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Creighton Court demolition moves forward without firm plans for low-income housing

A bare foundation is left from the first phase of demolition at Creighton Court. The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority plans to demolish 504 units of public housing in Creighton to replace them with 600 to 700 mixed-income units. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Standing on top of the blank, flat foundation of a recently demolished house in Creighton Court, Marilyn Olds said she’s grieving for her home of 65 years.

“I got there just in time to see them knock down the building that I lived in. That was the most painful thing I’ve ever done in my life. To see something go down that you grew up in as a child,” Olds said. “The bricks are down, people are hurt, and they’re crying. They’re looking for a new dream.”

Olds spoke on Wednesday at an event held by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to celebrate the completion of phase one in their project to redevelop the neighborhood from public housing into mixed-income housing.

But even though 192 units have already been torn down, according to RRHA officials, there’s still no concrete plans for how much of the new neighborhood will be reserved for public housing residents. Esco Bowden, a former Creighton Court resident and community advocate, said that makes them nervous for the neighborhood’s future.

“They're not making a way for new residents and more generations to come up in public housing. Because they haven't said what is to come after they knock it down,” Bowden said.

Olds said at the ceremony she and her neighbors deserve a place in the new development.

“We deserve a right to be back where we came from,” Olds said. “We don't want to be left hanging.”

RRHA’s plan to demolish Creighton Court is part of its citywide project to replace public housing. All of the city’s six largest public housing neighborhoods are slated for redevelopment, but Creighton Court is the first property where they’re moving forward with these plans.

The housing authority plans to convert the 504 existing units in Creighton Court into between 600 and 700 mixed-income units, according to RRHA’s vice president of redevelopment, Desi Wynter. Mixed-income neighborhoods include affordable housing and have market-priced units.

According to Wynter, the only public housing residents guaranteed a home in the new development will be current tenants who have indicated to the authority that they want to return to the court after it is redeveloped. Residents also have the option to choose more immediate housing by utilizing tenant vouchers to move into private apartment complexes or by moving to another property managed by RRHA.

“For families that do want to return to Creighton Court, we then accommodate those amount of units for families that designate on their assessment that they would like to return,” Wynter said.

The pool of tenants who can request housing in the new development once it’s finished shrunk dramatically, however, as a result of RRHA’s policy not to renew leases on buildings slated for demolition, according to Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing advocate for the Legal Aid Justice Center.

“We know that RRHA has stopped leasing units in Creighton for a couple of years prior to them even starting demolition. And so them refusing to lease units, and evicting lots of households prior to even submitting the application, that reduced the number of units that they were responsible for,” Al-Qadaffi said.

Of the families displaced by the first phase of Creighton Court’s demolition, Wynter said only 17 have requested to return to the neighborhood.

Bowden said it isn’t surprising that most of these tenants are reluctant to return to the neighborhood. Bowden, who after moving away from Creighton still came back regularly to support youth in the community, said the neighborhood has become unsafe and unlivable due to years of neglect by the housing authority, which has left many of these units unoccupied for years.

“They're to blame, because they haven't been a good landlord. It's de facto demolition,” Bowden said.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, RRHA’s interim CEO, Sheila Hill-Christian, agreed that the accomodations in Creighton Court haven’t been properly maintained and argued that’s why they need to be replaced.

“Our families deserve homes that meet current code requirements, that are not physically obsolete or beyond rehabilitation,” Hill-Christian said.

Mayor Levar Stoney and Cynthia Newbille, whose East End district on the City Council includes Creighton Court residents, both endorsed the project during the ceremony.

“It will provide quality, affordable housing for families. It will provide access to resources,” Newbille said.

This plan has been described by the housing authority as a way to improve public housing, but according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, “research shows that low-income residents who formerly lived in public housing have realized little or no economic or educational benefit from living in a new mixed-income setting.”

The first 68 units built following the demolition in Creighton Court will be available for rent in the summer of 2024, according to RRHA.