Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

Public Housing Tenants Reach Settlement with RRHA

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Sylvia Cosby Jones, Esq., Managing Attorney
Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7305 | sylvia@justice4all.org


PUBLIC HOUSING TENANTS REACH SETTLEMENT WITH RICHMOND REDEVELOMENT AND HOUSING AUTHORITY ON CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

Richmond, Va., July 11, 2018—
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney, Jr., of the Eastern District of Virginia Federal Court, approved a class action settlement between Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority and a group of tenants, valued at more than two and a half million dollars. The settlement and final order resolved a federal class action lawsuit challenging RRHA’s failure to properly set and implement tenant utility allowances.  A fairness hearing was held on July 10, 2018, and Judge Gibney signed the order shortly thereafter.  

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, $1,182,984.76 will be distributed among current and former Richmond public housing tenants who were subjected to RRHA’s utility surcharges from November 1, 2012, through October 31, 2016.  An additional $112,876.10 will be returned to tenants through implementation of new utility allowances. The new allowances will result in reduced charges to tenants of approximately $1.3 million over three years, thus bringing the total amount of cash and other relief for tenants to approximately $2.6 million.

The class action lawsuit, filed in February 2017, alleged that RRHA’s failure to properly set, implement, and charge electric utility allowances, resulted in unlawful excessive charges to current and former public housing tenants.  Federal law requires that public housing tenants not be charged more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. A class of plaintiffs, represented by lawyers at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Thomas D. Domonoske of Consumer Litigation Associates, contended that these excessive charges increased tenants’ share of their housing costs, and caused tenants to pay more than allowed in violation of federal law, state law, and tenants’ leases.

In approving the settlement, Judge Gibney found that the relief to tenants and former tenants was fair, reasonable, and adequate.  During the fairness hearing, he commended the named plaintiffs in the action for their bravery in “standing up to city hall.”

In addition to monetary relief, under the terms of the settlement agreement Judge Gibney has approved, RRHA will:

  • Set and implement new, higher utility allowances that will stay in place for at least 3 years.
  • Create new notices, policies and procedures for elderly and disabled tenants needing additional electric usage due to their conditions.
  • Change its billing statements to give tenants more information about their utility surcharges.
  • Not bill to residents the Dominion “customer charge” unless HUD fails to reimburse RRHA for these charges at the same rate it reimburses RRHA for other operating costs.
  • Change its lease so that late fees and other non-rent charges are not treated as rent.
  • Change its lease so that it states whether a tenant has submetered utilities and list each tenant’s utility allowance.
  • Ensure RRHA staff is trained regarding utility billing procedures, tenant requests for relief from utility billing, and the grievance procedure for tenants to contest charges.
  • Use unclaimed refunds to create an energy efficiency fund for the benefit of RRHA public housing residents who need assistance maintaining energy efficient homes.

Shanta Miles, a named plaintiff in the case, said of the final settlement: “Unfair excess utility charges put so many families in a state of panic and helplessness.  Our efforts to get the housing authority to do the right thing was well worth the many years we put into it; and today we have insured that there will be better accountability between RRHA and tenants.” 

Sylvia Cosby Jones, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs, added: “This is a great day for the tenants and former tenants, who not only will be compensated for past unfair charges, but who will have a clearer and fairer process for bills going forward. We are pleased that RRHA worked hard with our clients to come to an agreement that satisfied all parties.”      

Final Order (pdf) 

About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), representing Plaintiffs in this case, 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. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.

