Richmond public housing authority pausing evictions, investigating accuracy of rent calculations

Posted at 5:39 PM, Apr 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-20 07:51:02-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) is implementing a temporary eviction freeze, allowing more time for families at risk of losing their homes to catch up on rent.

“RRHA made the decision to halt proceedings on lease enforcement cases for nonpayment of rent," RRHA CEO Steven Nesmith announced Friday.

He said the pause will last for at least 30 days. RRHA already dismissed 14 eviction cases in court this week and said more families could be impacted too.

The decision follows an outcry from some community advocates and councilmembers, who voiced concerns over a rise in eviction notices in public housing neighborhoods.

They said RRHA brought about 130 residents to eviction court in recent weeks, a number that Legal Aid Justice Center organizer Omari Al-qadaffi said he has not seen since before the pandemic.

According to data provided by RRHA this month, at least 58 residents received judgments so far.

Nesmith said by pausing legal proceedings, RRHA can re-establish its relationship with residents and bolster its year-long eviction prevention campaign. The 12-month program includes several actions to encourage them to discuss their account, come into compliance with their lease agreement, or join a repayment plan.

Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority CEO Steven Nesmith
Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority CEO Steven Nesmith

"We have begun collaborating with stakeholders to implement this holistic community approach, bringing together various partners to include many members of city council... representatives from the mayor's team, nonprofit organizations, and others whose mission it is to house the unhoused," Nesmith said.

Nesmith said RRHA is in an "unsustainable" position.

The housing authority has more than $3 million in debt due to 1,500 families who are behind on their rent. Nesmith said RRHA didn't collect rent during the pandemic or even post-pandemic, alarming federal regulators.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dinged RRHA in a recent audit for a "high percentage of tenant rents not collected" and directed RRHA to increase collection efforts.

“We did not collect rent. That’s a fact. If you do not collect rent, your debts go up," Nesmith said.

The pause also serves another purpose – allowing RRHA time to review rent calculations.

Some tenants are possibly being charged inaccurate rent amounts that don't align with their income. The average family in public housing makes about $12,000 annually, according to RRHA.

“I can’t stand here and say that I am 100% sure that every single file is calculated at 100% accuracy," said Kenyatta Green, RRHA's Senior Vice President of Affordable Housing.

Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority Senior Vice President of Affordable Housing Kenyatta Green
Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority Senior Vice President of Affordable Housing Kenyatta Green

HUD's compliance review and monitoring report showed that 66% of the tenant files reviewed contained errors in rent calculations.

HUD cited deficiencies related to improper calculations of wage, child support, self-employment income, and zero-income reporting. The audit directed RRHA to train staff, implement compliance controls, and either reimburse families who overpaid or increase rent for families who underpaid.

“How can you be 100% confident that for families who have already faced judgments or evictions that there were not rent miscalculations in those cases?” reporter Tyler Layne asked.

“What we know is that even with the audit, it was still a conversation between RRHA and our local HUD field office to determine what was actually an error and what was not," Green responded. "We took the information from HUD, and we used that as a method to continue to train our staff without going back and forth to determine whether the legitimacy of the inaccuracy was right or not."

Photos: The history of Richmond’s housing projects


The history of Richmond’s housing projects

12:19 AM, Apr 06, 2017

Green said HUD did not provide the case files in question to RRHA, so they were unable to confirm the errors cited in the audit.

But for residents who already went to court and were handed a judgment, those cases will not be getting a second look.

“If those cases were already adjudicated, we are not reopening the cases. Because again, our offices are open, and if there was ever a question about the calculation of the rent, the affordability of the rent, we keep ourselves our open to the families coming to us and asking the questions," Green said.

Green encouraged all families with concerns about rent calculations to reach out to RRHA's offices for a resolution.

Nesmith said he did not believe miscalculations made up a significant amount of the current debt. The majority of it, he said, is simply because RRHA did not collect rent.

Nesmith said he has heard about many different options that could help RRHA clear its $3 million debt, including possible help from the City of Richmond. However, permanent solutions are still in the works.

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