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Creighton Court residents left in the cold

Jeremy Lazarus | 1/5/2018, 12:37 p.m.
Florence Washington knows how to deal with the bitter cold when she goes outdoors. On a walk to the store, ...
View of Creighton Court where some residents are struggling to keep warm in unheated apartments where radiator systems failed. The landlord, Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, is facing sharp criticism over its failure to move swiftly on repairs. Sandra Sellars/Richmond Free Press

Florence Washington knows how to deal with the bitter cold when she goes outdoors. On a walk to the store, she was bundled up with a hat, earmuffs, heavy coat and several layers of clothing.

The 55-year-old Richmonder only wishes that she didn’t have to bundle up the same way inside her apartment in the Creighton Court public housing community off Nine Mile Road.

“I’m not complaining,” she said. “It’s just that there is very little heat in my bedroom. I’ve lived here since 2012 and it has been the same every winter.”

She’s far from alone in coping with the cold inside Creighton Court apartments.

Two years after the Free Press first reported on problems with heat in the housing complex that Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority operates, little has changed.

Congressman A. Donald McEachin, who represents portions of Richmond, issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday accusing RRHA of leaving Creighton residents in freezing cold apartments during Christmas despite being aware months ago that the heating system would need repairs.

As it turns out, the same problems exist at other public housing complexes. Creighton Court has received the most attention because of residents’ willingness to speak out.

“I have received numerous accounts of the hardships that families are suffering in Gilpin, Mosby, Hillside, Whitcomb, and Creighton regarding heat issues,” Omar Al-Qadaffi, a community organizer, stated in an email to the Free Press on Wednesday.

He alleged that RRHA is denying “basic shelter needs, such as heat when it is 15 degrees outside.” He said that only adds a “greater physical and emotional impact on people already suffering.”

T.K. Somanath, chief executive officer of RRHA, was away from his office this week and could not be reached for comment.

At a special City Council meeting Wednesday, two members publicly called for Richmond Building Commissioner Douglas Murrow to take action to enforce state housing codes that require landlords to maintain heat.

Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, expressed disappointment that Mr. Murrow is failing to act to ensure RRHA is providing adequate heating for tenants.

Councilwoman Kim B. Gray, 2nd District, also told council members that RRHA is raising the fire risk by putting high wattage space heaters in apartments with old wiring. She said Mr. Murrow had no problem condemning private apartments on Chamberlayne Avenue two days before Thanksgiving following a news report about about the lack of hot water, but appears to have closed his eyes to the situation in public housing. “He not only has authority to act, he has an obligation to do so,” she said.

Mr. Murrow could not be reached for comment.

In recent testimony before City Council, Mr. Somanath previously acknowledged that his agency is struggling to maintain heat in its public housing communities. He focused on Creighton Court residents during his testimony in support of an additional $4.9 million for the first phase of a development project aimed at transforming Creighton Court into mixed-income housing.

He noted that the apartment community’s old pipes, radiators and boilers are falling apart, making it difficult for RRHA to keep the heat on. He blamed the problem on reductions in federal support for maintenance.