10 On Your Side demands answers from the Portsmouth Housing Authority

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side is demanding answers from the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority (PRHA).

On Monday, 10 On Your Side uncovered that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will do an on-site review of PRHA in December. Tuesday, WAVY went to the agency’s retreat and training session to get answers because there are some on city council who want to fire the entire seven PRHA commissioners.

10 On Your Side first found embattled PRHA Chairperson Flossie Bridgeford. She has repeatedly refused to return phone calls to WAVY and ignored messages left at her home. Vice Mayor Elizabeth Psimas says Bridgeford should be fired for creating turmoil at PRHA, failing to run an efficient agency and making critical errors that have led to a March HUD review and another one in December. When asked about Psimas’ comments, Bridgeford responded the same way she has several times before: she ignored them and refused to answer.

“They are taking the PRHA that we’re so proud of and flushing it down the toilet,” Psimas told us Monday.

Executive director of Portsmouth Housing Authority fired

Tuesday, WAVY’s Andy Fox read that quote back to Bridgeford. She ignored it, and continued getting donuts and coffee at the morning retreat on the Portsmouth campus of Tidewater Community College.

No comment from Bridgeford on the HUD letter either, which noted 28 areas of concern under her leadership. Andy Fox read some of them off, and Bridgeford said nothing. At one point, she received a text message and returned the text.

The retreat and training session is not supposed to be a closed meeting, but the WAVY crew was told to leave by PRHA Interim Executive Director Donnell Brown.

“Please close the door. Would you please close the door?” Brown said.

Andy Fox responded, “I think I should be able to stay in this meeting until your lawyer makes a decision.”

Brown said, “This is not a meeting. This is not a meeting.”

Fox replied, “I should be able to be in this training session, because this is an open meeting for a public authority.”

Councilman Bill Moody went into the meeting, but felt he was not welcomed and left.

Moody has taken the city to court over closed-door meetings and won. He had to remind Brown who he was.

“I am a city councilman… I should be able to come in.”

At one point, Brown said, “Not necessarily.” She then quickly changed the tone and invited Moody in.

Moody later told us, “She only did that because your camera was here… I think you should be able to go into the retreat.”

In the end, 10 On Your Side was allowed into the retreat because Donnell Brown’s attorney told her, as we had argued, it is a public meeting.

Moody said, “it is not transparency — closing the door to the public, when this should be an [open meeting] retreat.”

Lisa Wolfe, who is spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, answered some questions WAVY News sent her.

WAVY: What is it about PRHA that is troubling to HUD?

Wolfe: “We are all aware the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority has experienced some challenges of late. This visit will either restore people’s confidence in PRHA, or will identify actions that need to be taken.

WAVY: Why is this on-site review taking place on December 5?

Wolfe: “The scheduled visit is a review based on a risk assessment of all Public and Indian Housing Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and we determine where reviews will be conducted based on the risk (management, governance, finance, amount of funding, etc.) and the amount of time since we visited the PHA. Every Field Office (FO) determines on a quarterly basis what PHAs should have a review during that quarter, and annually, a number of those reviews are conducted by the DEC rather than the FO staff. However, the content and purpose of the review is same whether it is  conducted by the FO or the DEC.”

WAVY: Is HUD planning on taking over management of PRHA?

Wolfe: “No.”

WAVY: Will there be layoffs at PRHA because of the issues they are dealing with?

Wolfe: “No.”

WAVY: Are you all recommending the PRHA Authority Board be replaced?

Wolfe: “No.”