Update: In January 2013, the DCHA issued an official notice stating that the housing wait list will close on April 12, 2013.

Attention, DC residents in need of public housing: 2012 might be your last chance to get on the DC Housing Authority’s waiting list. By the end of this year, DCHA will indefinitely close its waiting list for public housing, Executive Director Adrianne Todman has told BFTC staff.

The list is a fact of life for many District residents. Thousands sign up every year, joining the 64,000 people already in a holding pattern, waiting for a chance at subsidized housing in their ever more expensive home city. Based on current trends, about 10,000 residents would likely sign up in 2013. The 64,000 folks already on the list (that’s one in ten Washingtonians) are vying for one of about 8,000 public housing units or 12,000 government-subsidized vouchers.

So, it’s a long wait. DCHA is currently pulling names that have been on the list since 2003, and those added to the list today can expect to wait a whopping 46 years for a studio or efficiency apartment.

Despite the bleak prospects for actually obtaining housing, we at BFTC have long pushed for the list to stay open. “Keeping the list open demonstrates the crushing need for low-income housing in this city,” said Vytas Vergeer, director of our legal clinic.

Why close the list? DCHA argues that it has become a vain exercise. They claim that it’s a drain on time and resources to maintain a waiting list that, for most applicants, will never lead to housing. Rather than leaving it open and watching wait times continue to grow, DCHA hopes to refocus human resources on managing their already-large list. They may reopen it if wait times are more reasonable, however long that takes. According to DCHA, the industry standard is to maintain a list that gives those on it no more than a 2-3 year wait.

In the past, though the waiting list has never closed, DCHA has “purged” it–removing individuals who did not, or could not, update their information in a timely manner. DCHA has told our staff that another such purge will follow the closure of the waiting list.

All this change comes at a time when DCHA is fighting for sustained city funding while keeping its fingers crossed that established federal funding is not further cut in the face of national austerity measures.

Because the wait is so long, the list’s closure at the end of this year is mostly symbolic: affordable housing–on paper, a service that the city government aspires to provide for District residents–is no longer an attainable option. Meanwhile, in the last decade, half of the affordable units on the private market have disappeared, making DCHA’s public housing slots even more crucial. With the waiting list’s closure, it seems that we don’t truly have a commitment to public housing in this city. The District is fast becoming a place where low-income Washingtonians can’t afford to live.