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Governor Signs Bill Giving Public Housing Residents Notice of Demolition Over Protest of RRHA

governor ralph northam speaking at podium
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Currently, state law doesn’t have a minimum time requirement on housing agencies to notify its residents of such plans. But on Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law legislation that requires housing agencies to give residents 12 months notice before demolishing any properties.

The governor signed the new law over the protests of Richmond’s public housing agency. In a letter addressed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority CEO Damon Duncan said that the measure would be a setback for the housing authority since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) already has similar requirements. 

“It is important to understand that the submission of a HUD application does not imply that activity will occur shortly after,” Duncan said. “RRHA submitted an application to demolish and dispose of Creighton Court in January of 2020, but we do not expect demolition activity to begin until summer of 2020 at the earliest.”

Public housing residents got only one day’s notice before the agency moved forward with its plan to demolish Creighton Court. RRHA had submitted its application for demolition the week before it was officially voted on by its board. 

In addition to the minimum-required notice period, the bill will require housing authorities to provide tenants with an estimated date for submitting applications, resources to learn more about the process and its implication on residents; and instructions on how they could have a voice in a housing agency’s plans. 

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

In the last year, RRHA has been scrutinized by housing advocates, tenants and city officials for its failure to meaningfully include public housing residents in its plans. The agency has kept community members from entering a monthly board meeting — has barred some residents and advocates from sharing their concerns about plans to demolish Creighton Court. 

But in his letter, Duncan argued that the agency has engaged residents in the planning process, and that the bill would only create another obstacle.

“Impactful change could be very much delayed,” Duncan said. “I implore the governor to trust the detailed process that HUD currently enforces as it protects residents, ensures accurate and regular notice and does not unnecessarily delay progress throughout public housing communities.”

Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), the bill’s sponsor, said HUD’s notice requirements are insufficient — and stressed the importance of implementing state-level protections for Virginians living in public housing. 

“These are already vulnerable people with few options — it does no harm to RRHA to give them more time so they can figure out where they're going to go,” McClellan said. “Adding a step to the process is a small price to pay for a family that is about to be put out of their home to find an alternative.”

The law will go into effect in January of 2021. 

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