The $287,000 mistake that put 4,000 homes at risk, cost taxpayers

Posted at 1:21 PM, Nov 13, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-15 08:25:47-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Nearly 10,000 Richmond residents live in homes and apartments run by the Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority (RRHA). Under state housing law, the city agency is tasked with eliminating blight and developing affordable housing.

RRHA claims its units provide an “improved way of life” for the people who live there.

But CBS 6 investigative reporter Catie Beck uncovered information that caused some to question how the agency spends taxpayer money and if it makes decisions that actually “improve” its communities.

In March 2013, a RRHA maintenance worker left the doors to his work vehicle unlocked while visiting a family member. A metal box containing master keys to every RRHA housing unit was left inside the vehicle.

Someone stole the box of master keys, according to a March 27 police report.

The theft was reported to management, but the people living in RRHA units were never warned a thief had access to their homes.

Instead, in April RRHA posted signs that informed residents their locks would be changed. RRHA said the work was part of its “scheduled capital improvements” to provide safe housing.

The lock replacement project took several weeks to complete. Once the locks were changed, RRHA got the bill. The work cost RRHA $287,000.

“The locks shouldn’t have been the main issue, the locks were working fine until they lost the keys,” a resident said.

While investigating, Beck sent questions via email to RRHA CEO Andrienne Goolsby. She received no response. After a few days, Beck decided to wait outside RRHA offices to get answers to her questions.

What did Goolsby’s say about the agency’s decisions? What about complaints from some residents that the money spent on replacing the locks could have been better spent making other improvements?

Goolsby learned of the practice of carrying master keys sets only after the keys had been taken in March and reacted quickly to have the locks changed.

"Investment in the safety and well‐being of RRHA residents is a top priority and cannot be undermined or compromised by a price tag," the statement read. "Furthermore, the executive team immediately implemented a new policy requiring master keys to be held in a secure location with limited access."

CBS 6 extended the interview option to Goolsby even up until today and learned she and her chief of staff had headed to Texas for a conference.

We learned her chief of staff has plans to retire next month, but when we asked about the timing of her trip and retirement, we were told it was a personnel matter.