Roy Priest to retire as ARHA CEO

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Roy Priest to retire as ARHA CEO
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By Chris Teale (File photo)

The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority announced earlier this month that CEO Roy Priest will step down from his position at the end of this year. Priest led the organization for nine years.

The announcement caps a career of 50 years in housing and community economic development for Priest, who announced his departure in a letter to the ARHA board of commissioners that was made public May 6.

“I have guided ARHA through a period of transformation in every facet from organizational reform to repositioning the agency with [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], the city departments and agencies and the community stakeholder who have been significant partners in the provision of outstanding programs and services,” Priest wrote.

“But most of all I have laid the foundation to forge and implement a new relationship, built on mutual respect, with our residents.”

Priest did not respond to requests for additional comment. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, Priest received praise from city leaders, who said he had done many things during his time as CEO to help people in Alexandria.

“Mr. Priest’s dedication to serving low-income residents has elevated the living conditions of hundreds of households in Alexandria,” said City Manager Mark Jinks in a statement. “The redevelopment projects Mr. Priest has overseen over his nine-year tenure have also significantly improved ARHA’s financial viability. I wish him the best on his well-deserved
retirement.”

Carter Flemming, the longest-tenured of the nine ARHA commissioners, said in a statement that under Priest, the authority went from “Boarding up to building up,” redeveloping properties and improving its financial standpoint. Flemming said ARHA completed the redevelopment of 621 mixed-income units, created a pipeline of 530 units in redevelopment planning, planned and implemented more than 20 community-based programs for residents and improved properties’ quality.

She also praised him for generating $25 million in residential and commercial tax revenue from those 621 redeveloped units and securing the agency’s long-term financial stability. City Councilor John Chapman said ensuring ARHA’s finances were under control was one of Priest’s biggest achievements.

“He came in at the wave of mixed-use development into the affordable housing community, and so being able to stand up ARHA in a way that other communities that have housing authorities haven’t been able to is definitely one of his major achievements,” Chapman said. “You look at cities across the nation that have housing authorities, many of those housing authorities have gone under or are struggling in a very significant way or their own future
is in jeopardy. I know we don’t have that problem here in Alexandria.”

The authority was criticized by neighbors and some city councilors last year and in early 2016 as it attempted to gain approval for the redevelopment of the 15-unit Ramsey Homes on
North Patrick Street. Neighbors opposed the demolition of buildings that were originally built to house black defense workers in World War II, while some accused ARHA of neglecting to maintain the original units.

After several contentious hearings, a joint work plan was formed between ARHA and the city to promote greater cooperation between the two staffs and the work of the ARHA task force, of which Chapman is a member.

With that project underway, the authority also is making progress in soliciting requests for proposals to redevelop five of its properties across the city, with agreements having been issued to development partners.

“That’s a big part of his legacy: getting that process started,” said Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, another member of the ARHA task force. “We still have a long way to go on that, but he got it to where it is today, and that’s a serious list. We’re redeveloping a major portion of our city, and a gigantic portion of their housing stock, and he’s shepherded that process along and got it to a place where I think we’re poised to do some pretty impressive things.”

In its announcement of Priest’s departure, ARHA said a “Model Executive Transition” period will follow as the board of commissioners and Priest work together to select his successor. Officials said this process will be undertaken to help ARHA stay competitive in a volatile financial environment as less federal funding is made available.

Chapman said another of Priest’s achievements is the streamlining and professionalization of ARHA at the staff and board levels. The authority spent $4.8 million to purchase a centralized office building on Wythe Street by using leftover federal money that could not be spent on housing, while filling its board of commissioners with people who have deep backgrounds in housing.

“I think prior to him, ARHA had been a board that was somewhat made up of citizens who felt good about affordable housing,” Chapman said. “…[Y]ou [now] have less feel-good people about housing, and you have some people who have background and experience in community development, real estate and running housing. ARHA itself has become much more of a professional organization.”

Before arriving at ARHA, Priest served for seven years as the president and CEO of the National Congress for Community Economic Development, spent 17 years at HUD and
worked for the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency.

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