D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) Director Brenda Donald will step down this summer midway through the troubled agency’s overhaul, according to a DCHA press release. The agency serves around 30,000 low-income D.C. residents, who rely on public housing, housing vouchers and other supports to stay stably housed.
Donald took control of the housing authority as interim director in June 2021, fresh after a nine-year stint leading the city’s Child and Family Services Agency. DCHA’s board officially appointed her executive director that August. DCHA’s announcement did not clarify why Donald is leaving before her contract expires in September or when her last day at the agency would be.
The day after DCHA announced Donald’s resignation, the Washington Post published an article finding Donald had attempted to coordinate with landlords to release opinion pieces presenting a favorable view of the agency.
Donald’s tenure at DCHA has been challenging. In October 2022, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a report finding the agency was deficient on over 80 action items. For many D.C. residents, the report confirmed that DCHA was not living up to its mission. HUD found public housing residents lived in subpar conditions, as thousands of work orders went unaddressed, and that DCHA was failing to manage its 40,000 person waitlist for housing. A series of concerns about fraud and mismanagement at the agency, both before and during Donald’s time there, only harmed the agency’s reputation further.
Donald has overseen the response to these findings, launching a series of policy reforms approved last month. But the implementation of the reforms is only just beginning, and the agency is still working with HUD to fix the issues identified in the federal agency’s report.
“I’m proud of the work my staff and I did to put DCHA back on the right track to serve public housing residents and voucher participants,” Donald said in a press release. “I truly think it’s now on the right path for continued improvement.”
Over the last several months, Donald has made it clear she planned to leave when her contract expired in September, and even considered resigning this winter, according to D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson.
After DCHA announced her resignation, Donald posted on her LinkedIn page calling her decision to step down “my birthday gift to myself.”
“I’m a card player, and I believe I played the hand that I was dealt as well as anyone,” Donald wrote on her LinkedIn. “Good card players, like good leaders, know when it’s time to step away from the table.”
Donald has been criticized widely for her lack of public housing experience. Most recently, At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who chairs the council’s housing committee overseeing DCHA, called attention to what he sees as a lack of transparency in the agency, including around Donald’s $41,000 bonus last year.
Throughout the disputes, Donald has argued that the council’s close oversight, including of her bonus, could scare off applicants for the next director — a theory that will now be put to the test. The agency’s Stabilization and Reform Board has already begun a search for the position, according to DCHA’s press release.
“Given the numerous recent investigations and suspensions at DCHA, I encourage the Stabilization and Reform Board to select an interim leader with a record of unquestionable integrity, transparency, and independence,” White wrote in a statement following Donald’s announcement.