RICHMOND – In our story on the demolition and redevelopment of Creighton Court yesterday, we looked at the history of the public housing project, and how it came to be scheduled for demolition and redevelopment by Richmond’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA). But while those plans move forward, current residents are facing displacement and an uncertain future.
‘Transition Counselors’ Supposed to Help With Relocation
In the meantime, RRHA is providing residents with ‘transition counselors’ to help them decide which housing options they want to pursue.
As we mentioned in yesterday’s story, according to RRHA Resident Services Director Ralph Stuckey, only 51 families have met with these counselors so far. Meanwhile, 90 families from the public housing project have already moved to other housing options. That’s according to Angela Fountain, Director of Communications & Public Relations for the RRHA.
According to the RRHA’s application to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Phase One of the demolition of Creighton Court, counselors will conduct a needs assessment of each household. The needs assessment will gather information on each family’s housing requirements. It will also assess resident education, employment, day care needs, and transportation requirements.
RRHA says they’ll provide their tenants with 90 days notice before their relocation, according to their application. Some people don’t feel that’s enough time for residents to make a decision.
“That’s kind of messed up. [That’s not] enough time to really weigh their options on where they would like to go. A lot of people can’t just get up and move, because they’re in an unfortunate situation,” said Christopher Campbell.
Residents Look Towards the Future With Uncertainty
Campbell spent part of his childhood living in Creighton Court, and still has family in the neighborhood. He says RRHA has been keeping them in the dark about the relocation process.
“They haven’t told my family that they have to move just yet, but I think it’s definitely coming,” said Campbell.
Campbell’s family isn’t the only one unsure about the future. That’s in part because the timeline for Creighton Court’s demolition and redevelopment remains unclear to residents who haven’t attended meetings with RRHA.
According to the RRHA’s application to demolish Phase One of Creighton Court, once approved by the HUD, they planned to begin relocating residents 90 days later. Then, 120 days after they get approval from HUD, the RRHA’s plan was to complete the relocation of residents. Within 210 days, they wanted to enter a contract for the demolition. And, 270 days after they receive approval from the HUD, the RRHA was going to demolish the property.
Rehousing of Residents Already Underway
However, some residents say the group isn’t following their own timeline. It’s only been about seven weeks since they received an acceptance letter from HUD for the first phase of demolition. But, residents in the public housing project say RRHA has already relocated them.
“I was in Phase One of the move for the renovation, but I’m on 29th Street now,” said Jennifer Red.
Red is a former resident of Creighton Court. She spoke with Dogwood only about 40 days after HUD gave its approval of the demolition.
Red says RRHA gave her a choice between a voucher program or moving to another public housing project in Richmond. She chose the voucher, but says RRHA is temporarily relocating her while she waits for approval for the voucher.
A current resident of Creighton Court, Sherr Johnson, says she’s also hearing that RRHA is moving people into temporary housing. That’s not part of the RRHA’s application to HUD, however. It mentions nothing about temporary housing, or about a waiting period for accessing housing through vouchers.
“I don’t understand the two moves. The two moves to me doesn’t make sense at all. If we’re going to get a voucher, if we advocated to get a voucher, if we qualify for a voucher, why can’t we just get our voucher?” said Johnson.
Both Red and Johnson say they don’t know how long they’ll be in temporary housing before receiving their vouchers. That makes it hard to plan for their families futures, they say.
“The transition is a good idea, I’m all for the idea. I just think it needs to be well thought out and put together more,” Johnson said.
Relocating Residents This Year
By the fall, according to a fact sheet from RRHA, Phase One of the demolition of Creighton Court will begin. The fact sheet also confirms that the housing authority began relocating residents this spring. That process will continue into the summer, according to the fact sheet. The construction of the redevelopment will happen in 2022, and residents will move into new homes in Creighton in 2023.
That means that the residents of Creighton Court who elect to return to their homes will have to wait at least two years, if they can access those units at all.
