September 22, 2020 News & Features » Cover Story

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Mayoral Survey on RRHA: Full Responses 

click to enlarge Levar Stoney
  • Levar Stoney

Levar Stoney

Style Weekly: Please give us a brief summary of the public positions you have taken related to the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Levar Stoney: I have worked closely with City Council and RRHA to support our public housing communities during my time as mayor. City Council appoints all members of the RRHA board, but, as mayor, I’ve served as a partner and, at times, a critic of RRHA by asking tough questions of leadership to ensure our public housing tenants are receiving the best service. I meet regularly with RRHA leadership and the Richmond Tenant Organization. RRHA residents are also city residents and constituents, and, as such, it is my responsibility to ensure that their interests are being looked out for in city government.

What is your response to assertions (from HUD, local advocates, residents, etc.) about the authority’s consistent lack of public and resident engagement and transparency as it makes plans to move away from housing stock to a voucher-based system?

As we crafted the Richmond 300 plan, my administration prioritized community input by soliciting feedback throughout the city and working tirelessly to communicate and engage with the community. I support a similar process for RRHA in engaging the community, emphasizing community dialogue to come to a consensus with interested parties. However; we must remember that consensus does not mean 100% unanimity. Governing is about finding consensus and compromise to make real progress.

Please explain how you would approach working with the authority in your next term as mayor.

I will continue meeting with both RRHA and RTO leadership regularly and partnering with them and City Council to support public housing tenants. I also think it is crucial that I meet with community members as well. As mayor, I’ve spent considerable time at RRHA properties meeting with tenants one-on-one and in groups, and I will continue that practice into my next term. I will continue to be a mayor who listens to all stakeholders in this process to ensure our public housing tenants are properly represented in Richmond.

Do you support one-to-one brick-and-mortar and authority-owned replacement for RRHA’s current housing stock?

As I partner with RRHA to transform and redevelop public housing in Richmond in my second term, I will guarantee that every Richmonder living in public housing today has a place to live in Richmond tomorrow. Our city must continue to grow, but we must do so without displacing any existing residents.

How would you propose to reduce the authority’s long wait list? More than 3,300 families are on the wait list for Richmond public housing.

I will make transforming and redeveloping public housing a priority in my next term. Our current public housing stock opened in Richmond in the 1940’s. Meant to be temporary housing post-WWII, that housing still stands today. The conditions are undignified, and it reflects poorly on how we treat the least fortunate in our community. Moving forward, I believe we need to reimagine public housing and guarantee every resident who lives in public housing today has a home in the City of Richmond tomorrow. During my next term, I will work with stakeholders to build new housing dispersed throughout the city in mixed-income communities, whilst ensuring current community members do not face displacement. That starts with seeding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and identifying a dedicated revenue stream for the fund. We also need to focus on promoting mixed income development projects that have units priced between 10-50% of the AMI so we can put an end to concentrated poverty in all corners of our city. We can only accomplish that by reworking city zoning laws as outlined by the Richmond 300 Plan so that we have greater density. As we move forward with further economic development projects here in the city, I would like for my administration to approach community engagement with a similar process that was used during the Richmond 300 outreach. Not only did they host numerous in-person community engagement meetings throughout the process, but they also solicited input via multiple electronic surveys and allowed residents to virtually edit drafts of the plan in a user-friendly platform.


click to enlarge Kim Gray
  • Kim Gray

Kim Gray

Style Weekly: Please give us a brief summary of the public positions you have taken related to the housing authority.

Kim Gray: I supported Richmond for All in their opposition to evictions and displacement of people from Richmond public housing and supported planting projects to increase the tree canopy in public housing communities.

I have also supported the families of these communities by offering them individual attention and support to help them overcome the many challenges they face.

In 2019 RRHA filed about 1,900 eviction notices to residents of Richmond public housing communities. I have pushed RRHA for many reforms to reduce the number of evictions and have supported 1 to 1 replacement since the early 2000’s. I have also worked closely with the late Lillie Estes and REPHRAME since 2009.

I worked with Dr. John Moeser and various community groups to introduce a plan to reconnect the Jackson Ward and Gilpin Court communities through a visionary pedestrian bridge project.

I supported the development of Jackson Place which accommodates a third of the residents of Fay Towers.

What is your response to assertions (from HUD, local advocates, residents, etc.) about RRHA’s consistent lack of public and resident engagement and transparency as it makes plans to move away from housing stock to a voucher-based system?

What we have seen during the current administration is that transparency in government, a basic right enshrined in our laws, is not afforded to those who live in public housing, and that is not acceptable.

As mayor, I will not allow RRHA to operate behind closed doors and without the input of the people they serve.

Please explain how you would approach working with the authority as mayor.

It is time for the Mayor's Office to be a full partner of RRHA both in supporting residents and staff and in ensuring our vision for a Richmond where all have stable housing. As Mayor, I will listen first to our public housing residents and work to make sure RRHA is meeting their needs -- just as we will do for other neighborhood issues. We will ensure that all board and executive appointments share these values.

Do you support one-to-one brick-and-mortar and authority-owned replacement for RRHA’s current housing stock?

Yes. And I will make it a priority to advocate for RRHA to have the resources it needs to make this possible. I would be more than willing to work with developers to produce additional housing for families with vouchers in order to reduce our much-too-high waiting list. But RRHA must not abdicate its responsibility by sending all its families into a voucher system.

How would you propose to reduce RRHA's long wait list? More than 3,300 families are on the wait list for Richmond public housing.

