Monday, July 17, 2006

"An inconvenient truth": Report from Housing Authority: Update on archives, HUD request

Charlottesville, Va. – Monday’s City Council meeting began with announcements and recognitions.

Retiring city planner Ronald L. Higgins of Neighborhood Development Services was recognized for his service to the community.

On February 22, 2005, Higgins proposed to Council that the city violate Virginia law by donating 3 “surplus city lots” to the Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity (2 on Holmes Ave. and one of 5th Extd). Higgins acknowledged that the transfer was illegal, so he proposed that the Piedmont Housing Alliance act as the middle man.

On March 7, 2005, Council approved 4-1 the unlawful transfer of public assets to the religious organization. On July 1, 2005, Habitat was exempted from state law along with the YMCA, YWCA and Salvation Army. On June 5, 2006, Councilor Blake Caravati explained that the city could not donate anything to Abundant Life Ministries because it’s not one of the 4 religious groups exempted from state law.

Tonight Councilor Kendra Hamilton announced that she would announce the Housing Task Force recommendations at the end of the meeting. I had to leave before the conclusion of the meeting.

July is parks and recreation month. City pools will have extended hours during the current heat wave.

Councilor Kevin Lynch announced that both downtown parking garages would continue to accept merchant validation for parking. Previously, The Daily Progress had misreported that the Water Street garage would no longer accept validation. The Water St. parking lot will no longer accept validation. Parking rates have just gone up again.

Then followed public comment, which featured 15 speakers.

Naomi Roberts questioned Council’s integrity by asking them to show documentation as to what happened to the car decal money that was promised to fund the hiring of 5 new police officers. Councilor Lynch has said as early as his 2004 campaign at the NAACP forum that the money went into police overtime instead. Roberts also wondered about the $7 million for the city’s new CityLink computer system. She asked rhetorically, “when is it going to stop?” (Rhetorically because Council doesn’t usually respond to the public.)

At least 6 speakers addressed the concrete “tongue” or “thumb” endangering traffic flow at Cherry Avenue, Willard Drive, and Cleveland Avenue.

Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association president John Stankowski said the thumb was installed in August 2005. He recommended removal of the hazard and installation of stop signs or stop lights.

Bob Archer, trustee and deacon at the Cherry Avenue Christian Church at this intersection, said he’s been following this issue all along and has been unable to get a response from city government.

Johnny Parks, elder at the church, said the traffic tongue has hurt parking for weddings and funeral services. He said Teague and Hill & Wood funeral homes have sent letters to the city regarding this issue. The church is also the voting location for the Jefferson Park Avenue precinct.

Joe Mooney is on the board of directors for the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association and lives 2 blocks from the notorious tongue. After asking Council to forgive him for what he was about to say, and reminding Council members that he has supported them in the past, he declared the thumb to be an “astonishing example of bumbling bureaucracy.”

Mooney said the minister looked out his window one day and saw the construction and that was the first time anyone knew about the street modification. He further said no one in city government knows who ordered or designed the tongue.

Rhonda Misca of the Church of the Incarnation and Peter Loach asked Council to disregard federal immigration law and take a stand on “fairness and justice” for the growing hispanic population.

Several people spoke in favor of adopting a global warming policy and a large crowd of environmental extremists were in attendance at the meeting.

John Kershank, a representative of the Sierra Club and member of the Center for Peace and Justice, wants to make Charlottesville a “cool city.” He said 240 American cities have agreed to follow the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. Congress rejected under President Bill Clinton. Kershank has a 3-point plan: green vehicles, energy efficiency, and renewable energy solutions.

Sue Chase of the Peace and Justice Center submitted a 1,330 signature petition urging Council to adopt the “U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.”

The final speaker was Peter Kleeman, locally active on many different issues. He said a recent Planning Commission meeting could not be held because the Pavilion has commandeered the public right-of-way leading to City Hall. He complained that The Pavilion was also using the Free Speech Wall as a “free storage area.” After reading the 66-page agreement between the city and the Coran Capshaw-owned Pavilion, Kleeman said neither activity is permitted.

Then followed the consent agenda, where Council passes a list of legislative acts in a single vote.

Then Council unanimously approved a $49,850 appropriation to the JAUNT Sunday Service and Department of Social Services Child Care Program because of state budget shortfalls.

Report from Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority

Noah Schwartz, executive director since July 25, 2005, former director of Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACCA) and native of Connecticut, delivered his report while a slideshow of public housing sites played on.

Schwartz said the Housing Authority is a “quasi-governmental agency” overseen by a 7-member board of directors appointed by Council.

The agency has a $5.6 million annual budget: $4 million from HUD and $1 million from rent. The agency has 23 staff members and 3 offices: administrative office in basement of City Hall, rental office at Crescent Halls elderly high-rise, and a third office at the southern end of South First Street.

Schwartz asserted that the agency serves 1,781 community members, 300 families, through its Section 8 rent subsidy program and its 376 public housing units. To qualify, a household must earn less than 80% of Charlottesville’s median income and then pay 30% of that for rent if accepted in the program.

He said the agency screens applicants for criminal history and eligibility is reviewed each year. Section 8 landlords must sign a contract and agree to inspections. If a tenant moves, the housing voucher follows the tenant.

Schwartz listed some of the challenges the agency is facing.

HUD has designated Charlottesville’s agency as “troubled status” for the past 3 years because of the Section 8 program, not the public housing aspect. Under this status, CRHA is not eligible to apply for HUD grants for crime prevention programs or after school program. If CRHA is “troubled” for a fourth year, more serious consequences result.

