When more than 50 Creighton Court residents were without heat during the early January cold snap, Arthur Burton and other local activists called for the resignation of Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s executive director, T.K. Somanath.
The authority announced Monday morning that Somanath has stepped down effective immediately, and Burton is quick to remind residents and advocates that now isn’t the time to be complacent.
“I was relieved because I really did not think that it was in anybody’s best interest for him to still be there if we went into City Council tonight,” Burton says. “We still do have some work that’s got to be done. People feel like it’s a big victory and then there’s some cautious optimism about how we go forward.”
Somanath resigned after less than three years in the position. He came out of retirement in early 2015 to head the organization, which has been under public scrutiny for years.
The RRHA is governed by a nine-member board of commissioners appointed by the Richmond City Council and the authority’s chairman, Bob Adams, says he expects to have “transitional leadership in place very soon.” For now, he says, his top priority is making “sure that services to residents are not affected by the transition.”
Sha’randa Taylor, a Creighton Court resident and mother of three, says she’s already feeling the effect of the transition. Taylor says she met with Somanath, other authority officials, and a maintenance person last Friday to address the mouse droppings that have been accumulating in her home since October.
“T.K. promised me on Friday that he would provide me with an emergency voucher to move us out of the place,” Taylor says. “Now he’s just up and quit, will I still get that voucher? Will it be passed on to someone else? I’m very alarmed now.”
Community organizer Omari Guevara says the director’s resignation is a step in the right direction, but Somanath can’t be blamed for what he describes as years of mismanagement.
“T.K. was more of a symbol of the city going in the direction of poverty deconcentration,” Guevara says. “I’ve talked to a lot of people at various levels, from tenants all the way up to commissioners and staff members, and everyone has stories about the person above them disenfranchising people.”
Moving forward, Guevara wants more compassion from the next executive director.
“I think that with T.K. gone, we need someone that has more of a focus on the actual people they are supposed to be helping out and serving,” he says. “Someone who understands that the nature of the relationship between the housing authority and the tenants is supposed to be one of partnership. The residents are supposed to have active involvement with the operations and everything.”
At press time, activists and residents planned to speak during the public comment segment of the Jan. 22 City Council meeting.