James E. Clay, director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, resigned yesterday for "very, very personal reasons" and accepted a newly-created post as a strategic planner for the city.
Clay said his decision to step down did not stem from displeasure within the administration over his handling of the agency, nor was it related to a federal grand jury investigation of the District's Bates Street housing development -- a project that was begun by his predecessor, Robert L. Moore.
"You can't read anything into the resignation other than I just want to do something else," Clay said.
Curtis McClinton, deputy mayor for economic development, said yesterday that Clay did "a yeoman job" during a tough transition period, but acknowledged he has been dissatisfied with the agency's progress in fixing up public housing units and producing new single-family housing.
"The dissatisfaction is not targeted at Jim," he added.
A high ranking D.C. official said yesterday that Clay's family problems weighed heavily in his decision to resign. "Underlying it was personal reasons," the official said.
Clay was paid $63,700 a year as director of the department. It was not immediately clear whether he would retain that salary level as an economic development strategic planner.
Mayor Marion Barry, who announced Clay's resignation, said he plans to nominate Madeline M. Petty, Clay's deputy, as the new director of the agency. Petty will take over next week as acting director.
Barry also appointed Oscar C. Draper, a Chicago housing official, as administrator of the Property Management Administration, a unit responsible for overseeing the city's public housing projects.
That post has been vacant for months, at a time when the District's public housing program has come under sharp criticism from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for failing to collect back rent, evict nonpaying tenants, perform routine maintenance or restore nearly 1,400 vacant units.
"I am very serious about my commitment to improve the economic health and stability of the District of Columbia," Barry said. "And having James Clay focusing on some of the most complex and dynamic economic development projects in our city will help us to reach our goals more quickly and successfully."
Clay will head a new economic development strategic planning unit that will conduct research and advise McClinton on a number of key development issues. Those issues include the disposition of D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency's property -- particularly the Portal site -- and plans to convert the old Camp Sims military reservation in Southeast Washington to a major shopping center.
The department of housing for years has been a trouble spot for the Barry administration and has been sharply criticized by federal authorities and the D.C. auditor.
Last spring, the U.S. attorney's office launched a grand jury investigation of the Bates Street redevelopment project following a series of articles in The Washington Post documenting widespread waste and misuse of federal funds.
A 74-page audit by HUD's Inspector General that was released in September charged that the housing department had suffered "a breakdown in the internal control" over its 11,600 public housing units.
Robert Moore headed the city's housing programs throughout Barry's first term and stepped down from that post in November 1982 to become a private consultant.
Clay, who at one time served as Moore's deputy and later took a job as executive director of the Kansas City Housing Authority, returned to Washington in January 1983 to become director of the D.C. housing department.
D.C. City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairman of the Housing and Community Development Committee, said yesterday that Clay had been "stretched very thin" because of the demands of the job. As director, Clay was responsible for overseeing public housing, the RLA, community development block grant programs and neighborhood improvements, as well as supervising a large bureaucracy.
Petty joined the housing department in 1980 and has been deputy director since March 1982. She previously worked for the Hospital Service Plan of New Jersey and as training director for the City of Plainfield, N.J. She helped to establish the East of the River Health Center in Washington and worked as academic director for the Washington Public Affairs Center of the University of Southern California.
Draper, currently the Director of Management for the Chicago Housing Authority, will take charge of the D.C. public housing program Nov. 19. Draper, a native of Detroit, previously held management positions at the Wayne County Community College, the Wayne County Department of Social Services and the Detroit Housing Department.