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The District of Columbia Housing Authority successfully kept more than 200 families in their homes, keeping a significant culture alive in the city.

The residents of Museum Square apartments in Chinatown were in fear of being displaced when the owner of their building announced the contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would expire and not be renewed. But after months of turmoil, DCHA stepped in and found a way to keep the families in place.

“There was lots of concern that a particularly important part of Chinatown would go away,” said DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman at December’s Board of Commissioners meeting.

The 291-unit building has been the home of a large portion of D.C.’s Chinese community. Some 90 percent of the residents do not speak English as a first language. In fact, four different languages are spoken among the tenants. Many of the residents are elderly and disabled, as well.

“From the point when we got our funds in September to November, DCHA staff deemed residents eligible, inspected units, and leased up almost 200 people in a month’s time,” Todman said, highlighting the agency’s fast track process.

The process began when HUD asked DCHA to accept vouchers for residents in May. The agency accepted, but did not receive them until late September, said Ronald McCoy, director of the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

“We have a fast track for lease ups with veterans,” McCoy said. “We used that model to assist us with fast tracking at Museum Square.”   

McCoy said DCHA first started with two education campaigns, one for the landlord and another for the residents. The landlord, Bush Companies, learned about the voucher process and what needed to happen to get the units to pass inspection. The residents learned how they would be determined eligible for the process; that they had a choice of where to use the voucher, either at Museum Square or another rental unit; and the steps they had to take to get to a signed lease.

While some DCHA staff were working with other city agencies, advocates, and translators to get the residents through the process, others were inspecting up to 50 units per day.

DCHA has worked on thousands of units that were part of landlord opting out of a HUD contract, McCoy said, but Museum Square was different.

“This is the only opt out where the housing authority was in the position to save a community,” he said. 

Both he and Todman commended the teamwork of DCHA staff to make the parallel approach work.

“The housing authority was the only one who stepped up. We worked with the advocates. We worked with the owner,” McCoy said. “We did whatever we could to save this community.”

He continued, “It meant an entire community, a culture that is Chinatown…It meant everything to them.” 

Last modified: 12/15/2015 1:55:11 PM