PHAR has submitted these written comments for Charlottesville City Council to consider as they discuss the City Manager’s review and recommendations of CRHA. Tonight (9/2) at 7:00 pm.
Dear City Council and City Manager Jones,
PHAR offers these comments for your consideration when evaluating the proposals made by City Manager Maurice Jones regarding the management and operations of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and housing Authority.
In late 2012 and early 2013, PHAR frequented City Council meetings asking for assistance in improving the response from CRHA to resident concerns and seeking greater accountability to and oversight from the City Council on matters pertaining to the CRHA. The CRHA in turn, requested that the City Manager review operations and management to assist them in improving operations, management, and resident relations. This process has been long, and started with some big and creative thinking. Mr. Jones presented two big ideas- a city takeover, or a series of MOUs that would seek to improve the functions of the housing authority. He came to you with recommendations in December 2013 and explained how these two ideas might come to be. While it has been a challenge for PHAR and residents to fully grasp the implications of the two scenarios, we all knew that major steps towards providing accountability to residents needed to be taken.
We are somewhat disappointed in the current recommendations in that they do not seek to make any major changes to the CRHA as compared to Mr. Jones’ initial 2013 report. We support the proposals now being made, but respectfully ask for even greater steps be taken to improve CRHA accountability to residents and the City Council.
We understand that financial considerations have led to the watering down of Mr. Jones’ original proposals. Without political support and leadership from City Council we must assume that the CRHA will likely not see any further major improvements regarding resident concerns and quality of life in public housing. We ask that you approve the expenditure of funds for the three positions currently being recommended and to consider that since these require a mild amount of funding from the Affordable Housing Fund, that the City Council can and should have some measurement of positive successes regarding self sufficiency, maintenance, and redevelopment efforts that respect the Residents Bill of Rights for Redevelopment and that pay attention to Charlottesville’s history regarding efforts towards redevelopment. The use of city funds may be the only way to hold the CRHA accountable to the city.
Unresponsive Housing Authority
To give some examples of long standing issues that have not been addressed by CRHA staff, despite city interaction, might be helpful in understanding the challenges faced. In late 2012 and early 2013 PHAR requested that CRHA negotiate a policy for improved use of the community centers, as allowed under HUD regulation 964 in 24 C.F.R. Since that time, and despite numerous requests from PHAR the CRHA has simply not committed to finalizing a policy. The latest request was completely ignored by CRHA Board and Staff and has put PHAR in the awkward position of filing an informal complaint with the Richmond field office. This issue has been a year and half in the making, and could have been finalized over a year ago.
Similarly, the CRHA passed a new trespassing policy in December 2012. At the time, all parties agreed that the current “barred list” needed to be revised and edited to meet the new standards, and remove names that were wrongly included on the list. This effort was to be completed in short order by both CRHA and the police. Coming up on two years now the list is still in disarray, to the point that the Charlottesville Police Department will not enforce the list due to inconsistencies. This has led to potential harm to the community and the presence of outsiders seeking to make trouble on housing authority property.
CRHA staff responsiveness to residents and to the CRHA board can be witnessed in full by reviewing the minutes for the last two meetings. Board packets were never issued, decisions made by the board were ignored regarding eviction policy draft changes, and negotiations over use of the community centers, both are long standing issues years in the queue. These issues,and many more, show some of the challenges faced by PHAR and the CRHA Board of Directors. The CRHA Board is now fully functioning, but as witnessed recently, even a functioning and capable board have challenges in holding the CRHA staff accountable.
Examples of Past City Involvement Failing to Provide Accountability
PHAR has a hard time picturing how the current recommendations will keep this behavior from continuing. Mr. Jones does propose better board training, but fails to offer an accountability piece, and assuming that City Council is not interested in providing financial support for board training there seems to be no mechanism for providing that layer of accountability. Mr. Jones does recommend frequent meetings with the City, CRHA, and PHAR to address key issues and resolve disputes. We welcome these frequent “internal team” meetings but must point out that PHAR tried to establish monthly meetings with Executive Director upon her coming to the CRHA and our efforts were rebuffed despite the encouragement of high ranking city officials. Other attempts at similar meetings have typically been called as a result of a crisis (such as PHAR opposing RAD and CRHA not giving adequate attention to residents in pursuing this major change to public housing). These recent meetings have failed to move things forward due mainly to a lack of commitment from CRHA towards working together. If we are to have team meetings, PHAR asks that these meetings provide concrete work plans for all parties and a way to hold all parties accountable to commitments made.
PHAR has trust in city staff and this is why we have consistently asked for greater involvement. We have witnessed, as have your staff, the inability or lack of desire from CRHA staff to work collaboratively with city staff and PHAR in the past. As redevelopment proceeds, we hope that the city will take all steps possible to ensure CRHA communication with the City and PHAR. A redevelopment coordinator could be one channel for ensuring this communication, but could become an exercise in futility if there is no accountability piece providing for resident engagement and CRHA collaboration. Using City funds towards this effort may be the only way to ensure accountability to a mutually agreed upon process, we ask that the City outline standards and measures to make sure this happens. PHAR respectfully asks that an MOU be drafted for the City, CRHA, and PHAR to codify a process that respects all parties’ involvement in decision making regarding redevelopment.
