Settlement in Hopewell Public Housing Redevelopment

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS:
Tim Wallace, Director of Development              Mike Burnette, Director of Communications
Legal Aid Justice Center                                 Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc.
434-529-1853 | twallace@justice4all.org          804-354-0641 x118 | Mike@HOMEofVA.org

HUD SETTLES CIVIL RIGHTS CLAIMS MADE BY RESIDENTS OF FIRST PUBLIC HOUSING SITE IN VIRGINIA TO BE PRIVITIZED VIA FEDERAL RAD PROGRAM

Hopewell, Va., October 2, 2017—

            Today, five former public housing residents settled fair housing complaints they filed in Spring of 2017 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) related to the privatization and redevelopment of their Hopewell, Virginia public housing complex under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program[i].  The complaints alleged that the local housing authority and the developer discriminated against families with children and against residents with disabilities; pushed some residents out of their homes in violation of their legal right to return to the redeveloped units; and relocated other residents to severely overcrowded housing in poor condition[ii].

            HUD announced in May that it had launched a formal investigation into the complaints filed by residents of the Langston Park public housing complex, which was redeveloped and privatized under the RAD program, and renamed the Summit apartments. Today the complainants signed a conciliation agreement with HUD, Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA), and the developer Community Housing Partners (CHP) that requires CHP and HRHA to make widespread changes to policy and compensate specific individuals harmed in the past. These changes and compensation include:

  • Eliminating discriminatory and unwarranted policies at HRHA and CHP;
  • Appointing a fair housing coordinator in perpetuity who will provide resources and contact information for how applicants and residents can file fair housing complaints at HUD;
  • Monitoring of both CHP and HRHA’s future compliance with fair housing laws, by HUD as well as through fair housing testing conducted by an outside expert;
  • Improved procedures by CHP and HRHA for handling requests for reasonable accommodations by people with disabilities;
  • Improved relocation procedures for future RAD projects addressing resident needs proactively from beginning to end;
  • Installation of an age-appropriate playground for older children at the Summit with resident input;
  • Creation of fully funded after-school and summer programs for children at the Summit; and
  • Monetary compensation totaling more than $225,000 for the named complainants and a $112,300 compensation fund for other residents of the property whose fair housing rights were violated based on family status.

Attorneys with the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and Housing Opportunities Make Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) filed the complaints on behalf of their clients to prevent further civil rights violations against their clients and other residents who were harmed in the RAD redevelopment process and/or continue to be discriminated against. Housing discrimination is a problem that is not exclusive to Hopewell or Virginia, and Helen Hardiman, vice president of law and policy at HOME says victories can be achieved one step at a time. “Since 1988, the federal Fair Housing Act has prohibited housing discrimination against people because they have a disability or kids. It’s frustrating that this discrimination still exists in our communities, but it is satisfying that we could halt these egregious practices and grant some relief for families and people with disabilities who lived or live at housing managed by HRHA or CHP.”

RAD is often touted as the new frontier of public housing, but advocates are concerned that the program lacks adequate accountability to protect residents’ rights. Lack of HUD oversight and broad program discretion under RAD can lead to situations like Hopewell. According to Kim Rolla, attorney with the Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program at Legal Aid Justice Center, “If HUD doesn’t improve oversight of the RAD program, the Summit could be just the tip of a wave of massive problems as HUD and local housing authorities privatize public housing to finance its redevelopment.” There are currently several dozen other public housing communities in Virginia that HUD has approved to convert under the program. (See below for a list of localities/communities approved for RAD conversion[iii].)  These ‘public-private partnerships’ are still publicly funded and their purpose is to serve the lowest income community members, not primarily for developers or investors to make money. “We need HUD to monitor these programs and ensure our tax dollars are being used for their intended purpose,” Rolla states.

FHEO Summit Conciliation Agreement (PDF)

About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance.

About Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME), founded in 1971, is a statewide fair housing non‐profit. HOME’s mission is to ensure equal access to housing for all people. HOME investigates housing discrimination and provides support for victims of discrimination. You can learn more about HOME and all of its services at www.HOMEofVA.org.

