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RRHA Board Chair Responds to STYLE Article Re: Privatizing Creighton

Responding to STYLE Weekly’s “OPINION: Privatizing Creighton” (May 25, 2021)

June 3, 2021

STYLE Weekly | P.O. Box 2820 | Norfolk, VA 23501

Brent Baldwin, Editor and Chief
G.W. Poindexter, Copy Editor
Edwin Slipek, Jr. Senior Contributing Editor
Richard Meagher, Contributing Writer

To THE Editors of Style Weekly:               
I have read Richard Meagher’s “Opinion: Privatizing Creighton” in your May 25, 2021 edition, and I am compelled to address some of the questions he has raised and to correct some misinformation contained in his Opinion piece. First and foremost, the welfare, safety and security of RRHA public housing residents and voucher holders are our primary mission, and the staff and Commissioners of RRHA have done and are doing everything in their power to assure such welfare, safety and security to the residents of Creighton Court as we transform that community to provide the quality of housing they deserve and have been deprived of for many years.

Mr. Meagher states that what RRHA is proposing in connection with Creighton Court “is to throw out the provision of public housing units entirely.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Public housing was established by the federal Housing Act of 1937. Public housing communities similar to Creighton Court were constructed pursuant to that Act over 80 years ago.  Since the 1970’s, when then President Richard Nixon placed a moratorium on public housing spending, there has only been limited expansion of public housing units and federal housing subsidies have instead shifted to housing vouchers.

With minimal funding allotted to and for public housing, RRHA has had to adjust its operations and mission accordingly. The public housing units that RRHA manages, currently 70-80 years old, are obsolete and do not address the needs and concerns of our residents, especially the accessibility and mobility needs and concerns of our elderly residents and our other residents who are disabled or otherwise physically challenged. RRHA believes that our residents deserve quality housing that meets their needs and keeping or renovating the current public housing stock will not achieve this objective.  

The purpose and goal of transforming and redeveloping Creighton Court and our other communities are to provide our residents with affordable, high-quality housing options while the redevelopment is progressing and after the redevelopment has been completed.

All of the decisions relating to the redevelopment of Creighton Court have been made to minimize and facilitate their temporary relocation during the construction of new housing.

RRHA has invited affected residents to an array of meetings designed to ensure that they had numerous opportunities to participate in decisions regarding the amenities to be included in their transformed community, regarding the design of their redeveloped community and regarding the relocation options available to them.  In addition, RRHA has ensured that all affected residents have been given the opportunity to personally meet with RRHA staff and/or with representatives of the developer to discuss the individual relocation preferences and options available to the residents and their families, to prepare them for the relocation and to describe the relocation assistance that RRHA will provide to them.

More importantly, RRHA has been fully transparent with the affected residents regarding the number of units being developed in each phase of the Creighton Court redevelopment, and this information has been discussed thoroughly during well-publicized public meetings. RRHA has described in great detail what resources will be utilized to develop each phase of the Creighton Court redevelopment and how many redeveloped units will be affordable for low-income residents.

The Community Builders (TCB), which is partnering with RRHA to redevelop Creighton Court, has worked closely with RRHA to determine how many redeveloped units need to be set aside in each phase. The number of such units has been increased following the individual resident meetings in order to ensure that there will be sufficient units available to all residents who want to return to the redeveloped Creighton Court.  Based on these individual meetings, it has been determined that the first redevelopment phase, known as “Phase 1,” will contain 68 units, all of which will be developed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and available to families at 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or less.  Of these 68 units, 23 will be set aside voucher units specifically for families from Creighton Court. Additionally, as RRHA and TCB become aware of residents who want to return to the redeveloped Creighton Court and who need units to address their mobility and access needs, TCB has designated more than the federally required set aside of mobility units (known as ADA units) for such residents.

Eighty-three percent of the current residents of Creighton Court have overwhelmingly responded to RRHA in surveys that they prefer to receive a Tenant Protection Voucher (TPV) or a Project Based Voucher (PBV), while 17 percent of the survey respondents have communicated to RRHA that they desire to return to the newly transformed Creighton Court.

Plans for the removal of 192 units in Phase 1 of Creighton Court have been approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  It is not true that “nearly half of the units at Creighton are boarded up”.  However, as units in Phase 1 of Creighton Court have been vacated, they are not being re-rented because they have been approved for redevelopment and they are being boarded up for safety purposes.  Other vacated units in Creighton Court will be utilized to temporarily relocate residents in Phase 1, who desire to relocate to a new, redeveloped Creighton Court unit, or utilized to temporarily relocate residents of Phase 1 who may need more time to utilize their voucher for relocation.  Any new units in Phase 1 which are not need for the aforesaid purposes, will be rented and will be available for rental to qualifying families on the RRHA waiting list.

Mr. Meagher’s statement that the RRHA Board of Commissioners have “shown little interest in getting involved in (RRHA) affairs” is totally misguided.  In fact, the Board, which has five members who have been on the Board for less than a year, have spent innumerable hours dealing with RRHA affairs and analyzing and re-analyzing the details and logistics of the transformation of Creighton Court. Mr. Meagher and any member of the public are able and encouraged to attend meetings of the Board (which, unfortunately, are currently virtual meetings due to the pandemic) to observe the Commissioners “in action” as they deal with RRHA affairs.

The Board of Commissioners is currently accepting comments to the RRHA Annual Agency Plan through July 2, and we welcome your comments to the plan. In addition, the RRHA staff and Commissioners want to hear any concerns or questions anyone may have about the Creighton Court transformation or any other RRHA matter and we want to prevent misinformation from being spread throughout the community, which will only result in needless confusion and anxiety.  And as the current chair of the Board of Commissioners, I want to assure everyone that the Board and I will address your questions and concerns as quickly as possible. You may contact me by email at neil.kessler@RRHA.com.

Neil S. Kessler
Retired Counsel, Troutman Pepper