Apr 23, 2024 - News

Richmond's 30-day public housing eviction freeze

Illustration of an eviction notice getting crumpled up.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Richmond's public housing agency is pausing evictions for at least 30 days, in part to assess whether it's been miscalculating rent prices.

Why it matters: A rent miscalculation could mean some of the poorest residents in the city are being charged more than federally allowed, leading them to potentially face eviction — and homelessness — if they can't pay.

The big picture: An estimated 66% of tenant files reviewed — or 23 of 35 — had rent calculation errors, according to a recent Department of Housing and Urban Development audit obtained by Axios.

  • All 20 reviewed files of residents using housing vouchers had adjusted income errors.
  • Wages, child support and self-employment income are all factors that can impact rent.
  • Federal inspectors also found a lack of staff knowledge with rent calculation procedures, prompting the Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority (RRHA) to conduct training in September.

Zoom in: HUD directed RRHA to reimburse families who overpaid or increase rent for those underpaying.

  • But RRHA said it can't begin that process until HUD identifies the files it reviewed.

Meanwhile, a rise in public housing evictions has drawn pushback from some city council members and housing advocates in the past month.

  • Kenyatta Green, RRHA's senior vice president of affordable housing, told WTVR that residents who have recently been evicted won't have their cases reopened because families could have reached out to management about rent errors.
  • The HUD audit found assisted housing specialists tasked with computing a tenant's rent oversee 650+ families each.

What's next: HUD has asked for RRHA to step up its rent collection efforts after about 27% went uncollected in September 2022.

  • RRHA is about $3.2 million in debt because of about 1,500 families being behind on rent, said CEO Steve Nesmith.
  • He plans to present an outreach initiative to the agency's board in May to catch renters up, per the Times-Dispatch.
  • Mayor Stoney has also set aside $500,000 in his proposed budget to create a program that gives residents a right to counsel in eviction court.

Flashback: RRHA halted evictions for nearly two years during the pandemic, and for years, it had been one of the highest evicting landlords in Richmond, reported the Times-Dispatch.

And in 2017, RRHA tenants won a $2.5 million settlement after claiming the authority was overcharging them on electric bills.

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