On bitterly cold mornings like this, most Americans are fortunate to have warm beds and functioning sources of heat for their homes. And while Oregon Hill homeowners have seen their property values climb to precipitous levels in the last two decades, residents here tend to be not as wealthy as those in some other places. For many of us, most of our personal financial value is tied up into our modest two story homes, with their warm beds and functioning sources of heat.
So it is very disturbing for us to read in the local newspapers and hear and watch on local radio and television about households that are lacking in functional sources of heat at this time of year. I am referring to news reports about the roughly 50 families living in Creighton Court apartments with broken heating systems. The owner of these apartments, the public Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), knew back in October of the failures (and that emergency clauses in Virginia housing code allows for quicker actions if needed). In comparison, when a boiler failed at City Hall, it did not go months with space heaters; a temporary system was installed in under a week.
Like many other locals, I contacted RRHA management and City Council members about this matter, demanding relief for these poor people. Our 5th District Councilperson Parker Agelasto quickly wrote back with a good, thoughtful response. In his conclusion he wrote,
I am sorry that this was not better anticipated and work scheduled more timely. What’s most telling about this situation is that the old infrastructure is failing and needs to be replaced soon. This is a matter of public health and safety. City Council is doing its best setting aside funding for public housing replacement. The issue with RRHA is that they fall under HUD rules and HUD has not provided sufficient maintenance funding. Currently, RRHA receives $750 per year per housing unit for maintenance. The HUD budget doesn’t look to get any better. This is why public/private partnerships appear to be the option to move forward with providing affordable housing.
Of course, I wrote back, thanking Agelasto for his response and asked what private entities are stepping forward to be possible partners. He replied with ideas about real estate developers and amending tax abatement programs in order to gain more affordable housing. Again, very good and thoughtful, but what about the immediacy of Creighton Court families going without proper heating systems at this time of year?
I am very happy to learn that a local hotel owner offered free rooms to affected families yesterday. Shamin Hotels, lead by CEO Neil Amin, generously donated rooms in their Richmond Airport Hotel. They also said they would help with meals if needed. It’s not a perfect solution and some residents may still be reluctant to temporarily leave their homes, but it is certainly a welcome offer for many cold people.
As a citizen and as a grassroots media outlet, I will continue to criticize undue corporate influence on our government and declare ‘corporate personhood’ an abomination, but that does not mean I cannot also celebrate and praise private sector members that step in when the public sector has so clearly failed. On that note, thank you Shamin Hotels. You are helping many Richmonders sleep better, and not just the ones from Creighton Court.