HUD to Investigate Redevelopment Abuses
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 Wyatt 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.