Two seats may be added to SRHA board

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Though ambiguity continues to surround the issue, it appears that the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority is closer than ever to meeting federal guidelines requiring the placement of a public housing resident on its board with voting rights.

Talks at the SRHA board meeting Tuesday lean toward not just one voting public housing resident, but a second representing the Section 8 community. This would expand the seven-member voting body to nine.

Suffolk City Council appoints commissioners to the board from each of the city’s seven boroughs; however, the housing authority opted not to have the resident-at-large post hand picked when it initiated the process in 1997 – minus voting rights.

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Absent clear direction from city council, the SRHA established an election process to place a resident on the board.

&uot;We were trying to be progressive and proactive,&uot; explained SRHA Executive Director Clarissa E. McAdoo during Tuesday’s meeting. &uot;We wanted to be ahead of the curb.&uot;

But while this earned the housing authority some brownie points with HUD, the agency is still not in full compliance. Current resident-at-large Commissioner Thelma Hinton has been pushing the issue with the board for several months, arguing that the Suffolk is not synchronized with agencies throughout Hampton Roads and the country.

In a prior interview, Hinton commented that minus voting rights, the board representation leaves public housing residents &uot;without a voice and proper representation. Under HUD guidelines, the resident commissioner is supposed to having voting rights.&uot;

Meanwhile, council must give its blessing to place the resident member in a voting capacity on the SRHA board, but these efforts have moved at a snail’s pace. Commissioners have also debated whether they’re ready for another voting member. As late as Tuesday, SRHA Board Chairman Mary V. Richardson questioned, &uot;Are we ready to give voting rights now?&uot; and even hinted that, &uot;We haven’t decided if we are going to keep a resident commissioner.&uot;

The majority of the commissioners was seemingly in accord that action is needed promptly, considering the tone of a letter from Suffolk City Manager Myles E. Standish to McAdoo, dated July 22. Standish noted that &uot;the matter can be placed on the council agenda for consideration.&uot;

Standish cited HUD requirements that public housing boards must &uot;contain at least one resident member with voting rights as soon as possible after the Oct. 1, 1999 effective date. This date has passed and therefore the SRHA is vulnerable to a finding of noncompliance by HUD,&uot; he wrote.

HUD regulation are unclear as to what sanctions would be imposed for failure to comply; however, the housing authority believes its score assigned by the regulatory agency would be adversely affected. SRHA legal counsel Howard W. Martin Jr. encouraged commissioners to &uot;strike while the iron is hot,&uot; on the issue – considering that the agency hasn’t gotten this far with council in five years.

Referencing a conversation with Councilman Leroy Bennett prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, Richardson said she was under the impression that council was taking itself out of the picture.

&uot;They’ve washed their hands of it,&uot; she said.

Bennett could not be reached for an interview Wednesday evening.

After several confusing exchanges throughout the meeting as to the real meaning of Standish’s letter, Commissioner Heliva Holland said she was &uot;lost,&uot; and it’s her understanding that the board needs to submit a name from the election process for placement on the council agenda.

Hinton is running solo in the Aug. 2nd election, the housing authority board agreed to move forward with an election for a Section 8 representative. Both names will be submitted to council in keeping with Standish’s request, the board concurred.