With more than 1,100 families at risk of eviction from public housing, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners on Wednesday ordered staff to suspend all legal action against residents until at least mid- February.
Advocates and several board members have expressed concern about the displacement of so many families, as well as the cascading effect mass evictions would have on public schools, safety net providers and communities. families themselves. All called for increased efforts to help residents apply for housing assistance through a state-run program with assistance for tenants who have fallen behind on their payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.
“Illegal detention is an option in the execution of the lease,” said Barrett Hardiman, deputy chairman of the board, who proposed the four-week delay. “We should wait for this specific option until we are sure we have exhausted all avenues of getting people the help that is available.”
Several other commissioners have voiced support for his motion so council can gather more information about the extent of the potential fallout and the housing authority can work with families to prevent as many evictions as possible.
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“My goal is not to have [evictions] whatever,” said Neil Kessler, who voted in favor of the motion along with five other council members. Commissioner Robley Jones voted no. Two other commissioners, Veronica Blount and Jonathan Coleman, abstained.
Last week, the RRHA sent 30-day termination notices to 1,115 families with overdue balances, a figure officials said fluctuated daily. Officials said it was the first step in a lease enforcement process that would evolve into evictions if households did not reach repayment agreements, seek rent relief or not pay their overdue balances.
On Wednesday, RRHA officials said the housing authority planned to apply for assistance on behalf of such tenants, once the state’s new online application portal allows them to initiate the process. Typically, applications take 30-45 days to be approved.
While an application is pending, the agency cannot take legal action against that tenant for at least 45 days, said Ben Titter, general counsel for the RRHA. According to a timeline presented by the agency ahead of Wednesday’s board vote, the earliest it expected to file eviction cases against tenants was mid-February.
Once one of the most aggressive evictions in the area, the RRHA stopped firing residents for nonpayment at the end of 2019. It offered payment plans to residents and extended the freeze until spring 2020.
When the pandemic began, state officials temporarily closed courts and put in place protections to keep tenants housed. Federal safeguards also prohibit evictions from public housing. Many of these warranties have since expired.
The RRHA announced its intention to resume evictions last summer. However, he has pushed back that plan until this month to give families more time to catch up. At the same time, he ran a public advertising campaign, mailed reminders and sent door-to-door staff urging residents to catch up on rent or seek assistance.
Stacey Daniels-Fayson, acting CEO of the RRHA, said the housing authority did not want to evict any families, but was required to take over the enforcement of leases by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Moving forward with lease enforcement is not a choice, it’s an obligation,” she said.
While some attorneys and board members called for a longer time frame for legal action at Wednesday’s meeting, Daniels-Fayson pushed back on the idea.
“I think moving the goalposts for another six months, for me, I think we’ll still be in the same situation with some of our families, especially for families who can and don’t pay rent.”
The next board meeting is February 16.