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HHA provides housing for nearly 3,000

Nov. 20, 2013 @ 12:37 AM

HUNTINGTON -- When the Huntington WV Housing Authority opened in 1938, the agency had a whole host of public perception problems.

"It's funny, 75 years later, it's exactly the same," joked HHA Executive Director Bill Dotson at a small gathering to commemorate the agency's diamond anniversary Tuesday.

Dotson, who has headed up the HHA since 1985, had some fliers from the early 1940s that the agency had put out to address rumors about the Marcum Terrace, Northcott Court and Washington Square.

For instance, the fliers dispel talk about town that visitors weren't allowed at certain times, that the water and other utilities were turned off every night after 9 p.m., and that widows with children couldn't live in the public housing units.

Fast forward 75 years, and some of the housing units are still viewed with suspicion, though now it's a view that brands many of those who live in public housing as less worthy citizens.

David Plants, chairman of the HHA commission, said "we're always known as 'that low income place.'"

Plants told a story of a single mother who lived in an HHA unit so she could attend college and is now a very successful businesswoman. He said the woman has told him multiple times that, were it not for public housing, she wouldn't have been able to get where she is today.

"I'll bet there are hundreds of stories like that," Plants said. "This agency has affected thousands of people in 75 years."

Dotson, who has worked in public housing for about four decades, said he is still inspired every day because what the agency provides is needed.

The Huntington Housing Authority has close to 3,000 units across the city, and has 4,000 people on waiting lists for housing to become available.

"What keeps me going is walking down into my waiting room every day and seeing those hollow, vacant eyes of a person thinking 'What am I going to do? I've got no place to go,'" Dotson said. "Those are the kinds of things that make you want to help someone and make you try harder."

It's true that some of the properties are dilapidated, and since 2010 the agency has been trying to get the funding together to demolish Northcott Court and transfer residents to new housing units, while revitalizing some of the other units under its domain.

The HHA doesn't receive the federal funding it once did, but the need for housing is still there, Dotson said.

In the 1970s, money was primarily available for building senior citizen housing. Dotson said he would like to see more of a balance of housing for different age ranges, but knows that, with Huntington's demographics, more senior housing will be needed in the future.

"We have all kinds of people who are going to be getting to that age and realizing they didn't save enough or didn't do the right things to prepare, and they're going to need affordable housing," he said.

The housing authority was recognized Tuesday by proclamations from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, all read by representatives.

Huntington City Council member Joyce Clark read the letter from Williams, adding her own praise of Dotson's work.

"I've known Bill for 15 years or so now, and his passion is truly, truly with the housing authority and providing safe, affordable housing for those that need it," Clark said.

Dotson downplayed any individual praise.

"I could physically leave tomorrow and things would keep running because of the talent of our staff and the support of our community," Dotson said.

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