Originally published in the Autumn 2019 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 60, printed October 28. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Autumn 2019 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
This story has an update.
By Phil Wilayto
The first of a developing tsunami of public housing evictions are now sweeping through Creighton Court, home to hundreds of low-income, mostly African-American families in Richmond’s East End.
In the 30 days prior to presstime, some 35- 40 households were evicted by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The main reason was their inability to pay the rent.
Many more evictions are expected.
RRHA is now in the beginning stages of tearing down all six of the major public housing communities it oversees and replacing them with “mixed-use” developments. Some residents will be able to move into new lowincome housing now under construction, but the newly hired RRHA president and CEO, Damon Duncan, has made it clear that returning to public housing will not be an option for everyone.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Duncan directed RRHA staff to stop leasing vacant apartments in Creighton shortly after becoming CEO in the spring, citing plans to eventually demolish the complex and redevelop the plot it stands on.”
That decision has resulted in an October occupancy rate of just 82 percent, compared to 95 percent or higher at the other public housing courts, according to the RTD.
So between not renting out vacant units and carrying out mass evictions, the total number of low-income housing units in the city is shrinking. At the same time, rents are rising: between 2012 and the end of 2018, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Richmond metro area went up from about $800 to just under $1,000, according to CoStar Realty Information, an industry research company.
And the evictions in RRHA housing are not an isolated phenomenon. According to a Princeton University Eviction Lab analysis published last year in The New York Times, Richmond has had the second highest eviction rate in the country. (Hampton and Newport News were also among the top five cities for evictions.)
In response, Richmond has set up a $450,000 Eviction Diversion Program, a public, private and non-profit partnership involving the city, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia and the city courts.
Duncan, however, initially refused to allow RRHA to participate, only relenting after media attention and an outcry by housing advocates.
Daryl Hayott, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, was one of the organizers of an all-day tenants rights workshop held Oct. 12 at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Richmond’s East End.
The VPLC is working in partnership with the Central Virginia Legal Aid and the Legal Aid Justice Center on a special project to address evictions in the area.
“We teach people about their rights as tenants, filing claims for tenant assertion, what to do when a place is not up to standards of habitability, some of the things the housing authority can or cannot do. It’s important to let people know that they have rights and that they can assert those rights.
“And you also have to understand that RRHA has the goal of tearing down all the public housing, as soon as possible,” Hayott said. “That’s why they’re giving people these vouchers that you can give to a private landlord.
“The problem, of course, is that in Virginia the landlord does not have to accept those vouchers, so if you give everyone vouchers and knock down the buildings, now you just have 4,000 families homeless and out on the street.
“So we want to make sure we do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen. It’s a very dire situation for these people. Winter is coming, and you’re going to have people out here with their kids, and they can lose their kids.
“For a lot of people, it doesn’t affect them unless it’s right in their face or it’s pounding on their door. But it will be pounding on their door. These people won’t go quietly or peacefully.”
Hayott said the information about tenant rights isn’t yet online, but that anyone can obtain it by emailing him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Categories: Community News