Residents of the Rockingham Housing Authority have until Friday to declare their plans to seek office on the agency’s new resident advisory board.
Monday evening approximately 20 interested residents turned out to Falling Creek Park where they met with RHA Executive Director Angela McGill and Rockingham native and public housing advocate Dr. Samuel Little. Little will serve as an independent monitor in the February election.
“I’m going to be in there running for this,” Gore Drive resident Annie Locklear said following the hour-long meeting.
Locklear has attended a number of meetings of the RHA Board of Directors over the course of the last several months and voiced her concerns about beautification and public health hazards.
“I’d really just like to do more things for the community,” she continued. “I’d like to help other people get their yards looking nice. I already have flowers and everything in mine. I’m just talking about keeping the trees trimmed and getting the leaves up out of the yards and things like that. Something to help improve the appearance of the Rockingham Housing Authority.”
Locklear said she would also like to spearhead programs for elderly residents of public housing.
For Palisades Circle resident Jamie Gary, who plans to turn in her candidate application this week, it’s all about helping a neighbor, or a hundred neighbors.
“I want to help the neighborhood,” Gary said Monday evening. “I want to help my community get the building finished, jobs, activities for the senior citizens and what the people need and all that, because they need something different. I want to see new things developed for the senior citizens, for the children.
The panel is intended to give residents of public housing a voice in the decisions that are made in their communities, according to McGill. The group hopes to foster a sense of ownership and personal responsibility for the property.
“My vision for the Rockingham Housing Authority is a small agency doing big things,” McGill told those who gathered at the meeting. “There are some things that I see that already need to be done, like getting a program back at the (Falling Creek) gym, and getting some family services programs up and running, but for the most part I will need you to tell me what kind of programs you’d like to see in your community.”
Another goal she told residents she has set for the agency — overcoming stereotypes associated with those who depend on public housing.
“I grew up in public housing and now I work as an administrator of public housing, so I know it from both sides,” she continued. “As a resident, I dealt with the stereotypes, so I’m aware of them, and my goal is to strengthen the Rockingham Housing Authority as well as dispelling those stereotypes.”
After speaking for approximately five minutes, McGill left the room so that residents could discuss the candidacy and voting guidelines to elect its own resident advisory board.
Prior to McGill’s hiring, there was some discussion during open session meetings of the RHA Board of Directors about appointing a resident to a non-voting position on that public body.
The idea was put forth by RHA Board Chairwoman Denise Sullivan, and gained the public endorsement of Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin as well as a meeting of the Rockingham City Council.
Both McLaurin and Sullivan have since voiced their personal support for the concept of a resident advisory board.
“I think it is an excellent idea, and I look forward to having a conversation with Ms. McGill and the RHA board members about the possibility of having this advisory board somehow serve the same mutual purpose we have,” McLaurin said in an earlier interview. “Ultimately, we want to have better communication between public housing residents, housing authority administration and city government.”
Next, Little, the founder and president of the non-profit National Alliance of Resident Services in Affordable and Assisted Housing, discusseed the logistics of the election process with those in attendance.
There are four public housing developments overseen by the Rockingham Housing Authority, each of these developments will elect a representative. In addition a fifth member would represent Section 8 residents.
The only requirements to vote or run for office in the election is that a resident be at least 18 years of age, have their name on the lease and be paid up on rent with the housing authority.
Little said he will serve as the independent monitor of the campaign and election periods, ensuring the agency’s administration does nothing to influence residents.
“I am here to ensure that the election takes place correctly, and that the residents of the Rockingham Housing Authority have a voice in the agency’s decision-making process,” he said from the front of the room. “It’s your right and your responsibility to ensure that you are taken seriously.”
Following the election, he said he would stay behind to train the members of the board in their tasks and responsibilities, as well as to teach them the basics of community advocacy. Monday, he sought to instill a sense of diplomacy and advocacy in the 20 or so residents who turned out.
“We’re going to assume that everyone in your community is interested in this, but some couldn’t be here because they are at work or they are incapacitated in some way,” Little said. “It is going to be your responsibility to tell your neighbors about this and share these documents.”
There are no stringent rules concerning campaigning procedures, and Little encouraged residents “to be creative in a way that lets people know that you are serious about representing your community.”
After Friday’s filing deadline, a 30-day campaign period will precede the February 12th vote.
“Without your participation, this system would be incomplete,” Little said. “It is going to be up to you to ensure that we listen to you and weigh pertinent pieces of information before decisions are made.”
Residents who are interested in seeking an office on this panel may pick up the appropriate paperwork at the RHA’s main office on Armistead Street.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.