The new leader of the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority answered some tough questions about the agency, which is supposed to help some of Portsmouth's most vulnerable citizens.
With just about a month on the job, Ed Bland has already visited each of PRHA's communities and met with residents. He didn't want to say much about judging previous administrations or boards. After a recent history plagued with problems, we could not ignore the controversy in his first television interview since starting the job.
The answer to one question in our half hour interview with Bland sticks out. It could give residents living in some of the poorest communities in Portsmouth a good idea of what kind of leadership they can now expect.
We asked Bland if he would feel comfortable moving his family into one of these communities.
After pausing, Bland replied, “No, I would not and I truly understand that and that's why we're going to work very hard to change.”
The change is coming after a difficult period for PRHA. There was the federal investigation, which pointed out deficiencies in how the board and administration ran the authority. One criticism suggested the board had too much power. That episode led to the replacement of all commissioners.
We asked how Bland plans to strike a balance.
“They're not looking to do the day-to-day for the Housing Authority,” he answered. “They realized that's what they hired me for. But at the same time I’m going to be reaching out to the board to keep them informed of what’s going on.”
Many residents won't soon forget flooding from Hurricane Matthew that left folks in Swanson Homes without heat and hot water for weeks.
We wanted to know if another hurricane or storm were to hit, if Bland is confident that situation won’t happen again.
“We feel that if a hurricane were to come we would prepare ourselves,” he said. “We're going to be putting into place what I call an evacuation plan going forward in the future, so when hurricanes come or whatever, we have something in place that we can look at.”
That future will look different. The goal is to redevelop older communities, including places like the crumbling Lincoln Park. According to Bland, new homes mean residents feel better about themselves and their lives with PRHA.
“I'm hoping that when they really see that we really care, and we do, that they will also partner with the Portsmouth housing authority to make the communities better,” he concluded.
That won't come without some growing pains. Bland told 13News Now he's considering possible layoffs at the central office and moving around staff.
Right now, they are spending more on salaries in that office, than they are getting in fees coming in. There's a difference of about $400,000. With less money coming in, they can't afford the same number of positions. PRHA's new leader said the move will not affect services for residents.
“Just being fiscally responsible for what we're spending each and every day, that's the most important thing,” Bland added.