About Thomas D. Domonoske
Mr. Domonoske, representing the Plaintiffs in this case, is of counsel with Consumer Litigation Associates.  His primary emphasis is on using the civil justice system to remedy credit-related frauds, including predatory lending, debt collection, and credit reporting.  He has published many articles on several aspects of consumer law in various professional publications.  In the past seventeen years he has given over 140 consumer law trainings at various events around the country and regularly trains JAG lawyers for the United States military.  He has served as a member of the Harrisonburg City School Board and also on the Board of Directors of the Fairfield Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

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Settlement Reached in RVA Utilities Class Action

Posted by

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

Sylvia Cosby Jones, Esq., Managing Attorney
Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7305 | sylvia@justice4all.org

James Bowling, Esq., St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP
Counsel for the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority
434-296-7138 | jmb@stlawva.com

JOINT PRESS RELEASE:

PUBLIC HOUSING TENANTS REACH SETTLEMENT WITH RICHMOND REDEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING AUTHORITY ON CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

 Richmond, Va., February 6, 2018—

Public housing tenants and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) have reached a proposed settlement in a federal class action lawsuit challenging RRHA’s implementation of tenant utility allowances. 

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, $951,835.45 will be distributed among current and former Richmond public housing tenants who were impacted by RRHA’s utility surcharges from November 1, 2012, through October 31, 2016.  An additional $79,590.23 will be returned to tenants through implementation of new utility allowances. Cenquetta Harris, a named plaintiff in the case, said of the proposed settlement: “As tenants, we work hard to try to pay our bills, but our utility bills were too high. This settlement shows that when we band together to stand up for ourselves, we can make sure that everyone is treated fairly.”  RRHA Interim Chief Executive Officer Orlando Artze said, “We are pleased to have worked constructively with the plaintiffs over the past several years to resolve this complex dispute so that RRHA can continue to focus on meeting the needs of residents in our public housing communities.”

The class action lawsuit, filed in February 2017, alleges that RRHA’s failure to properly set, implement, and charge electric utility allowances, resulted in excessive charges to current and former public housing tenants.  A proposed class of plaintiffs, represented by lawyers at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Thomas D. Domonoske, Consumer Litigation Associates, contend that these excessive charges increased tenants’ share of their housing costs, and caused tenants to pay more than allowed.

While RRHA denies any wrongdoing, the parties have agreed to the proposed settlement in order to avoid the uncertainty and expense associated with continued litigation, and believe that the proposed settlement agreement is in the best interest of RRHA and all impacted public housing tenants.  “RRHA is glad to have reached an amicable result with the tenant plaintiffs in this case, which promotes RRHA’s goal of transparency and fairness while providing affordable housing to Richmond residents,” said Artze.  “It is important to note that RRHA did not benefit financially from the billing of utility charges to residents.  In fact, the administrative requirements of the utility surcharge system and insufficient HUD subsidy result in RRHA’s provision of electric utility service to residents at a financial loss to the agency.”  Similar settlements have been reached with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority as well as the Petersburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The proposed settlement, filed today, must be approved by Federal District Court Judge John A. Gibney, Jr. before it is final.  In addition to monetary relief, RRHA will make changes in its lease as well as in certain policies and practices, including:

  • Setting and implementing new, higher utility allowances that will stay in place for at least 3 years.
  • Creating new notices, policies and procedures for elderly and disabled tenants needing additional electric usage due to their conditions.
  • Changing its billing statements to give tenants more information about their utility surcharges.
  • Ensuring RRHA staff is trained regarding utility billing procedures, tenant requests for relief from utility billing, and the grievance procedure.

“The settlement is the result of hard work by both parties, and we are very pleased that in addition to relief for past charges, our clients will be billed fairly and in compliance with HUD rules going forward,” said Sylvia Jones, attorney for the plaintiff tenants.  Interim CEO Orlando Artze also noted that he is pleased that any unclaimed refunds will be used to create an energy efficiency fund for the benefit of RRHA public housing residents.   

Documents:

Settlement Agreement (PDF) 

Joint Motion for Class Certification and Preliminary Approval (PDF)

Memo in Support of Joint Motion (PDF)

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About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), representing Plaintiffs in this case, 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. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.

