Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Dozens Protest Potential Sale of RRHA's 'Scattered-Site' Public Housing"

By: ROBERT ZULLO | Richmond Times-Dispatch Published: May 10, 2012 Updated: May 10, 2012 - 12:00 AM RICHMOND, Va. -- When Doreen Hill left Mosby Court for one of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority's "scattered site" homes more than 20 years ago, she felt she was taking a step forward. After five years in the East End housing project, she had finished a family self-sufficiency program, had a job with Interbake Foods and was moving into a new home on Kansas Avenue, near Maymont Park. Hill, 56, was among nearly 50 people, mostly elderly women, who showed up at a community meeting Wednesday night on the future of the authority's 121 scattered site homes, which the housing authority has contemplated selling. Hill and others who spoke at the meeting worried about having to go back to one of the city's housing projects if their homes are sold. "To me, that's moving backward," Hill said. "Before I did that, I'd leave RRHA altogether." New RRHA Chief Executive Officer Adrienne Goolsby, a former Chicago public official who has been on the job about two weeks, stressed to the crowd that no decision had been made regarding the homes. "I want to make sure that we create a plan that's holistic with the community and that this plan is not just dictated by RRHA," she after the meeting. She added that staff are evaluating all the homes, including the nearly half that are vacant. "This will not be a blanket-type approach," Goolsby told the crowd. "That's one thing I can guarantee." The initial plan to sell the homes dates to 2005, when the housing authority decided the scattered site properties had become too costly to operate and maintain. The authority began renovating homes to sell to residents or other low-income buyers, though only 11 had sold by this year, when the authority floated the idea of selling the homes "as is." That move prompted bitter opposition from residents. " 'As is' was never mentioned years ago about buying your house," said Charlene Harris, 65, who lives on Colorado Avenue. "I just retired. When am I even going to get money to buy my house as is, when it needs so many repairs that should have been done years ago?" Others at the meeting criticized the management of the housing authority for broken promises regarding purchasing their homes, letting houses deteriorate, shoddy workmanship, failing to respond to maintenance requests and intimidating residents. James Kevin Harris, Charlene Harris' son, told Goolsby she should start with housing authority staff. "They're scaring ladies into not complaining about things that's wrong with their houses because they might have been late on their rent and they got a fee they've got to pay," he said. "It's just really like fear-mongering. That's how I see it." At meetings, housing authority managers "speak to these people like they're children," Harris added. "They don't give them any respect," he said. "They don't know anything when you're trying to get an answer. And they need to be held accountable." Goolsby said she would follow up on complaints. "I need to meet with staff to get a better sense of how we operate," she said. Deborah Willis, 47, lives in the South Lombardy Street house her mother rented from 1974 until she died and wants to stay there. "Nobody's shooting, nobody's bothering me. All the neighbors are close," she said. "It's wonderful." Willis, who has cancer, lupus and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pays $198 a month in rent and is on a fixed income. "If I fall out, I know my neighbors are there," she said. "The neighborhood is beautiful. I just don't want to leave." City Councilman E. Martin Jewell, whose 5th District includes many of the properties, welcomed Goolsby to Richmond, saying at the meeting that she "seems to come with a bright, fresh spirit." Jewell said plans to sell the homes "in this god-awful way is total disregard for dignity and respect," and added that residents have been given mixed messages from the housing authority as to how and when they'd be able to purchase the homes. "The homes have been paid for ages ago," he said. "There are all sorts of alternatives we could consider." (804) 649-6911