False Hope and Broken Promises: The District of Columbia Housing Authority

Potomac Gardens Apartments is one of 56 properties owned and managed by the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) (District of Columbia Housing Authority). DCHA assists low income families who are struggling to find affordable housing due to the high cost of living in Washington DC. Their goal is to provide “safe, quality, and affordable” housing  (District of Columbia Housing Authority). DCHA also provides various services that allow residents to improve jobs skill and continue education. The best part: residents of any DCHA property are only required to pay thirty percent of their income as rent (District of Columbia Housing Authority). Struggling families most likely come across DCHA’s website quite often. Some might even read the information and start to feel hope. Unfortunately, most of these families will never be granted housing.

Of the 56 properties DCHA claims to own, I was only able to find 36 of them on Google Maps.

Of the 56 properties DCHA claims to own on their website, I was only able to find 36 of them on Google Maps.

“I got on that list when my son was in my stomach. He’s 11 now.”

The list referred to in the quote above is the waiting list for DC public housing. The list is so long that DCHA stopped accepting applications in April of 2013 (Dvorak). At that time, the waiting list consisted of more than 70,000 applicants (Dvorak). Remember that DCHA owns 56 properties; combined, these properties only contain 8,000 units. For years, 70,000 families have been waiting for one of 8,000 units. According to Petula Dvorak’s article, “In DC, A Public-Housing Waiting List With No End,” the estimated wait for a studio apartment is 39 years, while the wait for a one bedroom is 28 years. The article also tells the story of Kim Jones. In 2002, a pregnant Kim Jones completed the paperwork necessary to be put on the DCHA waiting list. In 2013, Kim and her eleven year old son still do not have a home and are no higher on the list then they were in eleven years prior. The Jones family is not alone. Thousands of families just like theirs have false hope in DCHA. After years of waiting they are still without a home and will most likely never receive one, at least not from DCHA.

In an effort to guarantee that those with the most need receive housing first, DCHA put together a list of “selection preferences.” These preferences include: not having a fixed address, living in a unit considered substandard, involuntary displacement, rent burden, belonging to a working family, having a disability, or being older than 62 years of age  (District of Columbia Housing Authority). While DCHA states that these preferences may help you reach the top of the waiting list, they make it clear that these preferences do not guarantee housing assistance.

The DCHA website does not mention how long they have not been accepting applications. When you hit “apply,” a notice pops up that says “The DCHA waiting list for housing choice vouchers and public housing is closed. DCHA will make announcements when the lists are open on this website and in the news media” (District of Columbia Housing Authority). I find it strange that while it has been three years since DCHA has accepted applications, they do not mention it on their website. The way they word the notice makes it seem like the waiting list will only be closed for a short amount of time and that it will be opening soon.This, and the other positives aspects of living in a public housing complex listed on the DCHA website are the root of false hope felt by low income families all over DC waiting for public housing that is never going to come.

This is what appears when you hit "apply" on DCHA's website. Notice the last modified date.

This is what appears when you hit “apply” on DCHA’s website. Notice the last modified date.

Works Cited

District of Columbia Housing Authority, 2016, http://www.dchousing.org/default.aspx.

Dvorak, Petula. “In D.C., A Public-Housing Waiting List With No End.” The Washington Post, 11 Apr. 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/in-dc-a-public-housing-waiting-list-with-no-end/2013/04/11/6073e7d2-a2cc-11e2-9c03-6952ff305f35_story.html.


Grace Wilmeth

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