About Thomas D. Domonoske
Mr. Domonoske, representing the Plaintiffs in this case, is of counsel with Consumer Litigation Associates.  His primary emphasis is on using the civil justice system to remedy credit-related frauds, including predatory lending, debt collection, and credit reporting.  He has published many articles on several aspects of consumer law in various professional publications.  In the past seventeen years he has given over 140 consumer law trainings at various events around the country and regularly trains JAG lawyers for the United States military.  He has served as a member of the Harrisonburg City School Board and also on the Board of Directors of the Fairfield Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

About the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA)                            
A locally administered, and federally funded housing authority, RRHA provides real estate development, rental housing assistance, and property management of public housing communities for low and moderate-income families throughout the City of Richmond.

About St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP
St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP, representing RRHA in this case, is a litigation firm that has past experience in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 public housing litigation and represents clients in Virginia state and federal courts in matters including civil rights law, business law, eminent domain, criminal defense, college and university disciplinary proceedings, government representation, estate planning and real estate matters.

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) 

HUD to Investigate Redevelopment Abuses

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Opens Investigation into Displacement, Poor Conditions, and Discrimination at Virginia’s First Privatized Public Housing Community. 

 Hopewell, Va., March 9, 2017—In response to complaints filed on behalf of eight current and former public housing residents, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has opened an investigation into discrimination and other program violations at Virginia’s first Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversion. Under the RAD program, Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) and Community Housing Partners (CHP) razed the public housing community Langston Park in 2014 and built new apartments on the site, now called the Summit at Hopewell. The complaints allege HRHA and CHP discriminated against both families with children and residents with disabilities; pushed tenants out of Langston Park, depriving them of their legal right to return to the redeveloped Summit at Hopewell; and relocated other tenants to severely overcrowded housing in poor condition.

The complaints to HUD describe multiple violations of residents’ civil rights under the federal Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. They also allege violations of protections of the federal Uniform Relocation Act for relocated residents, and of RAD program requirements meant to protect affected residents. The alleged problems began early in the conversion process and have continued through the present.

According to the complaints, CHP illegally discriminated against the families from Langston Park who returned to the Summit after construction 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 someone 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 alleged 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.

The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) is a “public-private partnership” model for redeveloping aging public housing. 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. Langston Park was the first RAD conversion in Virginia. There are currently thirty-nine 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.)   

The RAD conversion process requires property management to relocate residents to suitable housing on or off site during construction. According to the HUD complaints, when construction work began at the Summit in 2014, residents were relocated off-site to apartments that were overcrowded or virtually uninhabitable. Families as large as six members were crammed into two-bedroom apartments. Many of these apartments also had moisture and mold issues, according to some parents who allege that previously healthy children experienced medical problems while living in the overcrowded and rundown units, including asthma and other breathing issues.

RAD program rules also guarantee all residents the right to return to the redeveloped property. Some families from Langston Park allege they were pushed out of the community altogether, and not allowed to return to the Summit after construction. 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 at Langston Park claim they were misinformed and pressured, in violation of program rules, to accept buyout offers to move elsewhere, apparently because their return to the Summit would limit CHP’s eligibility for tax credit financing. According to Kim Rolla, Staff Attorney and Housing Coordinator at Legal Aid Justice Center, “all of these alleged actions denied residents – the intended beneficiaries of this program – their federally guaranteed right to return to the redeveloped property. It caused displaced residents extreme financial hardship. Many ended up in unstable housing situations, and some even experienced periods of homelessness.”

Despite these widespread problems, both CHP and HRHA have been approved for another RAD conversion together. Both are currently involved in the conversion of an elderly and disabled public housing building – Kippax Place – where advocates are uncovering similar problems and additional ones unique to that building’s population.

LAJC and HOME filed the complaints on behalf of their clients to prevent further violations of the rights of their clients and other residents who were harmed in the conversion process and/or are continuing to be discriminated against. RAD is often touted as the new frontier of public housing, but HUD, housing authorities, and RAD developers must remember their obligations under the law. The redevelopment of Langston Park is a prime example of a failure to do so, and at the expense of residents who deserve better.

To Read HUD’s Letters Announcing the Investigation, click here.

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. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide. 

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.

H.U.D. Settles Richmond Discrimination Complaint

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Settlement requires reforms to Richmond’s maintenance code enforcement, fair housing practices, and services to limited English proficient residents.

