DCHA internal audits point to fraud, conflicts in voucher program

Councilmember Robert White speaks at a press conference on March 30. Photo by Annemarie Cuccia.

[su_dropcap]Reports of mismanagement and voucher fraud at the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) continue to pile up, At-large Councilmember Robert White insisted at a press conference on March 30. 

White, who has chaired the council’s Housing Committee since January, highlighted four instances of alleged wrongdoing within DCHA — three of which were already investigated by DCHA and have been the subject of news coverage — to point to systemic issues at the agency, which oversees D.C.’s public housing and voucher programs. Speaking to reporters after White’s press conference, DCHA Director Brenda Donald acknowledged the findings but said there was no indication of pervasive fraud in the agency. 

“This is not widespread corruption throughout this agency,” Donald said. “There are isolated incidents that, when brought to my attention, I referred to our internal auditor for investigation.”

Audit reports for two of the allegations found that a lack of checks and balances — as well as poor supervision of new employees, management failures and an inadequate understanding of program rules — could have contributed to the issues. 

Last week’s dispute came just one day before DCHA’s deadline to submit proof to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the beleaguered local authority is resolving all 82 issues identified in an October 2022 audit. 

Two of the reports White highlighted, both finalized earlier this year, say former DCHA employees violated the rules of the voucher program, which provides housing subsidies for low-income residents. In one case, first reported by District Dig, a DCHA employee filled apartments at a new building with friends and family who were not eligible, either for DCHA support in general or through the building’s program for residents relocated from a public housing site.

While the employee is only known to have fraudulently placed two people in the building, White said the audit raises questions about all 53 vouchers the employee distributed. Donald declined to comment on the specific case, but has said in the past the agency is doing an internal review of all vouchers handled by the employee. 

The second audit, first reported on by The Washington Post in an article published just before White’s press conference, found that a deputy director of the voucher program had a financial relationship with a landlord before she was employed at DCHA. The employee did not disclose the relationship when she was hired, even though the landlord had previously paid her to place residents in his buildings. In January, the audit said, the landlord again asked the DCHA employee to steer voucher holders toward his building, promising to pay her. According to the landlord, she agreed. 

Neither employee still works at the agency. In both instances, Donald said DCHA took all actions suggested by the audit, and referred the cases to the Office of the Inspector General. 

White also brought up instances of mismanaged contracts, widely reported on late last year, and said he recently referred a report of criminal behavior in the agency to local law enforcement, but could not go into detail. 

White, who was questioned both by Donald and the media on his decision to hold a press conference announcing reports DCHA itself generated, said it’s important to collect all reports of alleged corruption in the agency to identify any patterns that exist. The reports were provided to White’s committee within three weeks of their completion, based on a standing request that the committee receive all audit reports.

“I believe these investigations are a critical part of the story of how our voucher system — from the start with who gets DCHA vouchers, to the finish line at the building where voucher holders end up living — is getting corrupted, and not consistently meeting the needs of our residents,” White said. 

In addition to any actions DCHA is taking on the individual reports, White called on the inspector general to open an investigation into any theft and abuse at the agency; on Donald to provide a plan to end fraud and abuse; and on the council to pass legislation he plans to introduce requiring more transparency at DCHA. 

On Tuesday morning, White reiterated his concerns about DCHA and his push for “full transparency” in a presentation to his council colleagues at the end of a breakfast meeting. He said he found Donald’s reasoning unpersuasive and complained that the agency had “stonewalled” his requests for further information.

“The agency cannot sweep things under the rug,” White said, adding later, “I’m not going to be a party to nonsense. I’m not going to go along to get along.”

This story has been updated from the print version to include White’s remarks at the breakfast meeting. 

This article was co-published with The DC Line. 

Annemarie Cuccia covers D.C. government and public affairs through a partnership between Street Sense Media and The DC Line. This joint position was made possible by The Nash Foundation and individual contributors.

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