The new chairman for the board of Portsmouth's problem plagued public housing agency hopes to transform it. Davy Smith III believes the “projects” don't have to live up to the traditional negative stereotypes.
The Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The agency has struggled through a federal investigation, flooding and mold in apartments, the firing of an executive director and eventually the removal of the board of commissioners. That's where Davy Smith III comes in.
“They voted me in and we kind of went from there,” he told 13News Now.
Smith is no stranger to public service. He's the former chair of the Portsmouth Planning Commission.
“I knew I could do the job and be a leader,” he said.
He believes public housing must change.
“A lot of these places were created in the forties and fifties,” Smith described. “Now they've outdated themselves. We're in 2017.”
PRHA commissioners are volunteers, but Smith isn't just a Portsmouth citizen giving his time. Being the chairman of this particular board is personal.
“I'm back at the place where I started,” Smith explained. “I grew up in public housing and now I'm the chair of the board. It was a surreal moment for me.”
Smith nostalgically mapped out his childhood in the poverty and crime-ridden Jeffry Wilson homes. The first address he discussed is “118 Project Drive.”
“I've seen violence, domestic violence,” he remembered. “I've seen drug dealing. I've seen people on the corner drinking.”
He's seen it because he's lived it. Some of the memories forever etched in his mind are not the memories you'd expect from a typical childhood.
“Another group of guys came and they had masks on and they had guns,” he recalled. “My cousin was across the street yelling 'y'all run, run, they coming.' I go to peek around the dumpsters that we had in the community. I peek around the dumpster, guys with masks on with guns.”
Smith's brothers were not always on the straight and narrow. His mother was a drug addict.
“I watched her do drugs as a kid,” Smith lamented. “I seen her out there. I remember that stuff.”
We met Smith at Seaboard Square, where the Jeffry Wilson projects he grew up in used to stand. They were demolished about a decade ago.
The unusual path of Smith's life led him to the planning commission, which gave the order to tear down the decaying buildings. Our walk through the community caused Smith to reflect on his motivations for public service.
“I wanted more because what I was exposed to the crime, the dysfunction, I wanted more,” he said.
He credited football, some family members and people in the community for allowing him to change his life.
“The exposure for me to other things there's more than Jeffry Wilson, there's more than just Portsmouth,” Smith expressed. “That helped me. That helped broaden that dream that I can do it.”
He is hoping his footsteps put people living in PRHA communities on a new path. He wants them to learn a lesson from his life story.
“Let no one set limits on you,” he preached.
Smith added in the next five years he hopes to make changes to more PRHA communities, including Lincoln Park and Dale homes.