A civil rights complaint filed last year with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) by Latino mobile home park residents against the city of Richmond was resolved last week by agreement between HUD and the parties. The agreement ends a year-long investigation by HUD into allegations that Richmond unfairly targeted the largely Latino-occupied mobile home communities for unprecedented, intensive maintenance code enforcement and that the city refused to offer interpretation or translation as required by federal law. Under the agreement, Richmond will pay $30,000 in damages to the complainants and will take numerous steps to ensure future compliance with the federal Fair Housing Act, to provide meaningful access to city services in Spanish and other languages, and to provide assistance to mobile home park residents affected by its code enforcement activities.

“We are very pleased with this resolution to the HUD complaint,” according to Phil Storey, attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, who represented the residents along with the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C. “The agreement has teeth, so we are confident that it will make a real difference in the way the city deals with mobile home park residents, immigrants, and other minorities going forward in terms of fair housing rights and language access.”

The agreement will remain in force for four years, during which the city of Richmond will be subject to HUD oversight and must submit regular compliance reports to the agency. Some of Richmond’s obligations under the agreement include: performing a new analysis of impediments to fair-housing choice and ensuring that its use of funding from HUD addresses those impediments, including in mobile home parks; regularly training the staff of key departments to protect fair-housing rights and to provide interpretation and translation services to city residents free of charge; posting notices in city offices informing people of the availability of free interpretation upon request; ensuring that city websites and telephone voice response systems are available in Spanish as well as English; appointing a Fair Housing Compliance Officer and a Language Access Coordinator, who will oversee and report regularly to HUD on the city’s compliance with the terms of the agreement.

“The reach of the HUD agreement is very good for the residents of mobile home parks, but also for immigrants and other vulnerable people throughout Richmond,” says Cliff Zatz, partner with Crowell & Moring, which provided pro bono representation on the case. “This is a good example of how federal agencies like HUD work to protect people’s civil rights.”

Resources

HUD Richmond Compliance Agreement (PDF)
HUD Richmond Acuerdo (Spanish) (PDF)
Press Release (PDF)
Aviso de Prensa (PDF)

Media Coverage

Richmond to hire fair housing officer, pay additional $30K in 2nd trailer park bias settlement (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/4/16)

Richmond Fair Housing Lawsuit Settles

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Future code enforcement to be more responsive to vulnerable residents’ needs; language access plan to help City residents access services.

Thirty-three current and former mobile home park residents have reached a negotiated settlement to their housing discrimination lawsuit against the City of Richmond. The residents, represented pro bono by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP, had alleged that an aggressive housing code enforcement campaign violated their civil rights. Under the terms of the settlement, the City of Richmond will institute policies that will help minimize the displacement of mobile home residents in future enforcement activities and will better serve residents who are not fluent in English.

“This settlement is a positive outcome for our clients and for all mobile home park residents in the City of Richmond,” said Marie Diveley, Crowell & Moring senior counsel. “The City has agreed to take important steps that will not only benefit vulnerable mobile home park residents, but will also ensure that limited English speakers can access City services without unnecessary language barriers.”

The suit, which was filed in federal court in Richmond last August, alleged that the City violated the civil rights of the residents by targeting mobile home parks, where residents are mainly Latino, for aggressive code enforcement with the expectation that scores of vulnerable families would likely be displaced. According to the lawsuit, the City also refused to provide adequate interpretation and translation services for the limited English proficient residents, in violation of federal civil rights laws.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement the City will: work with a non-profit partner organization to assist mobile home park residents in addressing maintenance code violations prior to park-wide inspections; provide notices of code violations and appeal forms in Spanish to residents who are proficient in Spanish but not English; institute a language-access plan pursuant to federal civil rights guidelines and train City employees on their obligations under the plan; arrange for Fair Housing Act training for certain departments of City government; and provide modest monetary assistance to the plaintiffs, for repair or relocation, and to assist more generally with repairs in mobile home parks. With the agreement, the City also acknowledges that mobile homes play an important role in the affordable housing supply of Richmond.

