCHA's Board of Commissioners and agency staff, staff intimidation and abuse of power, and misuse of DCHA resources."

"There is a troubling pattern of unethical and, potentially criminal, behavior at DCHA," adds the letter signed by committee members Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Robert White (D-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2).

The D.C. Housing Authority is a quasi-independent government agency that owns more than 8,300 traditional public housing units in D.C. It also oversees federal housing vouchers that help low-income residents pay rent at market-rate buildings across the District.

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Washington City Paper first reported on the resignation of Board of Commissioners Chair Neil Albert, whose exit followed extensive reporting by District Dig. Housing Committee Chair Anita Bonds asked the inspector general to look into contracts Albert approved for Moya Design Partners, a firm founded by Paola Moya, with whom he owns a home. Mayor Muriel Bowser has also called on D.C.'s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to undertake its own investigation.

"Multiple DCHA employees reached out to members of the [committee] to share concerns about actions taken at the agency and whether their disclosures would provide them with whistleblower protection," says the letter from council members. "These discussions have all shared common allegations of procurement improprieties, conflicts of interest, intimidation, and abuse of power."

Washington City Paper reported in September that another commissioner on the DCHA board, Antonio Taliaferro, had been accused by agency employees of aggressive and threatening behavior. DCHA's general counsel has contracted an outside law firm to look into allegations that Taliaferro "is misusing DCHA resources for personal gain while harassing and threatening the livelihood of employees who do not acquiesce to his pressure," the letter says.

Lawmakers say the agency has not briefed the committee — which oversees DCHA — about the status of that investigation, hence its call for another investigation by OIG.

The allegations are among several currently swirling around the housing agency. In September, the inspector general contacted committee chair Anita Bonds about a confidential tip the office had received accusing the agency of awarding contracts that "may have constituted waste of DCHA resources." In October, OIG sent another letter to Bonds after receiving another allegation that four ex-DCHA employees conspired to steal nearly $27,000 intended for rental subsidies.

After former Board Chair Neil Albert resigned this week, Bowser quickly appointed political ally Dionne Bussey-Reeder to chair the DHCA board. The agency also has a new director, Brenda Donald, who was approved for a two-year contract after the board declined to renew the contract of former director Tyrone Garrett.

"It is our sincere expectation that the new DCHA Director and Board Chair will cooperate fully so that they can rebuild DCHA into the agency that District residents need and deserve," the letter says.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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