PHAR Supports Current Recommendations
PHAR supports the current recommendations, and would like to offer thoughts for your consideration.
Self-Sufficiency Specialist- PHAR also runs a self-sufficiency program through a ROSS grant from HUD. PHAR efforts have been hampered by lack of collaboration and coordination with CRHA staff despite requests for frequent contact and referrals. We assume that a City sponsored Self-Sufficiency program provides CRHA staff a way to further by-pass PHAR efforts in this matter. We ask that consideration be given to avoiding duplication of efforts, and towards collaboration with our ROSS program. We ask that serious consideration be given towards prevention coordination as that position has been eliminated by the CRHA. We also ask that City Council increase attention to providing more economic opportunities for all of Charlottesville’s low income people.
In concert with self-sufficiency efforts, we highly welcome the presence of the new Jobs Center on public housing sites, we are happy to collaborate on making this program work for all. New equipment, especially computers, may be needed on CRHA sites to ensure that this effort is meaningful.
Modernization/Maintenance Supervisor- we welcome this position to the CRHA, and have consistently asked for this position to be created. We ask that a measurement of improvements be provided to City Council to evaluate the effective expenditure of Council funds for this position.
Redevelopment Coordinator- it is unclear which body this position would be supervised by. We know that serious decisions about how to proceed with redevelopment will be made soon. We insist that the postion not be supervised directly by the CRHA as their efforts on redevelopment have excluded resident participation. We insist that regardless of which body the coordinator be supervised by that frequent reports be made by the coordinator to City Council. We also insist that a clear job description be established and that the coordinator has adequate knowledge of the history of Charlottesville’s public housing, past efforts towards redevelopment, current efforts towards redevelopment, and a clear understanding of PHAR and resident desires for collaboration towards positive and successful redevelopment of public housing. PHAR continues to insist that steps forward on redevelopment must begin with crafting a clear plan for relocation of residents during redevelopment.
Human Resources- we are happy to see the City provide much needed oversight of human resources for the CRHA. We ask that efforts towards Section 3 enforcement be redoubled and that outreach concerning Section 3 resume. We also ask for frequent reports to Council regarding Section 3 enforcement and meeting HUD mandated goals for resident employment. We are happy to see City provided training for CRHA staff and ask that immediate attention be given towards the training of current staff who have recently been subject to consolidation of duties. We ask that Human Resources coordinate with the newly established CRHA personnel committee.
Police Presence- PHAR advises that greater police presence be undertaken only with consent of the community and under clear guidelines established by residents. The bulk of comments we hear from residents are that police interactions with residents are negative. Lack of respect and assumption of guilt are consistent complaints PHAR hears from residents about police. While residents are concerned about safety in the neighborhoods, they are quick to point out that police interaction is seldom positive when they are around and that response on matters requiring immediate attention is slow. Simply stating that residents are asking for increased police presence is a misstatement of a much more nuanced concern that residents have. Further, we point to the barred list as being a critical issue that needs to be sorted out immediately. We ask for a meeting between the Chief of Police and PHAR before strategic planning is conducted by the police department. We request consistent meetings with police at resident services meetings and monthly reports to the CRHA Board as was the practice in the past.
Furthering City Involvement
We have a clear understanding that City Council will have limited opportunities to increase accountability from CRHA if funding is not attached to recommendations. CRHA thus far has proven that coordination with the city and actions on past recommendations have not occurred simply by request of PHAR or the City. With this in mind we ask for the City to continue to investigate ways to improve the CRHA’s functioning, to address the myriad needs of residents, and to provide appropriate funding to implement methods to improve the management and function of CRHA including revisiting a potential city takeover of CRHA or additional MOUs to improve management. We also ask that you consider the following:
- Funding for the reestablishment of the Prevention Coordinator position to reduce lease violations and evictions.
- Immediate investigation of CRHA hiring and dismissal practices including Section 3 implementation and potential equal opportunity violations that may result in litigation.
- A signed MOU between the City of Charlottesville, PHAR, and CRHA that outlines specifics regarding process for redevelopment and that ensures “meaningful and enforceable resident participation will guide all substantial decisions about redevelopment”.
- Joint work session between City Council and CRHA to address concerns and implement recommendations.
- Frequent reports from CRHA Director to Charlottesville City Council highlighting progress made towards improving management of CRHA and efforts towards redevelopment.
Finally, PHAR hopes that City Council will approve Mr. Jones’ recommendations with the assumption that this is merely a first step towards making improvements to the housing authority. Much work is still to be done and we hope that the City of Charlottesville will monitor progress and continue to assist in improving CRHA’s management, functions, and future.
Respectfully and on Behalf of PHAR’s Board of Directors,
Brandon Collins, Organizer