Richmond Housing Authority’s Practices Under Scrutiny, ‘That Is Not Transparency’
Richmond residents and some council members are raising concerns about more than $50 million in public housing revenue bonds that were fast-tracked without enough public input. At the October 14th meeting, Richmond City Council approved an expedited resolution to allocate up to $16 million in public housing revenue bonds to a private developer. This is the third time since September that Council bypassed regular procedure to quickly advance bond measures for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Fifth District City Councilmember Parker Agelasto expressed concern over RRHA’s lack of public notice and engagement.
“I don’t see where the public interest is being served,” Agelasto said. “City Council, by voting to expedite consideration, has not notified any member of the public of the paper — except to anybody that may be listening to my voice right now. That is not transparency.”
Agelasto also criticized RRHA’s method of advertising its public hearings for being inaccessible to those most-affected.
"We’re talking about bond issuances to support low-income residents … you could easily put this in the Richmond Free Press,” Agelasto said. “There’s nothing preventing you from putting your public notices in a paper that is free and accessible to people who want to be informed, but may not want to go and spend $1.50 to get a newspaper from the Richmond Times Dispatch."
During last month’s meeting, two other expedited bond resolutions were approved. However, the agency failed to provide an accurate summary of the public comments and concerns — until last night’s meeting.
“One gentleman spoke in opposition to those papers, and so I did a disservice to you and to him in not accurately summarizing that for you,” said Michael Graff, a partner at McGuireWoods and the housing agency’s bond counsel.
The public comments came from Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, during the agency’s September Board of Commissioners meeting. Al-Qadaffi’s concerns included the need for RRHA to focus on serving its very low-income residents — as opposed to individuals who make 50 percent or less of the area’s median income, or about $30,000 annually for an individual.
“The availability of affordable housing outside of public housing for the majority of RRHA’s tenants is less than it was last year,” wrote Al-Qadaffi in comments shared with VPM. “Rents are rising. Housing instability is rising. Now is not the time to be lessening commitment to RRHA residents.”
RRHA’s September Board meeting was controversial. The agency’s new Director of Public Safety Brian Swann guarded the doors, denying public housing residents and members of the public access.
At this week’s City Council meeting, 3rd District Councilmember Chris Hilbert echoed Al-Qadaffi’s concerns — and questioned if the proposed renovations would benefit current residents of public housing.
“That’s not necessarily your public housing audience here,’” Hilbert said. “We would love that for some mixed income properties, but that doesn’t seem to be the thrust of these two properties.”
The funds approved at this week’s meeting will be used to renovate a 125-unit rental community on Hospital Street, just blocks away from Gilpin Court. The Shockoe Hill I apartments will ultimately serve some current residents of the soon to be demolished Fay Towers.
RRHA has also been criticized for failing to update meetings on its website. Last Friday, the only meeting listed for this month was an October 14th Property Management & Assisted Housing Meeting. On Monday, the website showed three other meetings: an October 14th Real Estate and Community Development Committee Meeting, and the October 16th Board of Commissioners and Finance meetings. Wednesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting has also changed locations. It will take place at 5:30 pm at the Calhoun Center in Gilpin Court.