Community frustrated with Portsmouth Redevelopment Housing Authority

13News Now Jemie Lee has the story

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WVEC) -- Frustrations reaching a boiling point for many living in the Swanson Homes public housing complex. The Portsmouth Redevelopment Housing Authority says its response to the flooding at Swanson homes was immediate, but people in the community highly disagree.

Community activists did not back down in questioning the PRHA about the problems at Swanson Homes.

“I’m not going to stand here and defend or answer to questions about stuff that I can’t—I don’t know who you're talking about and what it is. I’m here to tell you what we are doing and what we have done,” PRHA Interim Executive Director Donnell Brown said in response to questions from activists.

Residents are angry about how long it took for PRHA to help displaced residents. But Brown maintains no time was wasted in getting people to safety.

“As we were making repairs we were finding other things that were wrong. So it wasn't quite as easily done as people think it should have been done, but there was an effort immediately to work on everything in the units to get them back up and running so that people would have hot water,” she said.

Brown says 27 units at the Lincoln Park public housing complex are now being cleaned and inspected for displaced Swanson residents to stay. She says PRHA is working with a number of agencies to help people get back on their feet.

Brown is pointing the finger at the construction of the new Martin Luther King freeway, which sits right next to Swanson homes. She says a berm and sandbags that were blocking the drains may be the reason why Swanson flooded so badly.

“I’m asking for the department of transportation, the city engineers, and some other engineers to come and meet with my board in December,” she said.

While PRHA maintains it has been doing everything it can to help, community leaders say not only was the response delayed, residents were put in hotels that had bed bugs.

“We’ve literally seen people's bodies who have been bit. We’re talking about a month now. A month tomorrow. It shouldn’t take that long. We're not in a third world country. This is the U.S. where people shouldn’t be living in the conditions that they're living in,” Angela Rheins said.

In response, Brown said people were immediately moved after PRHA found out there were issues at the hotels. Even still, activists aren’t convinced that PRHA is doing enough.

“She’s avoiding the questions and just trying to save face for PRHA, which is what she did. The things she said sound really good but that is not what the residents are saying in the community at all. Completely contrary to everything she said,” activist Rocky Hines said.

Eight-five homes were affected by the flood. Ninety-eight residents and 125 children were displaced. PRHA says it is planning a “Breakfast with Santa” event on December 10 for the kids of Swanson homes. It is asking the community to donate toys and electronics to hand out to the kids.


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