“This settlement is the culmination of a long process of negotiation to address serious concerns on both sides,” according to Phil Storey, the Legal Aid Justice Center’s lead attorney on the case. “We are pleased that the City and the residents were able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution, thanks to assistance from Mark Rubin and VCU’s Center for Consensus Building.”

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Aviso de Prensa (PDF)

Lawsuit (PDF)

Preliminary Injunction Sought Against Richmond

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PLAINTIFFS IN HOUSING DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT ASK COURT FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AGAINST CITY OF RICHMOND

Residents of mobile home parks seek protection from threat of homelessness from discriminatory code enforcement while civil rights suit is pending.

Richmond, Virginia, October 9, 2015—Current and former mobile home park residents, plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Richmond, filed a motion yesterday asking the federal court to prohibit the City from condemning or issuing further threats against mobile homes while the case moves forward.  The lawsuit was filed on August 18 alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws because the City has targeted overwhelmingly Latino-occupied mobile home parks for a campaign of aggressive building code enforcement.  The filing, asking the court for a preliminary injunction, argues that mobile home park residents suffer constant anxiety, worrying day-to-day that the City will condemn their homes and leave them suddenly homeless.

Resources

Motion for Preliminary Injunction (PDF)

Memorandum of Law with Exhibits (PDF)

News item from filing of lawsuit

Fair Housing Lawsuit Filed in Richmond

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MOBILE HOME RESIDENTS FILE DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT IN FEDERAL COURT AGAINST CITY OF RICHMOND

City’s code enforcement campaign is discriminatory and aims to shut down a vital source of affordable housing.

A group of 32 current and former mobile home park residents filed a fair housing lawsuit against the City of Richmond in Federal Court after a year of trying to cooperate with the City. The suit alleges that the City’s code enforcement campaign against mobile home parks, which began in early 2014, has violated the civil rights of residents. The lawsuit describes multiple attempts to resolve the safety concerns all of which were rejected by the City.

The group filed the lawsuit with the help of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond and the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C. It alleges that the City’s enforcement campaign discriminates by specifically targeting mobile home parks, where residents are mainly Latino. “Instead of finding ways to help ensure they have safe housing, inspectors are threatening to shut down the only option many of these families can afford,” according to Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Phil Storey.

The lawsuit describes ways the City has subjected mobile home residents to harsh enforcement actions. These include intrusive inspections with armed police escorts; threats to condemn homes or even bring criminal charges if residents don’t allow inspectors inside; and unreasonable repair standards that make compliance unrealistic.

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Aviso de Prensa (PDF)

Lawsuit (PDF)

Media Coverage

City Strangles Poor with Red Tape (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/25/15)

Mobile Home Lawsuit Reflects Poorly on City (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/24/15)

Staking a Claim (Richmond Magazine, 8/23/15)

Mobile Home Residents File Lawsuit Against Richmond (Richmond Free Press, 8/20/15)

Latino Families File Federal Discrimination Lawsuit Against City of Richmond (WWBT NBC12 Richmond, 8/18/15)

Mobile Home Residents File Federal Lawsuit Alleging Richmond Is Violating Latinos’ Civil Rights (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/18/15)

 

 

Housing Discrimination Complaint Filed in Richmond

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MOBILE HOME RESIDENTS FILE HOUSING DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT AGAINST CITY OF RICHMOND

Families say the City’s code enforcement campaign is discriminatory, aims to shut down source of affordable housing.

A group of more than thirty current and former mobile home park residents filed a fair housing complaint against the City of Richmond on Friday after a year of trying to cooperate with the City. It was submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over the City’s code enforcement campaign against mobile home parks. “We all want a safe home and we want to comply with the code,” says Gerardo Martinez, a resident of Mobile Towne on Old Midlothian Turnpike. “But we feel like the City is targeting mobile home parks because we are communities of poor, mostly Latino families.”