We must work to find shorter-term solutions by encouraging true affordable housing stock to be increased. We must do so honestly and with intention -- not by tying housing to “shiny object” projects such as Navy Hill. In the longer-term, we must continue to advocate for more HUD funding and hold RRHA accountable to its mission and commitments to its residents.


click to enlarge Alexsis Rodgers
  • Alexsis Rodgers

Alexsis Rodgers

Style Weekly: Please give us a brief summary of the public positions you have taken related to the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Alexsis Rodgers: Every Richmond resident deserves a clean, safe, and affordable place to call home. However, the racialized nature of how Richmond neighborhoods were designed has negatively impacted generations of Black and brown residents. Housing is a human right. We need to tackle this head on.

Anything RRHA does needs to be done through a lens of equity and racial justice while centering the needs and dignity of tenants. Residents who live in our public housing units have been wronged; where they’ve been repeatedly told one thing yet seen another happen, resulting in their safety net being disrupted. We know that having blended communities that are reflective of the diversity of our city is good, and we need to make sure that everyone who is living in RRHA housing has a voice in this process. Any kind of development around public housing has to be done in a way that leads with tenants first -- that respects their dignity, their right to self-determination, and a say in the process.

What is your response to assertions (from HUD, local advocates, residents, etc.) about RRHA’s consistent lack of public and resident engagement and transparency as it makes plans to move away from housing stock to a voucher-based system?

Building trust with public housing residents and the entire community will be paramount to me as mayor. That includes ensuring public meetings are announced in a timely manner and planning documents are accessible so residents and the community can participate. We’ve made progress by banning discrimination against housing vouchers, but that’s not enough. The city needs to encourage landlords to participate in the housing vouchers system. My administration will lay out a framework for resident-driven redevelopment of our public housing. The status quo of decades-long divestment and negligent mismanagement have left entire communities isolated and ignored by city leaders. Under my administration, I would seek to empower RRHA residents to chart a new future of expanded opportunities for their communities.

Please explain how you would approach working with RRHA as mayor.

I will intentionally work with RRHA tenant associations, RRHA’s board and the office of Community Wealth Building to support job training, child care, and other social services for tenants. Many families have lived in RRHA housing for generations, trying to break the cycle of poverty so that they can continue to live and thrive in Richmond like everyone else. The priority is listening to tenants and giving them a political voice in shaping what their community looks like.

For too long, there has been an unequal power-balance when it comes to housing plans and moving forward, I will work to change that and lead the way for RRHA’s processes to be more inclusive of their tenants.

Do you support one-to-one brick-and-mortar and RRHA-owned replacement for RRHA’s current housing stock?

Yes, people who currently live in RRHA housing should not be displaced. A one-to-one replacement principle should be core to any renovation or revitalization projects around public housing. In order to repair trust with residents, the core of that trust needs to be that people are going to have a home after they allow a renovation or demolition and replacement of their communities. They need to know it’s not going to be a repeat of what happened in Fulton, Dove Court, or Blackwell. To take on the large endeavor of replacing six large public housing communities -- all beyond their lifespan -- it’s going to be necessary to build trust. Guaranteeing a one-to-one replacement principle has to be core in building that trust.

How would you propose to reduce RRHA's long wait list? More than 3,300 families are on the wait list for Richmond public housing.

We need to be honest with people that there’s only two ways of getting people off the waiting list: building more housing or helping people get off the waitlist and into other housing. My administration would identify city-owned parcels that can be ceded to the Better Housing Coalition or other affordable housing providers in exchange for creating a set number of units accessible to folks on the waiting list. Recently, the Virginia General Assembly banned discrimination against housing vouchers, but that’s not enough. My administration will also work to encourage more landlords to participate in the housing voucher system. Ultimately, the mayor, city council and other community leaders need to work collaboratively to break the cycle of poverty in Richmond and bring our neighbors up the economic ladder.


click to enlarge Justin Griffin
  • Justin Griffin

Justin Griffin

Style Weekly: Please give us a brief summary of the public positions you have taken related to Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Justin Griffin: My positions are covered within the other answers.

What is your response to assertions (from HUD, local advocates, residents, etc.) about the authority’s consistent lack of public and resident engagement and transparency as it makes plans to move away from housing stock to a voucher-based system?

Anytime you are making plans that will affect someone's shelter, they should be constantly updated and included on those plans. If you are doing things the right way, there should be nothing to hide. Transparency is key in government across the board.

Please explain how you would approach working with RRHA as mayor.

I would have a much more collaborative approach instead of the "not my problem" approach we are seeing from the current administration. Whenever there are problems, the mayor is nowhere to be found. Mayor Stoney also has no plan for uplifting the people in RRHA communities or reducing the crime that plagues the residents. I will work with the residents to develop and implement human development programs that uplift our people.

Do you support one-to-one brick-and-mortar and RRHA-owned replacement for RRHA’s current housing stock?

Yes.

How would you propose to reduce the authority’s long wait list? More than 3,300 families are on the wait list for Richmond public housing.

Public housing was not created with the intention of it being permanent housing for anyone. Where our government has let us down is by not developing plans and programs that uplift people to a point where they can move out of public housing.

My focus will be on the people inside the buildings and doing everything we can with education, job-training, financial education, mental health treatments, and other programs to attack the root causes of poverty. By doing this, we can start to get people to a point where they can leave public housing, opening the doors to those on the wait-list to move in and receive the benefits of those programs.

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