Community News


Originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 61, printed February 17. Reproduced here in for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter 2020 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

For previous coverage, see this story.

By Phil Wilayto

At the same time that more than 100 homeless people are taking shelter in tents outside to the city’s cold weather shelter, less than two miles away the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is taking steps to demolish more than 500 public housing apartments.

On Jan. 15, the RRHA Board of Commissioners, without any discussion or public input, unanimously endorsed demolishing the Creighton Court public housing complex in Richmond’s East End. The board approved CEO Damon E. Duncan’s request to raze 192 of the 504 units.

According to the board’s resolution, Duncan can now ask for HUD approval to demolish the remaining 312 units, without needing another board vote.

“We’re talking about 500 units of affordable housing being demolished,” said Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center.

New construction is expected to start on the site in 2021 or 2022, but there are no guarantees that any of the current residents will be allowed or could afford to move to any new housing there.

Shorty after Duncan took over the housing authority last April, he halted leasing at Creighton. And by October, 52 families there were facing eviction, some for being as little as $50 behind in their rent. About one in four of the apartments are now vacant.

In response to pressure from legal aid organizations, concerned ministers and others in the city, RRHA announced there would be no more evictions until after Jan. 1. That deadline was then extended to the end of January, and then again until after May 1.

Central Virginia Legal Aid, the Legal Aid Justice Center and the Virginia Poverty Law Center have been working together on a special project to address evictions in the area. One result, Al-Qadaffi told the Defender, is an agreement with RRHA to work with tenants who are behind in their rent. Under the agreement, tenants, based on their income, would continue to pay their monthly rent, plus up to 10 percent of their monthly income to pay off what they owe.

“That would bring them into good standing in terms of applying for vouchers,” Al-Qadaffi said. If tenants have any questions, he said, they should contact Legal Aid, “… to see if they need to start the grievance process with the housing authority.”

Meanwhile, there are plans for workshops at all of the six major RRHA housing communities to teach tenants about their legal rights.

“We’ll be doing some ‘Know Your Rights’ forums at each of the sites,” said Daryl Hayott, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “We’ll be doing an outline of the repayment plan and what legal remedies tenants have.”

The forums will be held every week beginning in March, Hayott said.

“As far as the evictions go, [RRHA] seems to be coming to the table to try and make things right,” Hayott told the Defender. “But this is just a beginning. There’s a lot of work to do, and I’m optimistic we can get something.”

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