City housing czar offers mea culpa for blighted house
Dr. Freed G. “Mike” Etienne, who was just last week named as Richmond's deputy chief administrative officer in charge of housing, land use and community development, explained in a late Friday press release that he plans to restore the blighted house he co-owns at 3416 East Clay Street, in the Chimborazo Park area.
The press release from the city says that Etienne is working with the property's co-owner, Steven S. Morris, a local architect and builder, to renovate the house.
News of Etienne's connection to the blighted property was first reported by the Church Hill People's News, a neighborhood adovcacy blog, on June 7.
According to the news release, Etienne and Morris bought the property in 1996 for $27,000. (Today, the mayor's press secretary, Linwood Norman, said he's trying to clarify whether that was the actual purchase price since other property records suggest Etienne and Morris may have bought the house and land for as little as $9,500.)
Etienne says he he had planned to renovate the house as his primary residence, but then was offered a job in Roanoke. Hence, the renovation project never began.
With the house unoccupied and boarded up, Etienne and Morris attempted several times to sell it for the amount originally paid, but no one came forward to purchase the property. With Etienne returning to live in Richmond, renovation work began several weeks ago.
Norman says Etienne is moving into the Chimborazo Park area, which still struggles with problems of drug activity and crime, as something of an "urban pioneer."
"Really what he's doing is stepping up to the plate," Norman says.
The press release included a lengthy quote from Etienne signalling his intentions and taking responsibility for the property's deteriorated condition.
“I am looking forward to living in the Chimborazo area and contributing toward the further revitalization within this wonderful neighborhood,” said Etienne. “The house is being restored in accordance with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s historic preservation standards, and we are planning to move into our new home by December of this year.
“I regret any appearance of property blight or neglect while I lived away from Richmond, and I am apologetic for this,” he said. “Even though my intentions have been explained, there is still no excuse for not having been more diligent and this matter will be fully corrected.” —Jack Cooksey