Sunday, October 05, 2008

Another Urban Renewal Director Resigns

Noah Schwartz

Charlottesville, Va.—“The head of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority has resigned, making it the fourth time in 10 years that the authority will experience a change at the helm.
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, who is also chairman of the housing authority’s redevelopment committee, said site upkeep and work on redevelopment plans will continue—two areas where resident suspicion has manifested because of the lack of consistent leadership.

‘That work needs to continue regardless of who’s in the director’s seat,’ Norris said. “We can’t lose sight of the bigger picture, which is public housing needs to be transformed…The housing authority is in a much better place than three years ago’ (“City Housing director to leave Dec. 12” by Rachana Dixit, Oct. 4, 2008, The Daily Progress).

The outgoing executive director, Noah Schwartz took office July 25, 2005 a month after the Kelo v. New London, CT ruling by the US Supreme Court. The Housing Authority’s 7-member oversight committee approved his appointment unanimously.

Before that, Schwartz was executive director of Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA). A native of Connecticut, Schwartz came to Charlottesville in 2001 after working as director of the Middlesex County branch of the Community Renewal Team (“MACAA head ready to lead city housing” by John Yellig, Jun. 28, 2005, The Daily Progress).

Schwartz replaced Paul A. Chedda, who took office Aug. 21, 2004 and was dismissed by the board on May 11, 2005. “Chedda, a former real estate attorney and director of housing for the Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, N.Y., had a frequently contentious relationship with the authority’s board, outside organizations and his employees, several people familiar with the situation said…

[Chedda] had trouble accepting criticism or advice, according to one commissioner and another source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the dismissal had not yet been publicly announced (“Housing director dismissed: Chedda to depart after less than year” by John Yellig, May 12, 2005, The Daily Progress).

Then-councilor and board member Kendra Hamilton criticized Chedda for actions she had praised the previous year. Chedda followed up with a lengthy letter to Housing and Urban Development documenting malfeasance.

Chedda replaced assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney, who had been acting Housing Authority director since Del Harvey resigned abruptly May 2003, during Blair Hawkins’ House of Delegates campaign targeting the issue of eminent domain for redevelopment and public housing.

Small-Toney blocked access to the agency’s archives documenting a half-century of urban renewal. Then she lied about it. (1) First she said no access, the archives are out on loan to be digitized and preserved. (2) A year later she presented a dozen unidentified photos for Hawkins to photograph. (3) A month after that, she presented 8 photos of 6 houses on Ware Street, where Hawkins had grown up until fifth grade when his family integrated Westhaven.

(4) In late 2006, she said Hawkins had been granted access to the archives. (5) Subsequently, in Feb. 2007, she presented a notebook of 287 photos which Hawkins photographed. Some of those photos have been posted on this blog.

Director Del Harvey lasted from 1999 until May 2003. Earl B. Pullen lasted from 1989 until June 1998. And Gene Arrington was the agency’s best-known director, lasting through the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The Housing Authority is a real estate company created in 1954 by referendum. It’s a quasi-governmental agency, which means the agency refers you to the government and the government says the agency is separate and independent—with a history of eminent domain for private uses. Hence the agency required a referendum to override the Public Use requirement and suspend due process.

Currently the agency owns or funds a total of 666 housing units.

376 are public housing units. 290 are Section 8 housing vouchers, a program administered by the Housing Authority (290 figure from “Improving subsidized city housing a challenge” by Rachana Dixit, Sep. 15, 2008, The Daily Progress). 150 of the vouchers comprise Garrett Square / Friendship Court now pseudo-privately owned by the nonprofit Piedmont Housing Alliance but originally acquired by the Housing Authority as public housing. Friendship Court is the largest and most controversial of the city’s low-income housing projects.

The least controversial project is nearby Ridge Street approved in a 1967 referendum. From Ridge east to South First and south of Monticello Avenue is a subdivision of modest and detached homes owned by the occupants. This project comes closest to what people thought they were voting for.

“Asst city manager Small-Toney resigns, blocked access to public records”, May 23, 2007.

“Update on urban renewal archives: 287 more photos”, Feb. 12, 2007.

“First Baptist Church site of first Jefferson School”, Feb. 25, 2007.

Researcher Luanne Williams talked about the actual project. When ready, anyone should be able to search online the names and addresses, deeds and assessments, photos and maps. Williams said the collection comprised

1,189 visual media files
6,845 physical documents
189 maps and blueprints
6,199 files related to GIS mapping

for a total of 14,422

“Vinegar Hill resurrected online” by Carolyn Zelikow, Mar. 12, 2007, Issue 19.10, C-ville Weekly.

Vinegar Hill photos online at Historical Society

NEW! Audio podcast from UVA forum.Oct. 3, 2007.”Root Shock: The Impact of Urban Renewal on Health”. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD. Includes urban renewal supporter, former Mayor Maurice Cox, UVA professor of architecture. Cox speaks at length and gives false impression he condemns the practice of urban renewal.

“Columbia U. psychiatrist talks urban renewal at UVA”, Oct 9, 2007.

“New report on eminent domain and African-Americans: urban renewal display Feb 24”, Feb. 21, 2007. Comments on Eminent Domain & African Americans: What is the Price of the Commons? by Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD and Roanoke’s urban renewal.


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