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RRHA CEO understands concerns, says ousting him won’t solve problems

Posted at 7:23 PM, Jan 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-09 19:24:09-05

RICHMOND, Va. – The chief executive of Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, T.K. Somanath, sat down with the CBS 6 Problem Solver reporter Melissa Hipolit, to answer questions following a Monday night rally where the crowd called for his removal.

The circumstances around heating problems in multiple public housing units managed by the RRHA have only grown since CBS 6 first reported on the issue in Creighton Court. Now Somanath is saying that some officials knew of the problem a year ago but a lapse in communication kept senior management from being informed and prepared.

“Yes, there has been some lapses. I am the first one to admit we are not perfect,” Somanath said.

Somanath said RRHA site maintenance at Creighton learned roughly a year ago they would have to shut off the heat in four buildings, but senior management was not informed.
Then in October 2017, as temperatures turned colder, senior management learned those four buildings and three more had the heat turned off --with that number eventually growing to 12.

“Now we have put a system where field office really has to inform senior staff members so we can take immediate action,” Somanath said.

But McArthur Jefferies said he's been without heat for six years, and is often just given a space heater to help with frigid temperatures. 

Rusting pipes like this are why the heat was cut off, the RRHA CEO says

“Do you feel like you did your best with the October situation or could you have responded sooner?” Hipolit asked.

“I think if we can improve the communications between the maintenance folks at field level to central heating crews and senior staff, I think we can take immediate action,” Somanath replied.

Somanath showed us the old deteriorated pipes in the buildings that caused the need to shut off the heat. They’re rusted, leaking and he said their condition puts the ceilings at risk for collapse.

“For example, this is a pipe that goes to the radiator hot water pipe, and it’s almost 80-90 percent blocked so the radiators don’t get the circulation it needs to provide heat,” Somanath said.

He said the same thing happened in November in Gilpin Court and effected more than 300 units.

Somanath was blunt when he said there’s no way to guarantee it won’t happen again, due to the aging infrastructure. 

“Unless we change the piping systems in all these 3,000 some public housing units we are always going to have problems in the winter,” Somanath said.

Somanath said the capital needs facing RRHA far exceed what HUD provides, and while he understands activists and residents’ concerns, he said he doesn’t believe ousting him will fix the problem.

RRHA suggested that residents file work orders at 780-8700. After hours, residents should call 780-4100.

And, if you would like to donate to help the residents in RRHA properties, contact Richmond Opportunities Inc.