After three years as the head of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA), Randy Bickers has decided to step down. Like his predecessor, Noah Schwartz, Bickers is “worn out.”
“It has taken a toll on me and my health,” he said in an interview. “I knew this coming in, but I have a really difficult time at the end of the day disconnecting from what’s going on. We have 376 units of public housing, 800 individuals living with us, and I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about everything that is going on.”
“We have 376 units of public housing, 800 individuals living with us, and I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about everything that is going on,” said Bickers.
The Housing Authority has seen five different executive directors since 1999, a sign of the organization’s agitated history. Paul Chedda, who preceded Schwartz, was fired after less than a year in the position. Schwartz succeeded Chedda in 2005.
“This is the hardest job I’ve ever done,” Schwartz said during a 2008 exit interview. “I don’t feel like it’s beat me, I don’t feel that I am giving up on it, I don’t feel like I’m running away by any means, but I think it’s time for a new shot of energy, and maybe a subtle, different approach to the work.”
It’s also a big job, according to Hosea Mitchell, chair of the CRHA Board of Commissioners. Bickers oversaw the day-to-day operations of a $6.3 million agency, managed approximately 300 Section 8 housing vouchers and, ultimately, led the efforts to redevelop all the public housing sites, roughly 45 city acres.
However, under Bickers’ watch, the agency was removed from the “troubled” list administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) and stayed off it for three years.
“We have never been in as good shape with HUD as we are right now. Our properties never looked as good,” said Mitchell, who attributes the success to Bickers’ leadership.
“I think it’s not a stretch to suggest that Randy is probably the best executive director we have ever known,” he said.
Bickers, who formerly served as the agency’s deputy director, hopes his successor will know how to manage stress. “No one seems to last very long here, which is unfortunate, because it’s so important,” he said. “You have to be able to roll with a lot of different things, take a lot of criticism.”
In August 2010, the CRHA Board approved a $100 million redevelopment master plan. The oldest and largest of the city’s seven housing sites, Westhaven, was built in 1965 but never underwent any major renovations; other, newer sites also need updates. However, CRHA has struggled to secure funding.
“I always go back to the money,” said Bickers. “A way to do it, I think, is to hire an expert and let them run the show, but that costs [money], and you have to find a way to pay for that.”
Mitchell said CRHA might need a different organizational structure. “One person can’t do it,” he said. “And hopefully, in the next year or two, we will be able to figure out how to better govern that entity.”
Bickers has not set a firm date for his departure. However, he plans to move to Key West, Florida, and anticipates that he will step down around the winter holidays. He remains confident redevelopment will happen.
“It’s so big and it is, unfortunately, so expensive, but you’ve got to do it,” he said. “It’s the right thing for the city and it is certainly the right thing for the housing authority and for our residents.”
Bickers said his successor needs good operational and interpersonal skills, as well as some understanding of what redevelopment entails.
“We need to move very, very quickly to get a new executive director in the office,” he said. If the CRHA board doesn’t find a candidate by the end of the calendar year, it will begin looking locally for an interim director.