Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) told a meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B on Tuesday that she was close to asking for the resignation of Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Director Melinda Bolling.
The Councilmember said that earlier Tuesday she had attended a DCRA hearing on DCRA management of vacant properties and illegal construction, an issue on which she said her office was very focused. She said, “I have to tell you, today was one of the most disheartening hearings I’ve ever been in.”
“The answers that we got from DCRA I just thought were downright, um, horrible.”
Silverman said that one Bloomingdale couple testified they had called DCRA after a contractor had done work on a neighboring house which caused structural damage to their home. Silverman said the couple reported that DCRA had not responded, which Silverman deemed “simply unacceptable.”
“You have my guarantee that I’ll be working with Director [Melinda] Bolling and DCRA to improve that,” she said, noting that District taxpayers expect protection from their government in such a situation, and they did not get it.
Silverman’s comment regarding Bolling’s performance came in response to a question from Commissioner Denise Krepp (6B10) at the Nov. 14th meeting. Krepp cited ongoing problems with DCRA in her Single Member District, and asked the Councilmember when she would ask for DCRA Director Bolling’s resignation.
“I’m really close,” Silverman responded. “I gotta tell you, today was just… I told you I was disheartened. It was just shocking to me.” She said the woman from Bloomingdale, a young mother, was on the verge of tears as she testified about her house. She said that at the hearing, she told Director Bolling that she should have met with the couple, identified herself, apologized and acknowledged that something had gone wrong and offered to address it.
She said she felt that DCRA had gotten numb to complaints, and that the lack of compassion was shocking and unacceptable to her.
The service and responsiveness of DCRA has been the subject of public criticism for some time. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has focused on issues related to DCRA this year, holding three Committee of the Whole Public Oversight meetings on issues related to the agency.
A report released in September by the Office of the D.C. Auditor (ODCA) examined management of the program in 2015 and found that mismanagement —including improper granting of exemptions, not following legal requirements, errors in communication regarding property taxes, and weaknesses in processes related to occupied status— resulted in almost $1 million in lost potential revenue in a small sample of properties.
“With anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 vacant properties in the District of Columbia, and the fact that our sample was just 31 properties in one tax year, doing the math was troubling. The real fiscal impact is obviously far greater,” said D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson.
The report was written in response to a survey of ANC Commissioners on which agencies and programs needed improvement. Commissioners cited vacant and blighted properties as a major concern, which has been echoed by D.C.’s elected officials.
Silverman serves on the Mayor’s Housing Preservation Strike Force. She said that housing is a key issue in the District for low- and middle-income people. She said the city needed to be able to accommodate a variety of needs.