The new executive director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority started work Monday by getting to know some residents and attending his first meeting of the agency’s board of commissioners.
“I’m very humbled to have been selected and I look forward to having the opportunity to work with the residents and the greater community as we work for better days for public housing,” said Grant Duffield.
Duffield succeeds Constance Dunn, who left the position in December after four years to take a job in private real estate.
The CRHA manages 376 public housing units spread across the city and administers federal housing vouchers to assist low-income people with covering their rent.
The agency was created following a referendum in 1954 to eliminate areas considered blighted. The CRHA was to provide low-income housing for those displaced.
Redevelopment of the aging housing stock has been stalled following a string of leadership turnovers with six executive directors since the mid-1980s.
The new director comes from South Carolina, where he was deputy director of that state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission. Before that, Duffield was city manager of Tega Cay, South Carolina.
“We are very pleased to have him here,” said Julie Jones, chairwoman of the CRHA board.
A staffer with the Public Housing Association of Residents expressed hope that Duffield’s arrival represents a new start for the community.
“Past management of this housing authority has left things in a shambles,” said Brandon Collins. “During the interim period, things have continued to deteriorate.”
Collins said Duffield’s predecessor did not treat the community with respect, leading to a cloud of distrust between management and residents.
“Many lives have been impacted for the worse through life-changing events,” Collins said. “There’s a lot of messes to be cleaned up. We need some reconciliation and some healing.”
Other residents welcomed Duffield to the job but also complained of health issues caused by mold in some units and other examples of disrepair.
“Our building is deteriorating,” said Deborah Booker, president of the Crescent Halls residents’ association. “The smell on some floors is awful. Our residents also want to know why our rent goes up even when our incomes don’t.”
“I pray your guidance will get us back on track again,” said Richard Shackleford, a resident of Crescent Halls, which serves low-income seniors and disabled persons.
Shackleford called for the hiring of a new property manager for the building.
City Councilor Wes Bellamy called for a joint session between the CRHA board and the City Council this summer.
“Our housing developments to a certain extent are in many cases beyond repair, and we seriously need to begin the process and look at what redevelopment will look like for something that is adequate,” Bellamy said. “What our current residents live in is not something that I would want my enemy to live in.”
Bellamy said he believes the city needs to intervene somehow to assist public housing with redevelopment.
Not all commissioners are on board with the idea of the city taking a stronger role with the authority. Audrey Oliver said Duffield and the rest of the board should be given the opportunity to work first.
The CRHA adopted a master plan for redevelopment in 2010 produced by the firm Wallace Roberts & Todd, but little if any progress has been made. The director at the time of adoption left the CRHA in November 2011.
Collins said he hopes the new director will be a leader to ensure redevelopment takes place.
“Redevelopment is a reality and we very much want Mr. Duffield to have a lasting impact on the history of public housing,” Collins said.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted inspections of several CRHA sites but did not visit Westhaven or Crescent Halls.
“They are primarily looking at safety issues inside units and in common areas,” Jones said, adding that preliminary scores indicate the CRHA passed muster.