Richmond Mayor Hosts Community Meeting In Gilpin Court
Residents of Richmond’s Gilpin Court met with Mayor Levar Stoney and city officials over the weekend to talk about issues facing their community. This follows concerns over evictions in low income housing complexes and new developments in the city.
About 50 residents of packed into a conference room at the Calhoun Center to highlight issues in the community — among them: the uncertain future of Gilpin Court.
Stoney said that Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s plans to demolish and rebuild the property result from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget cuts to public housing.
“With RRHA being on it’s own, we gotta find a way to get you all better conditions and not just put bandaids on the problem,” Stoney said.
The housing agency will do this by partnering with private developers to build mixed income housing — this means less units available to current residents of public housing.
Charlene Pitchford has lived in Gilpin Court for over 20 years, and is treasurer of the tenant council. She voiced her support for improved living conditions, but said she’s concerned about RRHA’s lack of investment in its communities.
“We need to be redeveloped,” Pitchford said. “My issue with that is money — making sure that the million dollar grants and whatnot got to the people they say they’re designated to go to, not just service providers.”
However, residents said they haven’t been let in on RRHA’s plans.
“Engagement is so important,” said 3rd District Councilman Chris Hilbert. He said he aims to boost community involvement to ensure that residents stay informed about the proposed redevelopments, which could impact their futures.
Recently, RRHA agreed to participate in the city’s new eviction diversion program, and pause all evictions through the end of the year. The decisions came after community backlash over the agency’s high number of eviction filings.
“I don’t think that people should be evicted if they’ve been living in a situation for more than two years and then, all of a sudden, are told everything has to be paid up all at one time,” Pitchford said. “if [residents] can’t pay $50, what makes [RRHA] think they’re going to be able to pay $1000.”
Pitchford said that while she’s not at risk of being evicted by the housing agency, those who have received notices from RRHA - and question them - have the right to contest them in court.
“If you do have all of your notes, papers and documents — fight,” Pitchford said. “A lot of people out there fail not to go to court. They just take that pay or quit notice and then they move and are on their own. Go to court.”
Pitchford also stressed the need for fair school redistricting. The city’s recent rezoning proposals call for merging Mary Munford and Carver Elementary — the school draws students out of Gilpin Court.
“What we want to make sure is that our children are fairly being distributed amongst the schools — and hopefully all schools will become equal,” Pitchford said.
Other issues brought up by residents include food access and inadequate transportation options. One attendee said he’s had many job opportunities outside city limits, but no means of getting to them.
Mayor Stoney said Richmond has opened a dialogue with surrounding counties about setting up bus routes that connect to the city’s border, but the decision ultimately falls on them.
“As a region we ought to do a lot better. We as a city put in $16 million dollars into GRTC,” Stoney said. “However, those routes are only within city limits...we can’t tell Henrico and Chesterfield to add more bus routes.”
City officials also spoke with residents about job opportunities in the city, and resources available to help them prepare for the workforce.
Stoney took this time to tout economic benefits of the proposed Navy Hill project, which would be less than a mile away from Gilpin Court.
“The new arena downtown has the opportunity to build 21,000 jobs right here in the city,” Stoney said. “I want to see the ability for folks who live in Gilpin to work in Navy Hill, folks who live in Gilpin to live in Navy Hill.”
The Coliseum development includes plans to build 480 affordable housing units — only 80 of which are expected to be complete by 2022. The developer, NH District Corporation’s projections detail that rents will range from over $950 to just under $2000.