Housing Options for Creighton Court Residents
To rehouse the residents of Creighton Court, the RRHA is offering them four options. First, they can choose to receive a tenant protection voucher from the housing authority.
According to HUD, tenant protection vouchers mitigate the loss of public housing units in a community. Through voucher programs, the housing authority leases a housing unit from a commercial landlord on behalf of an eligible family. It then makes subsidy payments to the family’s rent.
These vouchers may be reissued to families on PHA’s waiting list upon turnover. This means that once issued, they will not expire when the families utilizing them exit the housing assistance program. Instead, they can be reassigned to people on the RRHA’s waiting list for housing.
However, public housing vouchers don’t cover the entire cost of rent. Instead, they pay the owner of the property the difference between 30% of the family’s adjusted income and the payment standard set by the housing authority, or the gross rent for the unit, whichever is lower.
This year, according to the RRHA, the payment standard for a one bedroom apartment in Richmond is $1,020.
Residents who don’t want tenant protection vouchers can opt to participate in a project-based voucher instead. RRHA issues these vouchers to the owners of housing units, who agree to either rehabilitate or construct units specifically for house low-income tenants.
Project-based vouchers also pay the difference between 30% of a family’s income and the gross rent for the unit.
However, because they’re tied to a housing unit, a family who moves into a project-based unit with a voucher do not have any right to continued housing assistance once they move out. That’s according to the HUD.
Issues With Vouchers
One issue activists organizing against the demolition of Creighton Court have with these voucher programs is the different eligibility requirements. That means that while some people qualified for public housing at Creighton Court, they may not have the option of being issued a voucher.
“There are different eligibility requirements and people who live in housing may not be eligible to have a Section 8 voucher. Or qualify for Section 8 housing. In which case, their only option would be to be relocated to another public housing development,” said Steve Fischbach, litigation director for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
That relocation, however, would be temporary in Richmond. That’s because according to RRHA’s Five Year Agency Plan for 2020-2024, it’s ultimate goal is “encouraging the development of affordable, mixed-use, mixed-income housing particularly in consort with broader neighborhood revitalization and RRHA’s goal to transform its entire public housing portfolio into mixed-income communities.”
In addition to meeting new requirements related to a family’s income level, former residents of Creighton will have to be in “good standing” with the housing authority to access vouchers. According to a presentation by the RRHA to the residents of Creighton Court, “good standing” includes a tenant’s payment history, credit score, and criminal history.
Additionally, rents can go up as a result of resident relocation, according to the RRHA’s Five Year Agency Plan for 2020-2024. If their rent increases by more than 10% or $25, that increase will happen over three to five years.
The Loss of a Community
Activists and former residents also say the switch from public housing to voucher programs is about more than current residents of Creighton Court. It’s about the generations of low-income Richmonders who will no longer have a community to turn to.
“This Creighton Court community is not just about the residents of Creighton. It’s about providing public housing for everybody in the city…. It’s about providing low-income housing for the future generations to come. It’s about preserving Church Hill, and keeping, with intense gentrification, keeping a place where Black people can afford to come and stay,” said Esco Bowden, former resident and community activist. “It really frustrates me when the whole narrative is just around specifically the people there right now.”
RRHA officials, however, say the transition from public housing to “mixed-income” housing would be a good thing for residents.
“It is also important to note the tragic historical context of traditional public housing. This unfortunate, outdated model forced the country’s poorest residents, including those in Richmond, into dense communities without access to basic needs like education, transportation, jobs, and even reliable sources of decent food,” said Fountain. “More importantly, public housing perpetuated racial segregation and economic stagnation. These vibrant, mixed-income communities will help to rectify these past wrongs and be a wonderful place for families of any income, including many of those RRHA currently serves, to live, work, shop, and play.”
The Redeveloped Creighton Court or Other Public Housing
If residents don’t qualify for either of these voucher programs, the RRHA says they’ll be rehoused in either another public housing project in Richmond or at the redeveloped Creighton Court once its remodel is complete.
