The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners has endorsed demolishing the Creighton Court public housing complex.
On Wednesday, the board backed CEO Damon E. Duncan’s request to take the next step in redeveloping the East End neighborhood: razing 192 of the 504 units, according to a resolution unanimously adopted after no discussion among board members.
In a move that Duncan said was not unusual, the vote came two days after RRHA sent a demolition application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“It’s my understanding that Creighton Court revitalization was contemplated years ago, so some things don’t need to continue to be re-vetted over and over and over,” Duncan said when asked why his administration submitted an application without first gaining the board’s approval or soliciting public comment. “This is just a step along the way in the process.”
Under the resolution, Duncan has the authority to seek HUD approval to demolish the remaining 312 units in the neighborhood without bringing the matter back before the board for another vote.
Duncan did not share a timetable for when demolition would begin, but said new construction would start at the property in 2021 or 2022.
The vote marks a significant step in a long-running redevelopment effort that has been discussed for the past decade and began in earnest in 2016. That year, the housing authority broke ground on a roughly 260-unit development on 31st Street, adjacent to Creighton.
The first 105 units in the new development, dubbed Armstrong Renaissance, were completed last fall at a cost of roughly $26 million. Twenty-eight Creighton residents moved into new homes there beginning in November. The housing authority is lining up financing for construction of the remaining units.
The remaining families at Creighton will have the option of returning to the rebuilt neighborhood, or relocating to another development using a voucher, Duncan said.
Tenant advocates remain wary.
Duncan halted leasing at Creighton after taking over the housing authority in April. He defended the decision by citing redevelopment plans and the condition of the complex. A spokeswoman said about a quarter of the units are currently vacant.
In October, 52 Creighton families faced eviction. That fueled suspicion among advocates and some residents that the housing authority was kicking people out to accelerate its redevelopment plans; Duncan said that was not the case. In response, he announced an eviction freeze for all RRHA properties through the end of this month.
Duncan said Wednesday that the housing authority had met with Creighton residents Tuesday night to answer questions they had about redevelopment in advance of the board vote. No Creighton residents addressed the board Wednesday.
Marilyn Olds, the board’s tenant representative and a longtime Creighton resident, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Only two people addressed the board about the resolution prior to the vote.
The board requires attendees to sign up in advance of a meeting to speak during the scheduled public comment period. Another board rule prevents the same person from addressing commissioners during the public comment period more than once in a 90-day period.
One person who sought to speak at the meeting was turned away under the rules. Another posted on social media that she was informed she could not address the board because of the rule. The board had the option of suspending the rule, but chose not to.
Tenant advocates contended that the vote was not widely advertised in advance, limiting the public’s ability to weigh in.
“This resolution was only publicly announced yesterday morning. We’re talking about 500 units of affordable housing being demolished,” said Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center.
Corey Wolfe, RRHA’s general counsel, said the housing authority complied with Virginia’s public notice requirements and made the resolution publicly available after it was provided to the Board of Commissioners.