RRHA ‘missed a golden opportunity’ to help people become homeowners

7/14/2017, 10:44 a.m.

Re “Prospect of home ownership escapes 70-year-old Randolph resident,” Free Press June 29-July 1 edition:

I was appalled reading the Free Press front page story about Charlene Harris, the 70-year-old Randolph resident. Is the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s management becoming aloof and unfeeling towards the residents they serve?

To think that the RRHA would move a 70-year-old lady from a house she has lived in and called home for 49 years and relocate her into a less desirable house and neighborhood is inconceivable.    

The agency’s management team missed a golden opportunity to place 119 tenants in affordable homes as homeowners. HUD’s Section 32 Public Housing Homeownership Program of the U.S. Housing Act was created to give public housing tenants access to affordable home ownership opportunities. The Section 32 program gave RRHA the option and the right to design a home ownership program as innovative as the agency desired, with flexible terms, unconventional arrangements and creative financing to enable families to purchase the scattered site homes.

 The RRHA initially offered to sell the house to Mrs. Harris for $88,000 and reduced the sale price to $58,000. Neither price was an innovative or affordable solution.   Mrs. Harris is 70 and has lived in the house since 1968. RRHA never negotiated with the tenants in good faith from the beginning. The agency required tenants to pay a $500 earnest fee before it would tell them what the sale price would be. The NAACP stepped in to investigate and advocate on behalf of the tenants.

The 119 vacant houses have been in RRHA’s inventory for more than 10 years.  The agency had adequate time to plan and implement a successful program that could have made home ownership possible for 119 tenants. Their failure to offer most of the public housing tenants who are paying $500 monthly rents the opportunity to buy any of the housing is evident that there was no credible or well thought out home ownership program. (Eleven tenants did buy their homes.)  

If RRHA can sell the houses to nonprofit organizations for $1, then the agency can sell the houses to tenants for $1 and find creative ways to obtain financing for the tenants through HUD 203K programs, partnerships with the city and banks and the use of Section 8 vouchers for mortgage payments rather than rental payments. 

 Instead, RRHA chose to sell 26 properties to investors who will renovate and flip the homes at market rates. 

RRHA is contributing to depriving low-income persons of the opportunity to attain affordable housing in Richmond, where affordable housing is becoming unaffordable.



The writer is president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters.