RICHMOND, Va. – Officials with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority said that crews are working six days a week to fix heating issues at multiple public housing units.
“We have identified actually a total of 333 apartments where there is some loss of heating system in those particular units,” said Orlando Artze, who is serving as the interim CEO since Executive Director T.K. Somanath submitted his resignation a few days ago.
“A total of 78 of them actually are without heat and those are the ones that we are focusing on be able to get back online as soon as possible,” he said. “The remaining units -- we are doing an assessment of what it will take to make the necessary repairs.”
Fifty-four of the units completely without heat are in 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. Somanath later said that some officials knew of the problem a year ago but a lapse in communication kept senior management from being informed and prepared.
Artze said that the scope of the problems they face is big.
This work will be done over 30 days and they hope to be finished by Feb. 22.
Residents staying at a hotel have been granted an extension until the work is done.
RRHA head T.K. Somanath resigns
The board appointed Somanath, the former president of Richmond's Better Housing Coalition, to serve as interim CEO in January of 2015 while the agency conducted a nationwide search for a new leader after embattled CEO Adrienne Goolsby resigned.
“This Board recruited T.K. Somanath out of retirement to help the RRHA though a transition period," Adams said. "We are grateful for his service to the Authority during the past three years and notably his accomplishments in beginning the critical work of replacing RRHA’s aging public housing portfolio."
Adams said the board's Governance Committee is heading the search for Somanath's replacement.
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.
“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 previously 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.