As if answering questions about public housing isn’t difficult enough. New Charlottesville City Councilor Satyendra Huja leaned over the table during interviews for two open positions on the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) and said, “I hope you don’t mind if I ask this question in Hindi.”
Former city councilor Kendra Hamilton might not be gone from local leadership. She’s applied for a spot on the city housing board.
He didn’t, of course, but CRHA faces challenges that may be akin to learning to speak another language. Steps to face those challenges, though, are already in the works.
Councilors interviewed seven candidates for the two positions for the CRHA Board of Commissioners. Board members are staring down a large looming question: What to do with the city’s aging stock of public housing?
The redevelopment of the housing stock and the master planning process that precedes it are CRHA’s biggest priorities, says Noah Schwartz, its executive director. Each candidate was asked five questions that pointed to the city’s and CRHA’s plans for redevelopment, such as each candidate’s general feelings about such a plan and the appropriate role of public housing residents in the process.
Candidates included former city councilor Kendra Hamilton, who was Council’s representative on the Board until her term expired last month (Mayor Dave Norris took over her position). Wade Tremblay, a city student housing developer and property manager, also interviewed. Tremblay cited his development and management of housing on Wertland Street, not far from the Westhaven public housing stock, as experience. He also was a strong advocate for demolishing Westhaven and redeveloping it as mixed-income housing.
Wade Tremblay’s term on the BAR recently came to an end, but he too has applied for the housing board, the only candidate to say outright that Westhaven should be torn down.
“Westhaven has got to be a top priority,” Tremblay told councilors. “It was flawed when it was built.”
Council was set to announce its appointments at the January 22 meeting, too late for press time.
CHRA already has a new person in place to provide support to residents. Jewel Mason started as CRHA’s Prevention Specialist on January 7. The position is new and will likely prove pivotal in dealing with residents’ concerns about the prospect of redevelopment.
“It gives us somebody who’s not in lease enforcement who is serving as a support for our residents,” says Noah Schwartz, CRHA’s executive director. The position is partially funded by a $20,000 grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.
Mason says that she is working on financial literacy workshops and developing relationships with residents.
“It’s a rough diamond,” she says about her job, “and I’m chipping away every day.”
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