Ac­tivists: Re­move RRHA’s CEO

They blame in­ef­fec­tive man­age­ment for rise of vi­o­lence in pub­lic hous­ing


A group of com­mu­nity ac­tivists and hous­ing ad­vo­cates on Thurs­day called for the re­moval of the Rich­mond Re­de­vel­op­ment and Hous­ing Author­ity’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, T.K. So­manath, cit­ing what they char­ac­ter­ized as in­ef­fec­tive man­age­ment and lead­er­ship atop the his­tor­i­cally trou­bled agency in charge of the city’s pub­lic hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

The group, which called it­self “the coali­tion for bet­ter pub­lic hous­ing,” held a news con­fer­ence at the RRHA head­quar­ters on Cham­ber­layne Park­way in re­sponse to a me­dia brief­ing on crime in the city’s pub­lic hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties that Mayor Le­var Stoney called on Tues­day. At that ear­lier meet­ing, city em­ploy­ees at­tempted to bar com­mu­nity mem­bers, in­clud­ing sev­eral who spoke Thurs­day.

“In the in­ter­est of im­prov­ing the lives of the res­i­dents of pub­lic hous­ing, ... we are ask­ing the state and or fed­eral of­fices of HUD to re­move the cur­rent man­age­ment of RRHA,” said Arthur Bur­ton, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Kin­folk Com­mu­nity Em­pow­er­ment Cen­ter, who was not at City Hall Tues­day. “We are ask­ing the fed­eral and state of­fices to stop over­look­ing the con­tin­ued atroc­i­ties that are oc­cur­ring in pub­lic hous­ing.”

So­manath, who spoke at the mayor’s news con­fer­ence Tues­day, said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day he does not be­lieve his job is in jeop­ardy.

He feels he has the full sup­port of city of­fi­cials, and the hous­ing author­ity’s nine-mem­ber board. City Coun­cil ap­points its com­mis­sion­ers, who re­tain the power to hire and fire the author­ity’s CEO.

Robert J. Adams, a hous­ing con­sul­tant who serves as the board’s vice chair­man, said So­manath has the board’s sup­port, and it is com­mit­ted to work­ing with him to im­prove pub­lic hous­ing for its res­i­dents in spite of fed­eral fund­ing trend­ing down.

“The board, (So­manath), and staff are all com­mit­ted to a com­plete re­vi­tal­iza­tion of this hous­ing that is guided by the wishes of

the res­i­dents,” Adams said in an email.

Marilyn Olds, the lone RRHA ten­ant rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the board, said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day she didn’t have any con­cerns about So­manath’s lead­er­ship. She de­clined to com­ment fur­ther on the calls for his dis­missal.

The RRHA Board of Com­mis­sion­ers’ next meet­ing is Mon­day at 5:30 p.m.

RRHA­man­ages more than 4,000 pub­lic hous­ing units and some 11,000 res­i­dents in the city, the ma­jor­ity of whom are con­cen­trated in the city’s six, bar­rack-style hous­ing projects: Creighton, Fair­field, Gilpin, Hill­side, Mosby and Whit­comb courts.

“Pub­lic hous­ing has re­ally lived its life,” said So­manath, who was ap­pointed as di­rec­tor of the author­ity about two years ago— first on an in­terim ba­sis, later, though no one can ex­actly pin­point when, per­ma­nently.

Stoney of­fered a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment Tues­day, call­ing Rich­mond’s hous­ing model bro­ken fol­low­ing nine fa­tal shoot­ing in eight days ci­ty­wide. Three

peo­ple were found shot to death in a Gilpin Court apart­ment on Sun­day. Another man was killed a few blocks away within an hour.

Stoney, Po­lice Chief Al Durham and So­manath laid out short-term fixes for the vi­o­lence. Those in­cluded in­creased pa­trols, adding lights and cam­eras to the pub­lic hous­ing build­ings and in­sti­tut­ing a car de­cal pro­gram so man­age­ment could mon­i­tor who is on the hous­ing

author­ity’s prop­erty. So­manath also threat­ened evic­tion for res­i­dents in­volved in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, say­ing: “We know who you are” and “we’re com­ing af­ter you.”

A frustrated Durham called on res­i­dents to co­op­er­ate with po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing the crimes, but of­fered lit­tle re­as­sur­ance that his department could keep wit­nesses safe if they came for­ward, a point the ac­tivists seized on Thurs­day.

“Peo­ple should not have to be forced to choose be­tween re­port­ing crimes to the po­lice or them­selves be­ing vic­tim­ized or fear re­tal­i­a­tion,” said Lynetta Thomp­son, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the lo­cal NAACP branch.

Stoney also an­nounced a “hous­ing sum­mit” on Oct. 31 where rep­re­sen­ta­tives from var­i­ous hous­ing agen­cies and city lead­ers would work to de­velop a plan that in­cludes a ded­i­cated fund­ing source for

the re­de­vel­op­ment of pub­lic hous­ing, he said.

“The re­spect­ful re­de­vel­op­ment of pub­lic hous­ing is not the only topic of this sum­mit, but it will be the pri­or­ity,” Stoney said.

For­mer Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­vanced a plan to over­haul pub­lic hous­ing in the city, be­gin­ning with Creighton Court in the East End.

Lead­ers had hoped the Creighton project would win a $30 mil­lion fed- eral grant to jump­start con­struc­tion on a new mixed-in­come hous­ing com­mu­nity it had promised res­i­dents of the neigh­bor­hood.

Bur­ton and the other com­mu­nity ad­vo­cates out­side RRHA head­quar­ters Thurs­day, such as Lil­lie A. Estes, of ALO Com­mu­nity Strat­egy Con­sult­ing and a Gilpin res­i­dent, crit­i­cized such hous­ing strate­gies as the one of­fi­cials were push­ing in Creighton as “land-grab­bing,” say­ing it would lead to the fur­ther gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of his­tor­i­cally black neigh­bor­hoods.

The U.S. Department of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment passed over the Creighton project last Septem­ber. With­out the grant, RRHA is fac­ing a decade-long con­struc­tion, de­mo­li­tion and re­lo­ca­tion process, at least.

In the mean­time, Bur­ton and oth­ers are call­ing for greater state and fed­eral over­sight.

“In the ab­sence of any con­cern by po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship or man­age­ment in this city, we are ask­ing the state and fed­eral govern­ments to step in and save lives,” he said. “We are drown­ing here. We are dy­ing here.”


Lynetta Thomp­son, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the lo­cal NAACP branch, is among the com­mu­nity ac­tivists ask­ing for the re­moval of T.K. So­manath as CEO of the Rich­mond Re­de­vel­op­ment and Hous­ing Author­ity. Thomp­son spoke at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day out­side...

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