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Housing Czar's Dilapidated House Draws Ire

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An alert Church Hill resident recently discovered that Etienne owned the house and posted photos of it on the neighborhood Web site "Church Hill People's News."

Etienne says he's starting to renovate it as a residence for himself and his family.

City Chief Administrative Officer William Harrell recently appointed Etienne as Richmond's first deputy chief administrative officer in charge of housing, land use and community development.

Etienne's house at 3416 E. Clay St. is without question the shabbiest on the block. Most of the neighboring homes have fresh siding and neat white trim. Etienne's house appears to be in an advanced state of decay. The second-story porch in the rear has lost much of its railing and slumps at a precarious angle.

One neighbor posted a comment on the People's News site, www.chpn.net, saying the house has long suffered from "overgrown weeds, tons of cats living in the house and frequent squatters. Where has this guy been for 10 years??"

The renovation work Etienne described appears to be in progress. On Monday, a red Dumpster in the back yard was full of branches and debris, and some supports had been constructed for the porches. A black cat walked gingerly over the first-story porch and disappeared into the jungly yard.

Built in 1916, the house still retains some period details, such as white columns and a slate roof. The city appraises it at $77,800. The houses flanking it are assessed at $168,000 and $104,300.

Etienne, a former senior planner and housing authority manager in Richmond, bought the house with Steven S. Morris, a local architect and builder, in 1996. He'd planned to renovate the house and live there, according to a press release issued by the city last week. But when Etienne took a job in Roanoke, he left the house alone. He unsuccessfully tried to find a buyer for it, he says.

"I regret any appearance of property blight or neglect while I lived away from Richmond, and I am apologetic for this," Etienne said in the release. "Even though my intentions have been explained, there is still no excuse for not having been more diligent and this matter will be fully corrected." He says he plans to move in by December. S



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