Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Application for Housing Authority board

Charlottesville, Va. – Here is the application for a seat on the 7-member commission appointed by City Council to govern its real estate department, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority since 1954. The urban renewal, public housing agency is so weird and controversial that something as simple as the political hierarchy is in dispute. Is CRHA a local, state, or federal agency, independent or quasi-governmental?

Announcement to apply to the board. As of last night’s City Council meeting Oct. 21, the appointment has not been made. But the Human Rights Commission’s 11 members were appointed. WCHV’s Joe Thomas said on his radio show he applied for this commission and was told the appointments would be made in November.

Application for seat on CRHA commission due October 15, 2013
Blair Hawkins, healingcharlottesville@yahoo.com

(1) Qualifications. Honest and knowledgeable of Housing Authority and its history. 13 years writing, researching, reporting and publishing stories about the Housing Authority and City Council. Effective communicator with many letters to the editor and appearances on local talk radio. I’m the person who recorded the 2000 to 2013 history of urban renewal in Charlottesville as it unfolded.

(2) Experience. Former resident of three local public housing complexes. My family integrated Westhaven when I was in 5th grade. Moved away 6 months later because it was too dangerous. Kids were being attacked while playing in the front yard. While in high school, we moved to Garrett Square and South First Street apartments.

(3) Primary Goal. I will advocate the publication of the full housing archives consisting of 6,845 documents, 1,189 photographs, and 189 maps and blueprints. Account for what’s missing from the archives by cross-referencing courthouse deeds.

The City has been stonewalling since my first request to view the archives on March 25, 2004. City Council refused to release the archives officially on November 20, 2006. In February 2007 the assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney allowed me to view a notebook of 152 pages containing 287 images after claiming I already had access to the full archives in two previous meetings where a handful of photos were presented in isolation. That same month UVA historian Scot French and the Carter G. Woodson Institute promised to publish the full archives but only created a website about Vinegar Hill.

On July 1, 2009 CRHA Chair Jason Halbert indicated that lack of “time and energy” is the reason the CRHA won’t digitize and the blog won’t house the archives. At this point there has been at least one volunteer offering to do it for 5 years. Now it’s been 9 years that CRHA and City Council have blocked local history from being published. If appointed I will advocate that Council grant funding to hire an outside firm finally to digitize and publish this history in order for CRHA to build trust with the community and move forward.

(4) Secondary Goal. I will not support the so-called redevelopment of public housing, a.k.a. expansion of urban renewal. I will advocate abolition of the Housing Authority and its board. Nobody gets kicked out of their apartment.

(A) Immediate freeze on selling or buying any real estate until the complete archives are published.
(B) Return vacant land to its legal owners.
(C) Convert public housing apartments to condominiums owned by the current tenants free and clear.
(D) Property seized and already sold can’t be undone. But its history is preserved in the archives. Garrett Square / Friendship Court is a special case.

So I will vote no to violating civil rights, no to claiming public use when it’s private use, no to seize and sell property without first finding the owner guilty of a crime.

(5) Understand minority culture. For example, when someone says a civil right has been violated, I won’t refer to courts or experts to dismiss their complaint. How can you trust a court that ruled slavery is legal, separate is equal, to seize and sell without due process is Constitutional, and other crazy decisions? In contrast I will address the issue and question authority.

If I’m appointed, that will indicate City Council is ready to tell the whole truth and stop acting perplexed that no one trusts the urban renewal agency. It will indicate Council is ready to put the archive grievance to rest while building a body of knowledge to improve the Housing Authority. But CRHA commissioners should already know this history. None of them is calling for specific reforms. So it’s an irrational fear that knowledge of a bad thing will stop the bad thing. Only action can stop a bad policy.

But I don’t really expect to be appointed. How does it make sense to appoint someone to a board he opposes? Besides I work so much overtime I might not be able to give the position my full attention. This application is really a petition to City Council to preserve and publish the full CRHA archives. If appointed or not, I’ll still be talking about public housing and urban renewal. I’ve accepted that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

In light of this new RAD discussion from HUD, my secondary goal to abolish CRHA loses steam. Basically it looks like RAD will privatize public housing and CRHA will continue as the redevelopment arm and administer the Section 8 Housing voucher program. The big difference is that CRHA won’t have to maintain the 376 units. CRHA can order the property owner maintain standards or lose the voucher. Shortly after Piedmont Housing Alliance acquired Garrett Square and renamed it Friendship Court in 2002, the 150 units were renovated.

The best course of action right now is for the Public Housing Association of Residents to form into a nonprofit corporation owned by the residents. Buy the public housing using the future ownership as collateral now, or argue that City Council grant the public housing to the PHAR nonprofit. But since public housing has never been about empowering the poor, Council will find a million reasons to say no. A PHAR nonprofit opens up other opportunities if this idea fails.

Here’s the most recent example of my ability to research and communicate information. If appointed, these ideas will actually be discussed at official meetings by at least one commissioner.

RAD converts Public Housing to Section 8 Housing, Oct. 11, 2013
( https://www.facebook.com/blair.hawkins.31 )

Has this ever happened before? Yes, Garrett Square. The plan is to convert public housing to housing vouchers. Public housing would become owned by a private nonprofit like Piedmont Housing Alliance which owns Garrett Square. The voucher would be attached to the apartment, not tenant-based as it is now, but they want to turn over the units every 1 to 2 years and give you rental assistance elsewhere. Section 8 funding is stable and less controversial. RAD turns Public Housing into Section 8 Housing. Why not grant the public housing to a corporation consisting of the tenants and see if they can possibly do any worse than CRHA. Historically public housing was advertised as "displacement housing." If you could live for 20 years on Vinegar Hill or Oak Hill, why not public housing? At-risk people need stability and to stop moving around.

Deadline to apply for RAD is December 31. Next RAD meetings:
October 14, 2013 South First Street 5:30 p.m.
October 16, 2013 Crescent Halls 1:00 p.m.


Blair Hawkins, healingcharlottesville@yahoo.com
Application for seat on CRHA commission due October 15, 2013


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