Housing Authority Board Seeks Council Leadership

WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

The Board of Commissioners for the Williamsburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority has asked City Council to take over leadership of the organization.

At its Aug. 23 meeting, the WRHA board members approved a request to terminate their terms of office and designate the City Council members to serve as commissioners for the Authority. In addition, the board requested the creation of a housing advisory committee to provide feedback.

In a letter written to Council on Friday morning, WRHA Chairman David Watson cited the reduced availability of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding as a reason for council to replace the commissioners. As HUD funding declines, the city might have to provide more help to ensure Williamsburg is still able to provide “safe, decent housing,” Watson said.

The commissioners have explored the idea of shifting away from the current structure for a year, consulting with not only the city, but with HUD and other partners. He anticipates council will review the request at its 8:30 a.m. retreat today, where the members will discuss goals and initiatives for inclusion in the 2013-14 Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes.

In his letter, Watson said WRHA must prepare for additional cuts to HUD funding, which has been reduced by a billion dollars in the past two fiscal years. “As a small housing authority with only five full-time employees and a FY12 budget of only $862,000, every dollar lost in HUD funding makes providing these public housing units more economically challenging,” he wrote.

The WRHA was created by the state legislature at the city’s request in October 1970 as a nonprofit public agency. Since then, it has been governed by a five-member Board of Commissioners appointed by City Council, which always names one of its own members to the board. Currently, Council member Judy Knudson serves on WRHA’s board.

WRHA is tasked with providing safe, decent and affordable shelter for “those of the greatest need,” according to its mission statement. This entails operation and maintenance of 104 public housing units, where rent is based on a tenant’s income. WRHA’s housing includes the Sylvia Brown Apartments on New Hope Road, the Katherine Circle Apartments on Dunning Street, the Mimosa Woods Apartments on Mimosa Drive and the age-restricted Blayton Building on Scotland Street.

WRHA has also redeveloped properties in Braxton Court and Strawberry Plains, and receives revenue from its commercial tenants in the Triangle Building on Armistead Avenue. Since 2007, the Triangle Building has provided more than $410,000 in revenue, but that’s not enough to meet the anticipated future funding needs of the Authority, Watson said. The building currently has one vacancy, most recently occupied by a restaurant called Bavarian Garden.

“The current Board has reached a point where it feels that, barring any changes on the federal or state level, the existing Authority operational model will no longer be sustainable without further reliance on City resources,” Watson wrote in the letter to Council. He went on to say “more integrated governance and operational structure” within the city government is needed to “ensure long-term viability.”

WRHA’s five employees already have a close working relationship with the city. They work in office space provided at no cost in the Municipal Building, and as federal funding has declined, the city has offered in-kind assistance with purchasing, payroll, accounts payable, information technology and landscaping.

WRHA’s capacity to redevelop property has also diminished. “Most land inside the city’s boundaries is developed or held in conservation easement,” Watson said, adding that WRHA last used a Community Development Block Grant at Braxton Court five years ago. “Even if budgets were flush, I don’t know what redevelopment we’d enter into.”

To complete the transition, City Council will have to approve an amendment to the local ordinance that established the Board of Commissioners, said Assistant City Manager Jodi Miller. Once that occurs, she said the city will then seek opportunities for greater efficiencies and, when the city is preparing its next budget, evaluate what funding needs exist. Because of its funding through HUD, WRHA’s fiscal year is aligned with the federal budget calendar, which is Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. The city’s budget year is July 1 to June 30.