The group submitted the complaint to HUD with the help of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond and the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C. It alleges that the City’s enforcement campaign discriminates by specifically targeting mobile home parks, where residents are mainly Latino. “Instead of finding ways to help ensure they have safe housing, inspectors are threatening to shut down the only option many of these families can afford,” according to Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Phil Storey.

The complaint describes ways the City has subjected mobile home residents to harsh enforcement actions. These include intrusive inspections with armed police escorts; threats to condemn homes or even bring criminal charges if residents don’t allow inspectors inside; and unreasonable repair standards that make compliance unrealistic.

Resources

Press Release (PDF)

Aviso de Prensa (PDF)

Official Complaint (PDF)

Media Coverage

City Faces Discrimination Complaint (Style Weekly, 4/27/15)

Making Eviction a Last Resort

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In Partnership with LAJC and PHAR, CRHA Adopts Eviction Policy Changes

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Photo courtesy of PHAR

Charlottesville, Va., January 20, 2015 – After more than two years of vigorous campaigning by residents and advocates, on January 14 the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) formally adopted extensive amendments to its eviction policy. The newly adopted policy includes the majority of the changes championed by the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) and Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC). Many of these changes had already been informally adopted by CRHA during the course of the campaign and resulted in a 91% decrease in evictions from 2011 to 2014. In a win-win, the policies – which clarify resident responsibilities and provide residents avenues to get back on track after periods of financial hardship – have also already led to increased rent collection by CRHA.

The new policy, among other things, clarifies that residents will be offered one-on-one meetings with housing authority staff prior to court action; repayment plans will be offered to all residents who fall behind on their rent but are otherwise complying with their lease; lease termination notices will contain a clear explanation of how to remedy the violation; and a summons to court can only be issued when the amount owed exceeds $50. On the whole, the new policy makes eviction a last resort.

This successful campaign began on September 11, 2012, when Ms. Seay, an elderly woman and long-term resident, was evicted from her CRHA apartment on South First Street, sparking a community protest. PHAR and LAJC realized a systemic approach was needed: a new binding eviction policy.

Throughout 2013 and 2014, PHAR organized community members to speak out at CRHA meetings and other public forums for changes to CRHA’s eviction policy. At PHAR’s request, CRHA placed a moratorium on evictions from September through November 2012, acknowledging that their eviction policy needed to be revisited. In January 2013, CRHA comprehensively amended its Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy but failed to revise the eviction policy. Frustrated, over 100 people marched in protest of recent evictions and in support of dignity for residents of public housing.

PHAR continued to meet with Commissioners, lobby for a new written policy, and raise awareness about the necessary changes that had yet to be made throughout 2013. As the year drew to a close and no policy changes were offered by CRHA, PHAR and LAJC worked together to draft their own version of a new eviction policy. Throughout the spring and summer of 2014, PHAR and LAJC met with CRHA Commissioners to discuss their policy proposal. After months of meetings, public dialogue on the issue, and sustained demands, in the fall CRHA staff held a series of highly productive meetings with PHAR and LAJC representatives. On January 14, 2015, the CRHA adopted almost all of PHAR’s and LAJC’s proposed changes to the housing authority’s eviction policy.

Over the past two years, PHAR’s sustained campaign succeeded not only in changing CRHA’s eviction policy, but also in making eviction a last resort in our community. PHAR, LAJC, and the Charlottesville public housing community at-large are pleased with the changes we were able to achieve in partnership with CRHA. We will stay vigilant to ensure the policies that drastically reduced evictions and are now formalized in CRHA’s eviction policy are respected.

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The Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) was founded in 1998 and has become one of the strongest and most well-known resident organizations in the country. PHAR is the recognized “resident advisory board (RAB)” for public housing in Charlottesville. PHAR is made up entirely by and for people living in public housing. We advocate and organize in our community for systemic changes and assist residents with improving their quality of life.

Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) provides legal representation for low-income individuals in Virginia. LAJC is PHAR’s general counsel.

Contact:

Brandon Collins, PHAR, 434-249-3312

Kim Rolla, LAJC, 434-529-1841

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