Some families forced out of housing due to lack of heat

Published: Jan. 4, 2018 at 5:37 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 4, 2018 at 7:42 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Some of the 54 families surviving without reliable heat in Richmond's Creighton Court public housing community, will be moved to temporary housing on Thursday.

Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) Chief Executive Officer T.K. Somanath says that with the next couple days anticipated to be in the low 20s, more immediate action will be taken. The moves come in addition to the space heaters residents have already been given.

Nine buildings in the community are without heat, stemming from an issue with leaking iron pipes, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development representative. The aging system may require asbestos removal, so repairs are going to take longer than a quick-fix, according to officials.

RRHA is currently taking bids from qualified contractors to do the work. Bids are due Jan. 12, and the repairs are set to now be fixed within 10 days, instead of 30, as stated earlier in the week.

Multiple contractors will be working on the nine buildings to help speed up the process. When the work is completed, Richmond city officials will be conducting inspections to ensure all buildings are up to code.

On Wednesday, RRHA staff members visited each of the affected apartments to check that the space heaters were keeping the temperature between 66 and 72 degrees. Despite the checks, some residents still tell NBC12 they are dealing with below standard temperatures, and they are leaving stoves on to warm up their apartments.

Wayne White is heating his apartment by leaving the hot oven open and boiling water, to such an extent that NBC12's camera lenses were actually steaming up.

"After 6 o'clock in the evening, this house is cold," said White, despite his heating efforts.

White does use a space heater given to him by RRHA maintenance; however, he says it's not enough, especially with his three and seven-year-old grandsons staying at the home.

"My oven's burning… I don't have another choice," continued White.

Tischica Mabrey, a mother of four, told NBC12 she hasn't had heat in the lower level of her apartment in four months.

"It's brick cold down here," said Tischica. "The maintenance man dropped the heaters off, and all he basically said was, 'They told me to bring you the heaters. They don't know when they'll get to the heat and when they'll get it fixed.'"

Congressman Donald McEachin said in a statement that he believes RRHA representatives had known about the problems for months, potentially as early as May, leading into the winter.

"While the process to correct this intolerable living situation finally has begun, I remain extremely disappointed that RRHA did not act to ensure all residents would have heat before winter began. Representatives at RRHA have known about this impending problem for months, and now residents are being forced to suffer through these dangerously frigid conditions without a reliable heat source. The question must be asked, 'Why did RRHA wait until the winter time to address this condition?'" said McEachin in a statement.

In a statement, an RRHA official writes that the agency knew of the issues back in October and shut off the central heat supply to the nine buildings then to prevent the ceilings from collapsing. The ceilings had been absorbing water from the leaking pipes.

"Studies estimate that RRHA's aging public housing portfolio has over $150 million in identified capital needs and receives the equivalent of $750 per year, per unit, to address these needs. Needless to say, this sum is woefully insufficient and necessitates that RRHA deal with many serious problems in a reactive rather than proactive manner, doing its best to triage competing priorities," said RRHA's statement.

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