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City leaders react to critics after CBS 6 investigation

Posted at 6:45 PM, Jun 07, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-07 21:10:38-04

Editor's Note: This is part three of CBS 6 News Reporter Sandra Jones' investigation into possible changes for Richmond's public housing. Mayor Jones and his staff traveled to the city of Atlanta in December to see how that city transformed its public housing. [ Click here for part one of the investigation. Click here for part two of the investigation. ]

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - One of the things still on Richmond Mayor Dwight’s agenda is to transform the face of Richmond’s public housing.

Earlier this year, Jones talked about modernizing public housing during his State of the City address, citing Atlanta as a shining example of public housing changes.

In March, CBS 6 News' Sandra Jones traveled to Atlanta to see how the transformation went as part of an investigation.

Atlanta’s Public Housing Authority admitted to making mistakes along the way, but said people there are better off now. Still, critics said Atlanta’s housing plan was a failure.

Jones took their concerns to the people behind Richmond’s plan.

"First, we ought to have a plan before we start scaring the bejesus out of people about taking their homes away," said Richmond City Council's Marty Jewell. 

If you ask Jewell about anything to do with changing public housing, you're going to get an earful.

"We've got the largest housing population of Public housing between Baltimore and Atlanta on the East Coast, " said the 5th District councilman.

Jewell is sounding off on the mayor's vision to create Atlanta's housing model here in the River City.

"We've never put money into remodeling existing public housing that's made of concrete brick and steel that's only 60 years old,” said Jewell. “And you're telling me that it's approaching the end of it's useful life...Idiocy."

Jewell isn't  sure the Jones administration is ready to tackle the challenge after hearing about Atlanta's problems. And neither is one Gilpin court resident who wanted to remain anonymous.

"I got cousins living out here. I got sisters. I got brothers. I got friends that grew up out here. You know how it is with your neighborhood. You know where that neighborhood is," said the resident. 

Now Richmond's Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall is responding to critics. Last December, he travelled with Mayor Jones to Atlanta, and was there when that city's housing authority started the demolition process in 1995.

"I think we can learn from stumbles or mistakes that other people have made,” said Marshall. "It's not a one size fits all."

However, critics in Atlanta have said the housing authority failed its residents by not having a housing plan -- even lying to residents -- and not providing enough housing for everyone.

However, Marshall said that it will take a village to reform public housing. He said the mayor is working with Richmond's Housing Authority, its residents, city Council members and school and business leaders to make it work.

“A lot of what has to happen is training and support for families. Just in making life decisions and helping them see new things, they may not have known about, said Marshall. "You're more successful, the more you listen to what folks have to say and understand what they're saying and allow them to be part of the solution."

A solution that Gilpin resident Roy Williams can definitely see in the future.

"It will just give you the mind frame of, yeah, I need to get up and do something. Instead, of collecting something from the government,” said Williams. “It’s like a jungle. All of these reckless minded people running around like animals. If they this what we need for Richmond to get better. So, be it.”

In fact, Marshall said the mayor and his administration also traveled to Norfold and Chicago to look at their housing model. Both cities have demolished it’s public housing communities.

City council members have approved $5 million in next year’s budget to make improvements to Creighton and Whitcomb Courts.

There has been no word yet on when Richmond will start the process of tearing down its public housing units.

Mayor Dwight Jones released a statement to CBS 6 about Atlanta's public housing transformation -- and how it could impact Richmond's plans. [Click here for Mayor Jones' complete statement]

Stay with CBS 6 News for the latest updates and continuing coverage of this story.
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