In July of last year, there were 3,998 families on the waiting list for public housing in the city. That’s according to the RRHA’s Annual Agency Draft Plan for 2020-2021. At that time, 581 elderly people were also on the waiting list for public housing in Richmond.
The RRHA’s plan for 2020-2021 also states that there were 790 families on the waiting list for their housing voucher program in July 2020.
While the RRHA says residents will receive priority on both waiting lists, that also means that families who have been waiting their turn will now have a longer wait to endure before accessing housing services.
Residents can also choose to be rehoused back in Creighton Court once its redevelopment is complete.
According to Fountain, last month the RRHA completed the rehousing of 90 Creighton Court families. 41 of those families moved to Armstrong Renaissance, a recently renovated former high school that the RRHA now uses for public housing. Six families went to Goodwyn at Union Hill, one went to New Clay House II, 21 went to the Apartments on Kingridge, 17 to Glenwood Ridge, and five to Alexander at 1090.
RRHA Commits to Public Housing in Creighton Court Redevelopment
We mentioned in our previous story on Creighton Court that the housing authority has never committed to reserving any of the units in the redevelopment to public housing recipients. Since the publication of that article, RRHA has informed us that they have made such a commitment. There are some conditions, however.
According to Fountain, in accordance with the bill of rights RRHA signed with the Creighton Court Tenant Council, “RRHA commits that upon completion of the redevelopment of Creighton Court, RRHA will continuously administer deeply subsidized rental housing assistance to at least the same number of low- and extremely low-income families as were assisted as of March 1, 2019.”
Returning to Creighton Court With Conditions
Unfortunately, these public housing units will only be available to low-income and extremely-low income Richmonders “subject to the availability of HUD funding.”
Also, RRHA’s application for approval of Phase Two of the demolition of Creighton Court to HUD states that only 296 of the development’s 503 units are currently occupied. That translates to only 58.85% occupancy. The housing authority says they haven’t evicted anyone from the housing project since October of 2019. However, right before this moratorium on evictions took effect, according to reporting by NBC12, RRHA filed 52 unlawful detainers, or notices of eviction, against residents of Creighton Court over a single month.
Basically, while RRHA does commit to restore some public housing in the redevelopment, the important question is how many will go up?
“The important thing is, how many low-income units will be rebuilt? Because if you build a thousand units, that’s irrelevant if those units are not below 30% AMI (average monthly income), are not affordable for those residents at Creighton,” said Bowden.
Additionally, RRHA’s fact sheet on the redevelopment does not make the same commitment. Instead, it more generally states that “RRHA is committed to providing the same number (2,855) of subsidized housing options for the current households in our portfolio. We will achieve this by increasing the number of units on the sites to offer other affordable and market rate houses to residents of Richmond. This will be achieved through greater use of tenant protection and project-based voucher options for families.”
Then there’s the question of when this would all happen. Currently, RRHA hasn’t gotten approval for Phase Two of Creighton Court’s demolition from HUD. Their application for the redevelopment of Creighton Court has not been considered yet by the department.
“The thing I think is most hypocritical is that, how do you have a plan for demolition but don’t have a plan for redevelopment?” Bowden said.
The Cost of Redevelopment vs. Rehabilitation
The RRHA does have ambitious site plans for the new design of Creighton Court.
That includes using the land to build a park with a tennis court, playground, and community garden. It’s something current residents asked for, Fountain said.
“RRHA took input from families and incorporated [that] into the redevelopment plans and design. Public housing families voiced that they want parks, walking trails, community gardens, and other amenities. It is important to have green space at the development,” Fountain said.
None of this will come cheap. The cost of redeveloping Creighton Court is actually more expensive than rehabilitating it. According to HUD’s acceptance letter for the RRHA’s application to do Phase One of the demolition of Creighton Court, the total cost of rehabilitation is $28,929,122. They estimated the cost of redevelopment to be $46,792,896.
