Under pressure from tenant advocates, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority announced Friday that it will not evict any tenants for the rest of the year.
“Effective immediately, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority has implemented an agency-wide freeze on lease enforcement for nonpayment of rent,” according to a news release.
A call to RRHA CEO Damon Duncan was not immediately returned Friday afternoon. Veronica Blount, chairwoman of the housing authority’s board of commissioners, said she had not been briefed on the decision and did not want to comment on it.
RRHA said it would not file any additional cases against families living in the 4,000 apartments it manages, including the city’s six large public housing complexes: Creighton, Fairfield, Gilpin, Hillside, Mosby and Whitcomb courts.
Pending eviction cases the housing authority had previously filed against its residents would be dismissed or postponed, the release stated. RRHA will also re-evaluate its policies for late fees and utility charges.
One of the housing authority’s most vocal critics praised the announcement.
“We’re very encouraged and we see it as a few steps in the right direction,” said Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center. Al-Qadaffi and Lafonda Page, also a housing organizer with Legal Aid, have led a groundswell of advocacy against RRHA’s practices in recent months.
RRHA’s decision to halt evictions comes after weeks of sharp criticism stemming from its surge of court filings against residents living in the city’s public housing communities.
In October, 52 Creighton Court families — 1 in 8 living in the community in the city’s East End — faced eviction for back rent owed, some for as little as $50. The next week, 35 families living in the Whitcomb Court public housing community faced the same fate. Days after that, 31 families from Fairfield Court did, too. A Richmond General District Court judge dismissed the cases against the Fairfield Court families because of issues with the housing authority’s court filings.
Residents from Gilpin Court and Hillside Court were due in court over the next two weeks, Al-Qadaffi said.
The wave of evictions at Creighton prompted an outcry from advocates and public housing residents, who questioned whether RRHA was stepping up enforcement in an effort to clear the way for redevelopment at its properties.
Duncan said there was “no correlation” between the evictions and an ongoing redevelopment the housing authority is leading in the neighborhood.
After the outcry, Duncan said RRHA would take part in the city’s newly established eviction diversion program. Launched in September, the initiative is meant to help tenants avoid the stain of an eviction judgment on their record by mediating issues between tenants and landlords who agree to participate.
Before the backlash over the Creighton evictions, RRHA had not agreed to participate in the program.
Of the 52 Creighton families that faced eviction in October, 35 received court judgments permitting RRHA to carry out an eviction. The housing authority has said they are receiving assistance through the diversion program, so they won’t be removed.
The city is working with Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, a nonprofit, on the program. In October alone, HOME received 192 requests for assistance from families facing eviction by RRHA or other landlords, said Heather Mullins Crislip, its president and CEO.
“I think it’s prudent so we have a chance to get the eviction diversion stuff moving,” Crislip said of the freeze.
RRHA plans to review its tenants’ accounts and attempt to help each achieve good standing, the release stated. Families must still pay rent they owe during the moratorium.
“Such amounts, if not addressed, may be subject to legal action when normal lease enforcement resumes,” the release stated.