“I have a few words to say before the public comment period on behalf of our board and in alignment with our new CEO. I know that many of you are here tonight because of what you have read in the newspaper and perhaps on social media. I would like to describe the reality of the housing authority’s intentions because what you have read is not an accurate description of the process we are embarking on. Let me share the actual position of the authority regarding our existing public housing stock.
First, we have been clear in these board meetings for the past two years that we recognize that the housing conditions in our public housing communities are not acceptable. Our public housing stock is not providing the quality living environment that our residents deserve and are entitled to. We have also repeatedly established that our highest priority use for our limited capital improvement funding is the health and safety of our residents…but that we would move as rapidly as possible to rehabilitate or replace this housing stock. HUD has also made it clear to us that this is the only satisfactory course of action for us to take. Finally, capital needs assessments were undertaken by RRHA for all of our communities last year. The results of these make clear that replacement of this housing is a necessity.
The process of rehabilitating or replacing public housing is complex. It starts with the authority formally making this commitment to HUD. This is what the 5 year plan does – it states our commitment to get on the path to improving or replacing this housing. Once we have made this commitment, then the planning and the resource development begins. The replacement of our housing stock will take over a half a billion dollars –let me repeat that – in excess of $500 million dollars. It will be a critical part of our planning to identify and secure those funds.
This will be a major challenge but we are already out of the starting gate. Later this year, we will begin the rehabilitation of nearly 600 public housing apartments. This includes: 4th Avenue, Afton, Bainbridge, Decatur, Fox Manor, Fulton, Lombardy, Old Brook, Randolph, Stonewall, and Stovall.
Most of this rehabilitation will be conducted with residents staying in place…meaning that they will not need to be temporarily relocated.
We also have the first phase of the replacement housing for Creighton Court coming out of the ground at the Armstrong site and the first of those apartments will be available for occupancy by Creighton residents later this year. … and, we have begun to offer housing options to our public housing residents in other new and rehabilitated communities – one of these is the Goodwyn at Union Hill on Venable Street in the east end – 52 new , high quality apartments developed by one of our local nonprofit housing partners – the Better Housing Coalition. Through an agreement between RRHA and Better Housing, we now have former public housing residents living in the Goodwyn.
This also represents another commitment that we are making – to offer choice to our existing residents. Most residents in our city have choices about where they will live, but most of our public housing residents do not. As we move down this path to replacing and improving our public housing, we will take every opportunity to offer choices to our residents.
Let me address the fear and uncertainty on the part of our residents that has been prompted by recent reporting. We understand that the most important question that you have is what will happen to me – how will this affect me. The answer is simple – you have a guarantee that you will have much better housing than you have now. You will have the opportunity to return to your neighborhood to new or rehabilitated housing…and we will endeavor to offer you other choices in addition to the option of returning to your current community. We will make our best efforts to minimize disruptions caused by the rehabilitation and construction although we recognize that some of that will be inevitable.
I want to also emphasize that our residents will be fully involved and fully informed with respect to the planning for these transitions. This is RRHA’s policy, it is HUD’s requirement and it is the only way that we can successfully accomplish our goal. This planning will get underway in the next few months and will continue for the years ahead until we complete this task of improving all of our housing.
Now let me emphasize this…. because it is shameful that some suggest that RRHA will demolish housing and NOT provide better homes and more choices to our residents. I want to be clear about this… no residents will be left behind in this process. We recognize that some of our residents are among the most vulnerable in the city … our commitment is to provide them with quality housing that they can afford.
Another rumor that has circulated is that the housing authority is “selling public housing to private developers”. This is a gross misunderstanding of how this scale of housing revitalization must be undertaken. We must work with both nonprofit and for profit partners to accomplish this challenging task but we anticipate that RRHA will retain controlling ownership of replacement housing and, indeed, that is exactly what is happening with the first 600 units where rehab will get underway later this year.
Finally I want to say a word about the issue of “one for one replacement”. This policy basically is intended to make sure that if affordable housing is demolished, then it will be replaced by an equal number new affordable homes. RRHA is in the business of developing and facilitating the development of affordable housing. We are a key part of the Mayor’s strategy expand the number of affordable homes in the city. In the past three years, we have enabled the construction of nearly 1,300 new and rehabilitated affordable rental homes through the issuance of tax exempt bonds and we expect to continue to play this role. I hope that we will have completed the job of improving our public housing within the next 6-7 years. Our ability to do this will depend on our success in attracting the funds that are needed to achieve this goal. But one thing is clear, at the end of this process, we will have more affordable apartments in the city than we have now.
Everything that I have discussed this evening is about our commitment to improving the homes of our residents – that is our highest priority and our most fundamental responsibility. But we recognize that this work needs to be accompanied by increased access to services for our residents and improved community amenities. We will be working with the city and our partners in the private sector to achieve these as well.”
A more complete statement of the Board and the Authority’s position is contained in the Guiding Principles for Rehabilitation and Redevelopment which were adopted by this Board earlier this year.