Public housing

Number of social housing families facing eviction rises as RRHA coordinates new awareness campaign | Richmond Local News

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is coordinating efforts to help social housing residents catch up on rent arrears and avoid evictions.

The number of families who are more than a month behind on rent is rising, officials told attendees of a pair of virtual community meetings hosted by the housing authority on Thursday. About 1,750 households are at least a month behind in rent, according to the figures, about 240 more than in early February and about 600 more than in mid-January.

“Our goal is, and always has been, to see no families evicted from our public housing communities,” said Stacey Daniels-Fayson, RRHA’s interim CEO. “I certainly appreciate those who have heard the housing authority’s call to help us with this process.”

The RRHA stopped evicting residents for nonpayment in late 2019. When the pandemic began, state authorities temporarily closed the courts and put in place protections to keep tenants housed. Federal safeguards also prohibited evictions from public housing. Many of these warranties have since expired.

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After announcing plans to resume evictions last summer, the RRHA postponed the plan until January to give families more time to catch up. He undertook a public advertising campaign, sent out flyers and sent staff door-to-door, urging residents to apply for assistance or settle their debts.

Faced with a potential wave of evictions, the RRHA’s Board of Commissioners ordered staff to suspend all legal action against residents until at least mid-February.

Lawyers and several board members have expressed concern over the number of people facing eviction. Several have indicated they are willing to help families apply for housing assistance through a state program that includes assistance for renters who have fallen behind on their payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the end of January, the RRHA had received $2.4 million in assistance for about 1,950 requests for rent relief, according to figures provided by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

The housing office is considering applying for the aid on behalf of tenants who have not already done so. Typically, applications take 30-45 days to be approved. While a claim is pending, the RRHA cannot bring a lawsuit against that tenant for at least 45 days under state law.

On Thursday, Daniels-Fayson laid out a loose plan for teams of RRHA staff and volunteers to go door-to-door in the coming weeks to help inform residents of available resources. For residents who have already exhausted their eligibility, Daniels-Fayson said the RRHA is willing to work with community organizations to raise funds.

Including RRHA and city staff, approximately 55 people attended the virtual meetings.

The growing number of families with overdue balances, despite awareness raising in recent months, has posed a deeper problem for some who have signed on to lend their time and support.

“How to respond to the fear of residents and how to respond to the trust of residents? said Reverend Sylvester “Tee” Turner, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church at Whitcomb Court. “If we have 1,700 people and a process is going on, there are fear issues and trust issues that get in the way of that process.”

James Davis, who runs the Office of Community Wealth Building’s ambassador program, said his team had faced difficulties in public housing when applying in the past.

“We met families who said they didn’t even want our help,” said Davis, a former RRHA resident. “It’s reality.”

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