Beloved public housing advocate Richard Shackelford passed away in his Crescent Halls apartment on the morning of May 21, after a heart attack. He was 66 years old.
Shackelford—known as “Shack” to his friends—grew up in Charlottesville, on the corner of Fifth and Harris streets. For many years, he worked as a gym instructor for Charlottesville City Schools, and was heavily involved in his church, Mount Zion First African Baptist Church.
In 2014, he moved to Crescent Halls, a public housing complex for the eldery and disabled, with his wife, Sandy, after they lost their house.
For years, Crescent Halls residents protested against the 105-unit building’s poor maintenance, including broken air conditioners, sweltering heat, sewage flooding, broken-down elevators, and cockroaches. Plans to renovate the complex, as well as other public housing facilities, were made as early as 2010, but action had been notoriously slow.
Wanting to join the fight for change, Shackelford enrolled in the Public Housing Association of Residents’ six-month internship program, which trained him to be an advocate. After completing the internship in 2016, he went on to serve as vice president and president of the Crescent Halls Tenant Association, as well as vice chair of PHAR’s board of directors and a member of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority redevelopment committee.
While Shackelford advocated for public housing residents across the city, he was an especially strong champion for the redevelopment of Crescent Halls, says CRHA redevelopment coordinator (and former mayor) Dave Norris. Last January, CRHA finally approved a partnership with Riverbend Development and PHAR, along with two other developers, to completely renovate the more than 40-year-old building. Construction is set to begin this fall.
“He thought it was very unfair that people who had spent…and worked their whole lives in Charlottesville, in many cases, were having to live in such unfortunate conditions,” says Norris. “His advocacy for his neighbors was largely responsible for the fact that the city…and others have ultimately agreed to put about $19 million into renovating that building from top to bottom.”
Shackelford made sure his voice was not the only one heard, Norris points out. He helped to include more Crescent Halls residents in conversations about the building’s renovations, as well as other public housing issues.
“He really believed passionately that even if you were extremely low-income, you still deserved a voice and…a seat at the table,” says Norris.
Both inside and outside of meetings, Shackelford was friendly and encouraging, but “when he had something to say, he would be very firm about it,” says PHAR Lead Organizer Brandon Collins. “He’d been in Charlottesville his whole life and had a real perspective on things. He called [the city] out for not doing enough for poor folks, not giving people enough of a chance, [and] not using resources the right way to help people with homeownership…He was just really dumbfounded by the lack of help that poor people get.”
“He brought his personal experiences and family knowledge to the table with policy makers,” adds Legal Aid Justice Center Outreach Director Emily Dreyfus, who serves on PHAR’s advisory council. “He made a real difference in helping people understand some of the intentional wrongs that were inflicted on black people in Charlottesville over the decades.”
When not advocating for housing rights at meetings and community events, Shackelford could be seen helping his neighbors. He would often carry groceries for people and give out extra canned goods, says resident Alice Washington, who is now president of the tenant association.
“Not only did he love to cook—he could cook! He was always sharing food with people,” she says.
Shackelford ultimately touched many lives, and left a lasting legacy on our town. “He was a committed guy. He put in the work,” says Collins.
“All in all he was just a good person,” adds Washington. “We are going to miss him a lot.”