Erin Palmer Announces Safe Housing Action Plan

Moving Past Decades of Inaction to Safer Housing Conditions in DC

February 9, 2022 – Erin Palmer today announced her Safe Housing Action Plan – a plan to revitalize the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (soon to be the Department of Buildings) to proactively prioritize safe housing for DC residents. 

“For more than two decades, the current Council Chair has been complaining about the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs,” said Erin, Democrat for DC Council Chairwoman. “But tragic fire deaths in my neighborhood, mold and rodent infestations in complexes citywide, and repeated flooding show that little has changed. Meanwhile, he’s the choice candidate for thousands of dollars of donations from property managers and landlords.”

The DC Council’s Committee of the Whole has oversight of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which means that the current Council Chair is primarily responsible for the agency’s oversight. Yet, despite decades of complaints, unsafe living conditions, and even deaths, he has changed little to require more and better from the agency’s enforcement procedures and practices. While legislative action has split the agency into a Department of Buildings and a Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection, the current Council Chair has failed to address the agency’s many underlying challenges, including lack of inspections and enforcement.

“Splitting the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs into two departments alone cannot fix decades of problems and an agency culture that fails to protect tenants and ensure safe, stable, and secure housing,” said Erin. “Our failure to make change has the most impact on people of color, the elderly, people who have barriers in accessing English-language information, and those with the least financial resources. Too many have been left without a home, sick, injured, or even dead. The time for inaction and complaining is over.”

Erin’s Safe Housing Action Plan focuses on three key areas: 

  1. More inspections to protect tenants. We’ve known for some time that there are not enough inspectors to conduct necessary inspections, that the quality of inspections varies greatly (in part because of reliance on contracted “resident inspectors” with less training and experience), and that a robust proactive inspection program is both a nationwide best practice and could protect our most vulnerable communities and prevent properties from falling into disrepair;
  2. A system that results in repairs to housing code violations that keeps properties from becoming uninhabitable. Our primary objective should be safe, stable, and secure housing. This requires creating a robust structure that forces repairs for housing code violations, both as a mechanism to improve safety and to prevent the continued neglect and decline of specific properties that ultimately results in them being uninhabitable;
  3. Consequences that matter for landlords that break the law. We’ve also known for some time that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has problems collecting fines, having collected only about $70,000 of $10 million in fines levied in FY 2020. Fines are needed to both deter housing code violations and hold violators accountable. And the agency must be equipped and required to collect fines imposed, otherwise the enforcement process becomes meaningless. While much attention has been paid to DC’s inability to collect photo enforcement fines from out-of-state drivers, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs actually collects a lower percentage of levied fines than our photo-enforcement program without any legal obstacles prohibiting more aggressive collection.

“The lack of consistent, aggressive oversight has allowed unsafe housing conditions to become the way business is done in DC,” said Erin. “Every lawsuit filed by the Office of the Attorney General against a landlord, while necessary, marks a failure of our housing regulation agency to inspect and enforce safe housing and a failure of the DC Council to conduct meaningful oversight. I intend to do my job.Read the whole plan online here or download the PDF.