After two years of in-person community meetings on the Transformation Plan and other development initiatives, the District of Columbia Housing Authority used technology to successfully complete its first round of several required resident engagement meetings in its communities that will soon see capital improvements in conjunction with the federal RAD program..
The RAD program, or Rental Assistance Demonstration program, is an option provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that allows public housing authorities to convert traditional Section 9 public housing to a project-based Section 8 subsidy. This conversion allows the public housing authority to seek private funding and alternatively-sourced investments which in turn will provide a more stable source of long-term funding and make capital improvements to the property. RAD enables public and private funding to work together to make housing healthier, safer, and remain affordable. In addition, improvements made through the RAD program ensure that there is no permanent resident displacement, no loss of housing benefits, no rescreening, and no change in most rent calculations.
“The federal government does not provide enough funding to make improvements that residents of public housing deserve,” said DCHA Executive Director Tyrone Garrett. “As I have stated before, the capital needs at DCHA properties is $2.5 billion. Waiting is not an option. We must act now to preserve and expand affordable housing in the District of Columbia.”
In keeping with DCHA’s commitment to ensuring that residents stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 public health state of emergency, DCHA has been leveraging technology to continue the agency’s important business. This includes holding virtual resident engagement meetings at several properties that will soon see RAD conversion, including Judiciary House, LeDroit Senior Apartments, Kelly Miller Townhomes, Langston Terrace and Additions, and Potomac Gardens Family and Senior. The scope of improvements for the upcoming RAD conversion properties could include new kitchens, bathrooms, finishes, updated heating and air conditioning systems, replacing windows and roofs, enhanced community spaces, and other improvements. As required by federal law, DCHA must conduct at least two community meetings prior to submitting its RAD application to HUD. Additional meetings will be conducted during the HUD application process, and will be held in the future before the final HUD approval of the conversion.
“These meetings have been well attended each time. The information we give to our customers is important and making sure we answer every question asked is integral to this process,” said Alexander Morris, DCHA’s Chief of Planning, Design, and Construction. “Neighbors are helping each other by sharing their computer screens or logging into the call together in order to make sure everyone gets the information.”
Residents, advocates, and community leaders can attend the virtual meetings, hosted by DCHA on Webex. In addition to the invitation, DCHA provides instructions on how to attend via computer or phone, as well as a paper copy of the presentation for residents and stakeholders to follow along with the presenters and take notes.
The virtual RAD Resident Engagement Meetings operate similarly to DCHA community meetings. In these virtual RAD Resident Engagement Meetings, DCHA employees explain the RAD program, the plans for the specific properties, and what to expect if temporary relocation is necessary during the unit rehabilitation. Additionally, DCHA staff provides information on services and programs that are available to residents through the Office of Resident Services, such as the Workforce Development Initiative or classes with the University of the District of Columbia. DCHA presenters also explain various steps required in a RAD conversion, which include Board of Commissioners approval, additional community meetings, and a financial plan submitted to and approved by HUD.
Attendees at each virtual meeting are invited to ask questions, which are recorded along with the responses and synthesized into a Q&A document that is then sent back out to residents at the associated property. In addition, DCHA employees call residents before and after each meeting to make sure everyone’s questions are answered. Residents are also encouraged to email and call with any further questions or comments throughout the RAD conversion process.
“I was impressed by the DCHA’s use of technology to help the tenants understand what are possible ramifications, hear their concerns, and to help them move forward. That was impressive to try to get as many people to participate during this time of the pandemic,” said Pastor Tom Knoll of First Trinity Lutheran Church and member of the Washington Interfaith Network, which stands alongside public housing residents to make sure changes or renovations are fair and equitable.
DCHA has past experience with successful RAD conversions, first with the conversion of Columbia Road and Colorado Apartments in May of 2018, and then with Matthews Memorial and Fairlawn Marshall which were converted to RAD in September of 2018. Montana Terrace, Elvans Road, Lincoln Road, Villager, and Ontario Road conversions are already under way.