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Virginia Senate Passes Bill To Ensure Public Housing Residents Are Given Timely Notice Of Demolition, Redevelopment Plans

creighton court
Senator McClellan (D-Richmond) says she’s seen residents in her district deal with the repercussions of not having enough notice about the housing agency's demolition plans. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

The Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that would require housing authorities to give residents nine months' notice if they plan to sell or demolish any properties. 

Last month, Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority voted to submit its demolition application for Creighton Court to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval. But public housing residents got a day's notice before the agency moved forward with its plan. 

“In my district, the residents of Creighton Court found out that Creighton Court was going to be demolished on the news in the middle of the Christmas season, and it caused them a lot of anxiety at a time when they shouldn't have had to be figuring out ‘where am I going to go?’” said Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who represents the district.

Currently, state law doesn’t have a minimum time requirement on housing agencies to notify its residents of such plans. McClellan said her legislation aims to change that. 

“Tenants who are in public housing are some of our most vulnerable,” she said. “Finding out that you have to move without a whole lot of time to figure out where you're going to go, what you're going to do, what your options are adds to an already stressful situation.”

Marty Wegbreit is the director of litigation with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. He said notifying tenants in advance could help alleviate and prevent displacement among residents of public housing.

“Demolishing a public housing community affects hundreds of units, and potentially thousands of tenants,” Wegbreit said. “Demolitions are not planned in a period of days or weeks, but over a period of months — nine months notice lets housing authorities to do what they think is necessary while protecting the tenants and allowing them to plan for the type of adjustments needed.”

In addition to the minimum-required notice period, housing authorities would have to provide the following to tenants:

  • An estimated date for submitting applications
  • Contact information of the local legal aid societies
  • Details on learning more about the application process, timelines and implications for residents
  • Instructions for submitting written comments to housing agencies as they relate to plans to demolish or sell properties

Omari Al-Qaddafi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, said these requirements would help give residents of public housing a voice in issues that impact their lives. 

“Residents would be better empowered to participate in the democratic process of the housing authority,” Al-Qaddafi said. “Here in Richmond we’ve seen a number of things done to exclude residents — I think it’s a great thing that’s being done now.”

The bill could also allow tenants to sue, should agencies fail to provide them with proper notice of their plans.

The bill will now move on to the House for a vote. But McClellan said, at the request of public housing agencies, if the bill passes, it will not go into effect until January of 2021.

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