Schwartz reported that 19 of the 23 staff members were hired in the last 18 months, including a “director of housing services.” The agency “educates” workers as to why they’re here along with technical job training. Customer service has had trouble, mainly in “how they perceive us.”

There are budgeting issues, high vacancy rates, “high rent receivables,” and the HUD grant is insufficient. There are new maintenance plans and a new organizational structure.

Schwartz reported security issues: inadequate lighting because of vandalism, so much so that Virginia Dominion Power has stopped repairing them. Residents now have an electronic slot key for entry into their apartments and a separate slot key for the main entrance.

An energy audit was conducted last fall. In the past 6 months, staffing has improved dramatically. $35,000 has been budgeted for “staff training.” The agency has little institutional memory because of turnover, which has stabilized. The agency was notified 3 weeks ago to expect $43,000 cut from HUD in the ’07 budget (1% cut).

Capital needs include repair of elevators, 25 new water systems at Westhaven, speed bumps, and general decay of infrastructure.

Schwartz said, 2-3 years from now, public housing will look entirely different.

Newly elected Councilor Julian Taliaferro commended the director for his emphasis on customer service. How do we get off the “troubled” list. Schwartz responded that a September review by HUD will likely remove the agency from that status.

Councilor Kevin Lynch asked how the agency was dealing with the budget/funding issue. Schwartz that the agency needs to look at new revenue streams and the agency “needs a new business model.”

Newly elected Councilor Dave Norris, former chairman of the oversight commission for this troubled agency, commended Schwartz for “righting the ship.” Norris said the city will have to come to the table with funding.

Mayor David Brown thanked the urban renewal director. Brown testified that he has seen improvement while coaching soccer for public housing youth. He said trust in the Housing Authority is growing.

Councilor Kendra Hamilton said “redevelopment” will eventually create the needed revenue streams. In her Housing Authority report of January 18, 2005, calling for more urban renewal, Hamilton praised the former executive director Paul A. Chedda. Less than 6 months later, Hamilton criticized Chedda for actions she had praised earlier.

Chedda took office August 21, 2004, and on May 11, 2005, was fired by the board of directors. Chedda followed up with a lengthy letter to HUD documenting CRHA practices and malfeasance.

It’s unclear whether Schwartz will fall out of favor as quickly. Schwartz is the city’s fourth urban renewal director in 8 years.

Del Harvey resigned in May 2003 during Blair Hawkins’ single-issue campaign for the Republican nomination to oppose Delegate Mitch Van Yahres based on his (and Council’s) eminent domain crimes against the African-American community of Charlottesville.

Earl B. Pullen’s contract was not renewed in June 1998.

Then followed Mayor David Brown’s “Climate Protection Agreement.” The Council voted unanimously to support the ideas contained in the 12-point document. The resolution has no legal weight and expresses only Council’s opinion. However, resolutions often precede legislation in the process of incrementalism.

Despite the speakers earlier and large crowd of environmentalists, some with hand-held signs, no one explained how global warming and man-made warming are the same thing. No one explained how the ending of the current ice age is not normal, or how man caused the 9,800 years of warming prior to the industrial revolution and age of fossil fuels, or the billion year warm period prior to the present 3 million year cycle of ice ages. However, Al Gore's propaganda film "An Inconvenient Truth" was mentioned.

I left before the final 2 agenda items: giving away $25,000 to COMPASS Homeless Day Shelter and exempting the property on Franklin Street from zoning laws.

Update on archives, HUD request

In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request I filed July 26, 2005, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development responded in a letter dated November 9, 2005. Holly K. Salamido responded that HUD policy is to destroy whichever archives are the most historic at the time of scheduled archive reduction.

“The records you requested are at least 34 years old and have since been destroyed in accordance with standard records retention schedules,” wrote Salamido.

I made the request because, at the time of urban renewal, federal law required HUD to photograph and document properties whose destruction HUD was financing. The clearance for the Garrett Street area was initially funded by a $3 million HUD grant approved June 30, 1970.

The initial request to view the Charlottesville archives was made locally on March 25, 2004.

“Acting CRHA director since last April and assistant city manager, Rochelle Small-Toney said the office has received more requests recently to view the archives, prinicpally from Uva students. She also said they have had a problem with shrinking archives” (Charlottesville Independent Media (, March 30, 2004).

Below are 18 photographs of properties seized by the city of Charlottesville through its Redevelopment and Housing Authority in the early 1970s as part of its ongoing urban renewal program.

Assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney allowed me to photograph these 8 prints in August 2005 and the 10 unidentified properties in June 2005.

In response to a follow-up on June 20, 2006, Small-Toney said she would check to see if the archives were scanned and ready to publish. Archive preservation was the original reason given two years ago to deny my request to view the archives.

509 Ware Street, seized Nov 9 1971 from Laura Dowell

509 Ware Street

522 Ware Street

522 Ware Street, basement

521 Ware Street, seized from Annie Moses

516 Ware Street

412 Ware Street

520 Ware Street

Below are 10 unidentified properties seized for urban renewal. Small-Toney allowed me to photograph these prints in June 2005. They were first published on June 22, 2005, in Charlottesville Independent Media. Joanne Gunter accompanied me and served as a witness.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

Photo 7

Photo 8

Photo 9

Photo 10

Vinegar Hill 1960 (Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at UVa.)

Charlottesville Assistant City Manager Elected to State Position: Gary O’Connell Also Appointed to State Board of Directors of VLGMA

CHARLOTTESVILLE – The City announced today that Charlottesville Assistant City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney was elected as Vice President of the Virginia Local Government Management Association (VLGMA). The VLGMA is run by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. The primary goal of the association is to strengthen the quality of local government through professional management. The association seeks to promote professional management in a variety of ways including training, networking, and resource sharing.


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