RRHA gets it right with Steven Nesmith

9/8/2022, 6 p.m.
We look forward to seeing what Steven B. “Steve” Nesmith will do as the new chief executive officer of the ...

We look forward to seeing what Steven B. “Steve” Nesmith will do as the new chief executive officer of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

When he officially moves into the executive suite at RRHA on Monday, Oct. 3, he will bring impressive credentials and experiences in carrying out his responsibilities.

He obviously has the right stuff, and we agree he appears to be the right person to fill this important post.

He has known poverty and he has known prosperity. He has held high-ranking positions in two agencies of the federal government, including the overseer of RRHA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He has been a partner in corporate law firms and in financial institutions and seen the nuts and bolts of businesses seeking to grow and others that need help to stave off failure.

He has been an entrepreneur, running his own small consulting firm.

But with everything he has done, he seems never to have forgotten where he came from and what it took for him to navigate the road to success.

In his maiden press conference Tuesday in Richmond, Mr. Nesmith touted his two credentials that he regards as crucial: That he grew up in gang-and drug-infested public housing in Philadelphia, and that his family needed government welfare to meet basic needs.

Instead of trying to forget his past, he calls those experiences “a badge of honor.”

“But for those two experiences I would never have gotten through the challenges of life,” he said.

This is a honeymoon period. We do not know if the openness and transparency he is displaying now will persist. We hope so. But for the moment, he is a refreshing contrast with our chief of police, Gerald M. Smith, who spent weeks trying to defend his made-up story that two illegal residents presented a terrorist threat and has now been forced to repeatedly apologize for this foolishness that has damaged his credibility.

Mr. Nesmith understands that he still must prove himself both to the elected and administrative officials he will deal with and to the residents he will serve. His résumé and his achievements are evidence of what he has done in the past and that he will be judged on the results of his work with RRHA. After all, as the saying goes, past performance is not a guarantee of future success, though we are hopeful, in this case, that the opposite is true.

One way he plans to build trust, he said, is to shed the suit and tie that has been his regular uniform in the power halls he has occupied, and don a T-shirt bearing the RRHA logo as his new uniform.

We also admire him for saying that he could not do anything by himself and stressed the importance of working with a team and as a partner with others. He played college and pro basketball before becoming a lawyer and learned the importance of working with others toward a common goal. As he noted, Michael Jordan did not win multiple championship rings by himself.

Mr. Nesmith spoke of his twin goals. One is to end years of talk and speed up the work of redeveloping the public housing communities in Richmond.

To that end, he plans to stress redevelopment and push the use of financial tools that could attract substantial private investment.

His second goal is to ensure that redevelopment initiatives are not conducted in a vacuum but instead provide an uplift for residents.

He said creation of affordable housing and revamped communities must be accompanied by economic development. Job skills and workforce training for residents would be part and parcel any initiatives, along with job creation that would enable residents to become self-sufficient, he added.

He cited one of the most important reasons he was able to successfully leave the Abbotsford Homes in Philadelphia — support from people outside his family.

He said a volunteer family with Big Brothers Big Sisters “adopted” him and showed him fresh possibilities and he wants to ensure that residents here, particularly the youths, have the same kind of support and the opportunities that will make them successful as well.

He said in his recent visits to the main office in Gilpin Court he was able to observe some young people walking by. “Those kids were me” years earlier, he said, and he wants to ensure they have the same kind of support to achieve their dreams.

Many of the children he grew up with are already dead, strung out on drugs or behind bars, and his goal is to change that trajectory too often considered the norm.

“That is what will motivate me every day,” he said.

Welcome to Richmond, Mr. Nesmith. Our hope is that we will be celebrating RRHA’s decision to put you in charge a year from now and for many years to come.