Department Of Building | DC

In August 2021, the DC Council voted to fund the creation of three new entities to take the place of the embattled and conflicted DCRA:

Law 23-269 establishes as a subordinate agency within the executive branch of the District government, the Department of Buildings. The Department is charged with promoting the health, safety, and quality of life of residents and visitors in the District of Columbia by reviewing proposed plans for technical sufficiency, issuing permits, inspecting the built environment, regulating land use and development, and enforcing the regulations and codes governing building construction, rental housing conditions, building maintenance, and building safety. It is divided into three entities:

  • Department of Buildings to issue permits,  enforce building code and construction compliance, conduct building and construction inspections, and stop illegal construction.
  • Office of Strategic Code Enforcement (sub-agency of Dept. of Buildings) tracks repeated code violators and promotes consistent standards and practices
  • Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection manages business and professional licensing

The Demise of DCRA

A 2021 Resolution Letter cites the collapse of the building on Kennedy Street as one example among many of the agency’s “continued failures of Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and how those failures continue to endanger the lives of the District’s residents.” The resolution also points out DCRA’s conflicted mission to serve employers and workers, landlords and tenants. “While improvements have been made in services for business owners, construction owners and licensees, the most vulnerable among us are left behind. Workers, tenants, buyers, and neighbors continue to find the agency unresponsive to their needs, including a well-documented lack of enforcement of required licenses and permits.”Attorney and Children’s Law Center advocate Kathy Zeisel also cited inherent conflicts of interest among DCRA’s components as another main reason to split up the agency;“DCRA’s main customers are developers. They fast-track permits if you spend over $1 million. One of their main jobs is to make sure development goes safely and smoothly.” She added that this function inherently conflicts with another of DCRA’s primary duties: fining businesses for code violations. In FY 2020, DCRA issued $10 million in fines for housing violations but collected only about $70,000.

Cost And Timeline

The break-up and restructuring of DCRA to create the new agencies is estimated to take a minimum of four years and cost approximately $33 million dollars, per an independent assessment cited by DCist.

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