credit: Rodney Choice

With thousands of families waiting for access to housing vouchers and homelessness plaguing thousands more, the District was required to return $15.8 million federal affordable housing dollars over the past three years, according to a Washington Post investigation.

The funding came from the HOME Investment Program overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grants had not spent within deadlines that are set to ensure the money is properly managed.

The amount returned could have provided roughly 1,000 families with rent vouchers for a year, according to the Post’s findings. Other possible uses include down-payment assistance to buyers or renovations to subsidized apartments that are virtually uninhabitable. According to the Post, 2000 District households live without kitchens or plumbing.

While 28 percent of housing agencies in the United States had to return money to HUD in the past two years, no other housing agency in the nation returned more affordable housing dollars than the District.

This discovery comes just a few months after an audit of the D.C. Housing Production Trust Fund was released that urged the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to improve management in order to better meet affordable-housing goals.

According to the Office of the D.C. Auditor’s March report, the nearly $700 million fund has been mismanaged since its creation in 2001. The audit revealed that money was allocated to build housing that was never constructed, that the department was too disorganized to keep track of developers who were not paying back loans and that DHCD did not have a standard method for certifying household income across all properties. Some tenant incomes had never been certified, including several individuals with income over $80,000, which is well above the maximum level to qualify for housing assistance.

Polly Donaldson, director of DHCD, responded to the Post’s investigation on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show. She said that Mayor Bowser’s administration inherited most of these issues and are working to mitigate them. Within the agency there had been leadership turnover, vacancies and years of misspending and mismanagement of federal funds, according to the director.

Nevertheless, Donaldson said that the agency’s failure to spend the funding is shameful.

“The steps that we have taken under this administration are focused on one point very clearly and that is we don’t want this ever to happen again,” Donaldson said in response to Nnamdi’s question about her understanding of the situation.

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development also released a memorandum in response to the Post investigation. It claimed that the administration has resolved some of the issue that plagued the agency and that they have done more for affordable housing than ever before.