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Major Changes to Public Housing; Little Public Feedback

Housing at Creighton Court
RRHA's annual plan proposes demolition of the agencies housing stock. The plan mirrors the redevelopment currently underway at Creighton Court. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

At public hearings on Wednesday, advocates raised concerns about Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s lack of outreach to tenants in its annual planning process

The agency proposes the demolition of all existing public housing, and would give tenants subsidized housing vouchers that expire after four months. Public housing residents and advocates have long called for one-to-one replacement of units instead of vouchers. 

Candice Turner is a transition coach with Richmond Opportunities Inc., and works with RRHA residents. She voiced concerns that housing instability could come with redevelopment. 

“If someone does not find a property or somewhere to relocate, what happens to them? And I'm mentioning that because, as we know, there are more people than housing opportunity,” Turner said. 

RRHA is also asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for permission to make certain demolition decisions and changes to the plan without public review or oversight. It’s a practice  referred to as “substantial deviation.” 

Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, called the request  “an unnecessary undemocratic change,” that would hurt residents.“One or two high-level RRHA staff members could just come along and make a decision that impacts thousands of residents — and they wouldn't have to notify the resident advisory board, the board of commissioners or even HUD,” Al-Qadaffi said.  

RRHA also proposes changes to its Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy. One proposal would transition billing and waitlist notifications to a fully-virtual platform. This would go into effect on October 1.

Al-Qadaffi said this shift would significantly affect current RRHA residents — and the thousands of people who have spent years on its waiting list, some possibly houseless. 

“We can do both. In a crazy world where we really want to step up engagement, we could send out physical mail and we can also email people,” Al-Qadaffi said. “I think restricting it to only virtual is not really increasing access. It's changing it to be more subject to the consequences of inequitable education and inequitable access to technology that we already have.”

About a handful of public housing residents attended Wednesday’s virtual meetings, where agency officials presented certain elements of the plan. But only one participated in the comment portion of the session — to ask a question about how the agency will address public safety concerns at Gilpin Court.  

Al-Qadaffi said that while RRHA has made a better effort to inform residents of important dates than it had in the past, the lack of participation could be because the agency hasn’t sufficiently explained the scope of its plan. 

“I don’t feel as though residents have been really included in the drafting of the plan,” Al-Qadaffi said. “I also have an issue with the public hearing timeline. It doesn't allow enough time for feedback to be incorporated. It seems like this whole input thing is just being done to kind of hit the checkbox.”

RRHA residents and members of the public have until September 30 to provide feedback on the agency’s plan, before it’s submitted for federal approval. Comments can be emailed to [email protected], or mailed to 901 Chamberlayne Pkwy, Richmond, VA 23220.