Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority CEO Damon E. Duncan submitted his resignation after less than a year on the job, the agency announced Friday.
Duncan shared his decision with the housing authority’s Board of Commissioners earlier this week. RRHA issued a statement on his departure shortly afterward, stating Duncan will step down “after a 60 to 90 day transition.”
In the statement, Duncan cited a desire to be closer to family in Georgia, a move that would also allow him to “pursue several new opportunities.”
“This [decision] was not made lightly,” Duncan said in the release. “However, I’ve worked to create a culture at RRHA where ‘family comes first,’ and in this instance I need to be true to my own message — I need to put my own family first.”
He could not be reached late Friday.
Sam Young, a commissioner on the board, credited Duncan with bolstering staff morale at the housing authority and improving its housing voucher program.
“He’s done more than any other CEO in my eight years on the board,” Young said. “Of course I’m disappointed to see him go.”
The announcement comes 11 months after Duncan arrived from Elgin, Ill., to take over the largest public housing authority in the state, which oversees about 4,000 public housing units that are home to some of the region’s poorest residents.
From the start, Duncan pledged to leave his mark by doing what his predecessors had promised, but failed, to accomplish: transform the communities into new mixed-income neighborhoods with modern housing for RRHA residents. Many are concentrated in six complexes, known informally as “the big six.”
Duncan set his sights on the largest and oldest one: Gilpin Court. He said the complex was ripe for demolition and redevelopment because of its proximity to downtown. That plan roiled tenant advocates. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rejected his bid for federal dollars to chart the overhaul.
Not long after taking over, Duncan ordered leasing to halt at Creighton Court, another public housing community eyed for redevelopment. A wave of evictions at the East End complex a few months later prompted suspicion that RRHA was kicking people out to expedite demolition plans. Duncan said that was not the case. At least a quarter of Creighton’s 504 units remain empty.
Under pressure from advocates and residents, Duncan agreed to freeze evictions across all RRHA properties last fall. He extended the freeze to May 1 to give families time to enter into repayment agreements with the agency.
In January, he sought board approval to back demolishing Creighton, but only after he had already submitted a formal application to HUD asking to move forward with the plans. He said at the time the demolition of the 504-unit complex was “a step along the way in the process” that had been publicly discussed for years. That application is still pending.
Earlier this month, the agency received a major federal grant to fund programming aimed at helping its residents achieve self-sufficiency. It was one of the largest HUD grants awarded in the country. That same week, Duncan took part in interviews for potential appointees to the Board of Commissioners — his boss. He said a council panel had invited him to participate and he did not view it as a conflict of interest.
In a statement, Duncan said the agency’s remaining leadership would build on his tenure. “In the past year, we have made great strides in our mission to provide quality housing and community revitalization and will continue moving forward on the progress we have made with as little disruption to our residents as possible.”
The board will begin a search for his replacement in a few weeks, the statement said.
Duncan made $200,000 annually.