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FRHA seeks to buy house in Isle of Wight

FRANKLIN

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Jan. 7 to authorize the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority to purchase properties in the county for use as public housing.

Specifically, the FRHA expressed interest in buying a single-family home located at 229 Council Road near International Paper’s Franklin mill.

While the FRHA’s charter established its area of operation as limited to the territorial boundary of the city of Franklin, the housing authority has allowed its housing choice voucher program recipients to lease Section 8 units located outside the jurisdictional boundaries of the city. Typically, Section 8 properties are privately owned units whose landlords have entered into multi-year rental assistance agreements with HUD or a local housing authority. The renting family then pays the difference between the market rent and the subsidy the landlord receives through the program.

As a cost-reduction measure several years ago, the county relinquished its Section 8 vouchers to the state, which were subsequently split between the FRHA for areas of the county south of Route 460 and the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority for areas north of the highway.

According to a Dec. 1, 2020, letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — addressed to the FRHA’s new interim executive director, Gwen Blue — HUD’s Richmond Public Housing Program Center “has determined that the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority will need authorization from the governing body of the locality” before it can acquire and operate any properties outside the city’s limits as FRHA-owned public housing.

According to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, the approval now on record authorizes the FRHA to purchase the Council Road house and others located in the same area served by its voucher program.

Blue said the housing authority is using replacement housing funds from HUD, which it received when the Suburban Gardens public housing complex in Franklin was demolished several years ago, to purchase the Council Road house and others in Franklin and Isle of Wight. Currently, it manages two single-family homes and 12 apartments on Bruce Street in the city through its Section 8 voucher program.

“The agency is now going back into public housing,” she said.

But Blue couldn’t say how many units the FRHA will seek to acquire in either locality. That, she said, will depend on what properties go on the market in the near future.

“We’re still in the red, but we’re definitely heading in the right direction, if we can get more of these properties,” said Drew Page, chairman of the FRHA’s Board of Commissioners.

In 2020, HUD gave the FRHA an “unsatisfactory” rating after federal inspectors noted a backlog of unresolved maintenance requests and overdue bills from third-party vendors. Later that year, the FRHA sold an apartment building known as Holland Trace to pay off some of this debt. Following a nearly two-year tax dispute with the city government, the FRHA then divested itself of all involvement with three formerly FRHA-owned low-income apartment complexes known as Berkley Court, Old Town Terrace and Pretlow Gardens.

“We’re exercising anything we can do to remove our debt and to increase our revenue,” Page said. “We trimmed our staff, and Ms. Blue is doing a good job.”