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Maintaining and Preserving D.C. Homes is DHCD's Bailiwick

Barrington M. Salmon | 6/12/2013, 3 p.m.

The statement that best captures the mission of the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development is to keep people in their homes, the agency’s director said.

Among the responsibilities the agency is tasked with, three have become the focus, said Michael Kelly during a recent interview. They are rehabbing single-family homes, strengthening and publicizing the existence of the Employee Housing Program and Lead Based Paint Program

“It begins with the idea that our mission is about creating affordable housing but also preserving affordable housing,” said Kelly, who became the agency’s director late last year. It’s one thing to build something new, but another to maintain what’s already there. What’s quietly done, but as important is preserving the homes we have and there are some tools we have that can do that.”

The director said the Lead Safety Program is a way to remove lead paint from houses built before 1978. Households get assistance bases on referrals and eligibility.

“We do our own estimates and the homeowner contacts a contractor and after the work is done, we pay contractors,” Kelly explained.

Children from a few months old to six years old are most susceptible to lead poisoning.

“We’re an old town so there’s probably a lot of them, and historically it has been limited to trim molding around doors,” said Kelly. “The program is sort of the same as others. Households must have certain income – it’s income restricted.”

Kelly said eligibility is determined by the number of people in the households and agency staff makes sure households make the eligibility requirement with a family of four making $67,000, that a single resident makes $46,000 and that a family of eight makes $88,000.

Residents seeking this assistance can apply through several community-based non-profits which work closely with the agency.

Kelly said there is a water service line replacement where the agency offers homeowners $5,000 to replace lead-lined water lines. The intake is done through certified non-profit counselors and DCHD housing counselors as well.

“There is a really good chance we can eliminate lead paint,” Kelly said.

Kelly reflected on an issue he brought up in previous interviews: affordable housing. One tool his department is dealing with that is the Employer Assisted Housing Program.

The program provides assistance to employees of the District of Columbia Government who are first-time homebuyers in the District. District government employees may be eligible for matching down payment funds up to $1,500 and a deferred loan of up to $10,000.

The program takes on added currency when considered against the backdrop of the severe housing crisis that has roiled the Washington metropolitan area over the past several years. The District and the rest of the Washington metropolitan region, is emblematic of the difficulties moderate and low-income residents face as they try to find affordable housing. Gentrification and a massive boon to accommodate the influx of tens of thousands of new residents to the District have fueled a housing shortage for middle and lower-income residents. Those with higher incomes have snapped up houses at such a rate that it has exacerbated the shortage which regional officials and public and private partners are struggling to correct.