Richmond City Council objects to potential mass evictions of public housing residents
Editor's note: This story has been updated with a response from the mayor's office
Five Richmond City Council members objected to the resumption of lease enforcements by the city’s housing authority during a meeting Monday night.
“I would just have deep, severe issues with the notion of that many families being displaced,” said Councilmember Michael Jones.
Jones was joined by Coucilmembers Kristin Larson, Ann-Frances Lambert, Katherine Jordan and Stephanie Lynch in expressing concern over the potential eviction of hundreds of public housing residents.
“I just know beyond the cost of the trauma and disruption, it's financially more expensive for the city to try and help our residents when they're unhoused versus when they are housed but behind on rent. So to the extent that we can keep people housed, I think that should always be our priority,” Jordan said.
According to the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, about 900 families are facing lease enforcements, though a total of 2,520 families living in their neighborhoods were at least 31 days behind on their rent. RRHA is only pursuing lease enforcements against families who owe more than $50, which could explain this inconsistency, but they did not respond to requests for clarification on this issue by deadline.
Last night, interim RRHA CEO Stacey Daniels-Fayson told City Council the authority oversees “over 3,700” households.” That means about two-thirds of public housing residents owe rent to the housing authority — and about 25% of those families are facing eviction.
Daniels-Fayson was unable to answer council members’ questions about how much the average family owes RRHA in late rental payments. However, during the meeting Daniels-Fayson said the highest amount owed by residents ranged between $500 and $1,000.
“On average, the largest balances owed will be, I would say, between $500 and $1000,” Daniels-Fayson said.
According to RRHA’s website, residents’ rent is determined by the highest result of the following calculations: 30% of a family’s monthly adjusted income, 10% of their monthly gross income, 80% of Richmond’s fair market rent value.
In Richmond, the fair market rent is currently $1,163 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to Virginia Housing. Because their rent is determined by the highest of these values, most residents end up paying 80% of the fair market value for their home. That means at a minimum, a two-bedroom apartment in Richmond’s public housing neighborhoods costs residents $930 a month. Even at the top end of Daniels-Fayson’s range, residents would owe only a single month’s rent plus $70.
Daniels-Fayson also responded to demands made by educators to halt evictions against families with school-age children during the meeting Monday. She told the council that she’s unable to make exceptions for these families because doing so would violate the Fair Housing Act.
“If we discriminate in that process, that goes against the fair housing laws,” Daniels-Fayson said.
However, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination specifically against families with children under 18 or individuals who are pregnant.
Council members said for children especially, special accommodations should be made.
“You have kids, children that are in there, that go to RPS, that go to city schools. And that's traumatic,” Jones said.
To avoid eviction, families living in public housing can either pay the balance they owe, set up a payment plan or apply for rental relief from the Virginia Rental Relief Program.
To qualify for this assistance, people must make less than 80% of the area’s median income and their finances or expenses must have been impacted by the pandemic.Contrary to Daniels-Fayson’s comments Monday, people must meet both of these criteria to qualify for assistance and not simply one or the other.
In Richmond, according to HUD, the median household income is $90,000. That means that families of four making less than $72,000 in Richmond can apply for this assistance if they’ve been financially impacted by COVID-19.
Daniels-Fayson told City Council that her office, in addition to the Office of Community Wealth Building and their ambassadors, has canvassed public housing neighborhoods to inform residents that their rent payments are overdue.
She told City Council that due to a recent rule change, landlords are now able to apply for relief on behalf of their residents, a process she says they’ve already started. However, according to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, landlords need tenant proof of income, such as pay stubs or bank statements, in order to apply for this relief. The department also says landlords need their tenants’ participation and cooperation to apply.
Last month, RRHA spokesperson Angela Fountain said there were 326 residents awaiting decisions regarding their rent relief applications. That still leaves about 574 families in Richmond who next month will be facing lease enforcements unless they pay off their balance or apply for relief.
For those who don't qualify for this assistance, they’ll soon receive a 30-day notice that court proceedings to enforce their lease will begin.
“The earliest possible day that RRHA could file an unlawful detainer for non-payment is early to mid-February,” Daniels-Fayson said.
Daniels-Fayson promised City Council that she would return to their next meeting with answers to their questions about the average amount owed by residents. That wasn’t good enough for Jones, however, who said the city should be treating this housing crisis with the utmost urgency.
“We get a nice handout, a nice presentation, which I appreciate. But I just feel there [should be] a greater sense of urgency to make sure that families aren't displaced,” Jones said. “I would like to hear from the administration as relates to this housing crisis. We're looking at over 1,000 people being displaced.”
Jim Nolan, a spokesperson for Mayor Levar Stoney's office, said the administration expects RRHA to work to keep public housing residents housed but did not commit to pushing for any policy changes.
“We have advocated for measures to keep public housing residents in their homes since before the pandemic began, and we will continue to do so. We don’t want anyone in our city without a roof over their head," Nolan said in an email. “We expect RRHA to engage on this issue compassionately, and will continue to work with RRHA and stakeholders to support residents who have difficulty paying rent and direct them to available resources that help them meet their obligations.”
RRHA did not respond to requests for a comment on this story by deadline.
To apply for rental relief, you can click this link or call 703-962-1884.