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[i] BACKGROUND ON RAD
Public Housing across the country is falling apart from years of deferred maintenance and neglect.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) hopes to increasingly attract private dollars to redevelop public housing properties through a program called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).  RAD is a “public-private partnership” model for redevelopment. In most RAD projects, public housing authorities transfer both management and a large portion of ownership of formerly public housing to private companies, but continue to subsidize the property with direct and indirect federal assistance.

The Summit at Hopewell was the first RAD conversion in Virginia.  Under the RAD program, Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) transferred management and ownership of Langston Park in 2014 to Community Housing Partners (CHP) who razed the community and then built new apartments on the site, changing the name to the Summit at Hopewell.    

[ii] DETAILS OF ALLEGED ABUSES:
According to the residents’ formal complaint to HUD, CHP illegally discriminated against the families from Langston Park who returned to the Summit after its redevelopment based on disability status or having children. CHP forbade anyone under the age of 18 from watching their younger siblings, taking out the trash on their own, accessing the computers and other amenities at the community center if not under the direct supervision of an adult, or playing outside unsupervised. One letter from the Summit’s property manager even threatened to call Child Protective Services if children were left in the care of anyone under the age of 18.  According to Helen Hardiman, Vice President of Law and Policy at Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc., “CHP’s behavior left families with children little choice: stay inside or face harsh penalties. This is exactly the kind of discrimination the Fair Housing Act outlaws.”

One of the complaints states that HRHA and CHP denied a resident’s repeated requests for a first-floor unit at the Summit to accommodate her medical disability, in violation of her rights. Last year, she died at her home in the Summit of cardiac arrest and arrhythmia, complications from the very disabilities that were exacerbated by HRHA and CHP’s alleged failure to grant her multiple requests for a reasonable accommodation. Within a week of her death, CHP moved to evict her surviving household members, her 8- and 9-year old grandnieces. Another complaint states that the disabled resident was forced to use a bucket and rag to bathe for almost half a year due to an inaccessible shower, which CHP refused her requests to modify. Such failures to provide accessible accommodations in response to disabled residents’ requests violate the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The frequent moves and unhealthy, crowded conditions of replacement housing offered during the redevelopment process even contributed to complainant Kitty Wade losing custody of her youngest child. “During the redevelopment process they moved my family of six from our five-bedroom apartment in Langston Park into a run-down, two-bedroom apartment with mold problems. That’s when my ex-husband filed for, and eventually got, custody of my baby boy, because of the bad housing conditions and their health effects on my kids,” states Wade. “Then when we moved back into the Summit after the redevelopment, the management had so many rules about what kids couldn’t do that I ended up mostly keeping my kids inside the house all the time. It just felt like they didn’t care about us and didn’t really want families with children there.”

RAD program rules also guarantee all residents the right to return to the redeveloped property. In a complaint submitted to HUD’s Office of Recapitalization, which is in charge of managing the RAD program, multiple families from Langston Park described being pushed out of the community altogether, and not allowed to return to the Summit after its redevelopment. HRHA and CHP rebuilt the Summit with fewer large apartments for families with children. One resident in Langston Park with a daughter in a wheelchair claims CHP told her that there would not be an accessible unit at the Summit. Several residents from Langston Park claim they were misinformed and pressured, in violation of RAD program rules, to accept buyout offers to move elsewhere rather than return after redevelopment, apparently because their return to the Summit would limit CHP’s eligibility for tax credit financing.

In a July 17, 2017 letter to HRHA, HUD’s Office of Recapitalization found that HRHA denied four residents their right to return and ordered HRHA to extend an offer to the families immediately to return to the subsidized housing they were forced from. According to Kim Rolla, “residents are the intended beneficiaries of this program and they have a federally guaranteed right to return to the redeveloped property. The denial of this right caused displaced residents extreme financial hardship. Many ended up in unstable housing situations and some even experienced periods of homelessness. The lack of communication and attention to residents’ needs – and outright prioritizing of financing over resident rights and wellbeing – troublingly suggest that they were not a priority in this transaction.”

[iii] List of Approved RAD Conversions in Virginia (PDF)