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Colleagues Remember Graham as Tireless Champion for V.I. Housing Initiatives

Former Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham, who died on Wednesday just two months after he retired, is being remembered by his colleagues as a passionate leader and stalwart advocate for the development of local communities.

VIHA Executive Director Robert Graham
Robert Graham

“It is with profound sorrow” that the V.I. Housing Finance Authority marks Graham’s passing, Dayna Clendinen, VIHFA interim executive director and chief disaster recovery officer, said in a statement Thursday. “Mr. Graham was an unwavering champion for the advancement of housing initiatives within our territory, leaving an indelible mark.”

Clendinen said Graham was a steadfast partner to her agency, playing “a pivotal role in advancing the development of local communities. His commitment, passion, and leadership have made a lasting impact, and he was a friend to many within our organization.”

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. on Thursday said Graham “was a towering figure in our community, dedicated to improving the lives of all Virgin Islanders through his unwavering commitment to providing safe, affordable housing.”

Throughout his tenure, Graham’s “visionary leadership and compassionate approach to service left an indelible mark on our islands. He worked tirelessly to ensure that every family had a place to call home, and his efforts have spearheaded the transformation of our housing communities that is currently underway,” said Bryan.

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett said Graham, who was appointed in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to lead the V.I. Housing Authority, left a legacy of transformational work, not just in the Virgin Islands but across states like New Jersey and Connecticut where he was known for leading successful turnarounds of housing authorities.

“Mr. Graham believed in changing the stigma of public housing and providing a mechanism to create transformative communities in public affordable housing spaces after our storms. He has left a roadmap for those in his agency and elsewhere on how to utilize setbacks as set-ups for great things!” said Plaskett.

Graham, who retired at the end of December, turned the V.I. Housing Authority from a failing entity that was placed under federal receivership in 2003 into an agency that had 10 ½ months of operating funds on hand and received top marks from auditors in 2020.

“We owe Robert Graham a big thank you for all the work he did in in bringing the Housing Authority back to the territory,” former Human Services commissioner Christopher Finch said in a recent interview. Crucial to that process was Graham’s ability and understanding of the need to follow federal guidelines, as well as his ability to work with others and form alliances that were successful “in replacing our worn-out and tired affordable housing with new up-to-date dwellings,” he said.

The Senate Committee on Housing, Transportation and Telecommunications was meeting Wednesday as news of Graham’s passing spread, prompting committee chairperson Sen. Marvin Blyden to call for a moment of silence.

“I worked closely with Robert Graham for 15 years, first as a Housing Manager in public housing communities, and then for the last 9 years as Chairman of the Committee on Housing,” Blyden said in a statement on Friday. “In that time, we often disagreed, but we were never in conflict in terms of our shared commitment to affordable housing and to improving the quality of life for all public housing community residents and all housing choice voucher recipients.

Graham “made a tremendous contribution as a turnaround agent who played a key role in bringing the Virgin Islands Housing Authority out from under federal receivership and in establishing the Authority on a sound financial footing. He leaves behind a legacy of service and dedication that should inspire us as we strive to continue the work of ensuring safe, decent and affordable housing for every Virgin Islander,” said Blyden.

“As we remember Robert, let us honor his memory by continuing his work with the same passion and dedication he exemplified,” said Bryan. “His contributions to our islands will never be forgotten, and he will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.”

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