That means that redeveloping Creighton Court is 38.18% more expensive than repairing it.
What Richmond’s Government Is Saying
None of Richmond’s City Council members responded to requests for interviews related to the demolition and redevelopment of Creighton Court.
Both of the RRHA’s applications for demolishing Creighton Court included a letter of support from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. One letter stated, “The city of Richmond supports the work of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) in achieving the city of Richmond’s vision of a city where all people can access quality housing choices through implementing RRHA’s ambitious strategic plan.”
According to a statement last month from Stoney to the Richmond Tenant’s Organization, he plans to continue working with RRHA to ensure HUD’s requirements for resident engagement are met.
“At this moment, this step in the process is not complete. I have asked that RRHA clearly communicate with residents to ensure everyone is aware of the process and next steps. Specifically, we are asking RRHA to work with the city to create a community engagement plan that addresses how, when, and where new residential units will be made available for returning Creighton Court residents,” said Stoney in the statement.
Issues With Engaging the Community
The RRHA has yet to release a community engagement plan.
However, the RRHA did form two resident-led organizations in the run-up to demolishing Creighton Court. These organizations are the Creighton Court Resident Council and the Richmond Tenants Organization (RTO). The RTO includes representatives of Creighton Court, Hillside Court, Mosby Court, Gilpin Court, and Fairfield Court. Both organizations meet monthly and released statements in support of Creighton Court’s redevelopment.
The RRHA also scheduled several meetings with Creighton Court residents. These meetings were to inform them of the housing authority’s demolition application and what would happen if it was approved by HUD.
However, activists say there still hasn’t been enough resident involvement in the planning process.
“It’s not simply a notice issue. Resident consultation in my mind implies that there is a process for soliciting tenant views and addressing and incorporating those views into a demolition application,” said Fischbach. “It’s not just a check off the box kind of thing.”
Creighton Court Isn’t Alone
Once the redevelopment of Creighton Court is complete, RRHA plans to move on to redeveloping Richmond’s largest public housing projects. These projects include Gilpin, Hillside, Fairfield, Whitcolm, and Mosby Courts.
In total, RRHA manages nearly 3,000 public housing units. Redeveloping the six largest projects within their authority will mean the displacement of thousands of low-income and extremely low-income people in Richmond.
According to their Five Year Agency Plan, RRHA also wants to eventually redevelop Afton Ave., Bainbridge, Fulton, Oscar E. Stovall Place, Randolph Apartments, Mosby South, Frederic Fay Towers, Melvin Fox Manor, 1611 4th Ave., 1920 Stonewall Place, 3900 Old Brook Circle, and 700 South Lombardy.
At the same time, Richmond isn’t unique in making this transition away from public housing.
“The US Department of Housing and Urban Development are moving from a public housing platform to a mixed-use, mixed-income platform to benefit low-income families. As a result, public housing authorities throughout the country are transitioning our current public housing platform to a mixed- use, mixed-income platform,” Fountain said.
Public Housing Nationally
She’s right, HUD has said it’s encouraging the transition from public housing to mixed-income housing. The department cites positive feedback from former public housing recipients as one of the compelling reasons for redevelopment. It also says these communities de-concentrate poverty in neighborhoods where poverty rates are generally highest.
However, HUD also notes in their own materials on mixed-income housing that “research shows that low-income residents who formerly lived in public housing have realized little or no economic or educational benefit from living in a new mixed-income setting.”
Through the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden is funding some of HUD’s resources for low-income and extremely low-income Americans. This funding, according to the department, will provide immediate and direct relief to people across the country whose housing is unstable.
Among other funding for emergency rental assistance, the Homeowner Assistance Fund, and assistance for programs supporting houseless people, the Act also includes funding for federal housing vouchers. Specifically, it allocates $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
What You Can Do
If you don’t want to see these public housing developments in Richmond replaced with mixed-income housing, do something about it! You can find contact information for your City Council representative here. To contact Mayor Stoney, you can email him at [email protected]