RICHMOND, Va. -- The now former head of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) was supposed to address city council members Monday afternoon but with his resignation, that did not happen.
On Sunday, RRHA Executive Director T.K. Somanath submitted his resignation, effective immediately.
With a transition underway, the agency is working to find an interim replacement for Somanath, and plan to announce it Tuesday.
The search for a new permanent CEO is also underway.
Monday also marked the first day of repairs to heating units to 12 apartment buildings in Richmond’s Creighton Court public housing neighborhood.
Because the original heating system was so damaged, the RRHA says baseboard heating will now be installed more than 50 units without heat.
The RRHA expects to have heat fully restored in all 12 buildings by no later than February 28, 2018.
In the meantime, city council, who appoints the board that oversees the RRHA, says there needs to be better transparency and communication going forward.
“Whether he stayed or left there are still some serious issues, one of transparency understanding what is transpiring with RRHA, how funds are being expended, how they are being utilized, how they service the needs of the families that live there,” said Councilman Mike Jones.
None of the council members directly commented on TK Somanath’s resignation.
But Councilman Parker Agelesto did say no one person can fix the problem and everyone agreed there will need to be a lot of collaboration moving forward to solve the issue of Richmond’s aging public housing.
Somanath recently sat down with the CBS 6 Problem Solver reporter Melissa Hipolit on Jan. 9 to answer questions following a rally where a crowd called for his removal over ongoing heating issues at Creighton Court.
The CBS 6 Problem Solvers first uncovered the heating issue when we interviewed a man who said he has not had heat at Creighton Court for six years.
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.
“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.