CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - From more than 50 housing units left vacant and uninhabitable to maintenance requests unanswered by the hundreds, Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s new executive director, John Sales' report to the Charlottesville City Council on Thursday outlined many revealing shortfalls that were present when he took the lead in August.
“We are fastly [sic] trying to address those items,” he said.
In the report, Sales outlines a number of what he calls troubling findings, which he has identified since he started the job two months ago. One of the most concerning discoveries was that 17% of units owned and operated by the authority sat empty. That figure is nearly six times the 3% vacancy rate at which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) begins to dock funding from public housing organizations.
“I believe (it was) 64 vacant units that was identifiable," Sales explained. "Then there were some that were vacant, but were unknown to be vacant.”
That number of vacancies was news to the City Council, as well.
“What council had not received word of was that there were so many other vacancies because the units were uninhabitable for whatever other smaller reason,” City Councilor Lloyd Snook explained.
Due to classification by HUD as a “troubled agency,” the city of Charlottesville is now under a moral obligation, though not a legal one, to guarantee the debts of the CRHA. The hiring of Sales as executive director came with the understanding that he would more frequently update council on the goings on at the authority.
At the update on Thursday, Sales concluded that the vacancy problem is directly related to a shortage of maintenance workers at the CRHA. The shortage is also the cause of a backlog of work orders that had reached the hundreds.
“Then, he began to come up with a plan for addressing them: more maintenance workers,” Snook explained. "Hopefully we can get back to where HUD is giving us full compensation for all of the units we’ve got.”
With more maintenance workers, that’s a problem that’s already turning around. Sales says the number of vacant units is now down to 34, not counting units at Crescent Hall, where renovations are ongoing. Five of those units are already in the process of being rented. The number of work orders is also now down to an average of 10 daily.
“We had a trash compactor backlog, and due to our staffing not being a challenge anymore, we were able to get that addressed within hours,” Sales recalled. "I received the email from a resident who stated: ‘This is the fastest we’ve ever had anything like this addressed.'”
Sales says that by the end of this year, the CRHA hopes to bring the vacancy number down to zero. Part of those efforts will be a new eviction diversion program.
“We’ll be able to bring in individuals that are in our public housing communities through a program where we’re going to work with them on budgeting and financing and give them opportunity to get on a payment plan,” Sales explained. “A payment plan that they can afford, so not a generic payment plan.”
As the authority continues the process of hiring more maintenance technicians, it is also exploring getting them some additional training through a partnership with the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.