A Partial Defense of RRHA Eviction Policies

Creighton Court, a public housing project run by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Photo credit: Richmond Magazine.

I never thought I’d find myself defending the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), which I criticized last year for running up a $150 million maintenance backlog on its 4,000 public housing units. But the wheel of public policy debate turns in unexpected ways. Now, RRHA is being dinged for its high eviction rates.

Here’s the background courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Evictions in Virginia drew national attention earlier this year after a New York Times report on a nationwide study done by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab showing Richmond as having the second-highest eviction rate in the country, with Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake also in the top 10.

How the agency chooses to pursue those who do not pay rent on time was the subject of a Richmond Times-Dispatch analysis, which determined no landlord in Virginia threatened to kick out more of their tenants last year than RRHA.

Needless to say, many if not most residents of Richmond’s public housing projects are living on the edge. They’re the poorest of the poor, subsisting on minimum wage jobs if they work at all. Sure, some may qualify for food stamps, earned income tax credits, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, energy assistance, free cell phones, housing subsidies, legal aid, and other government-welfare benefits, not to mention soup kitchens, toys for tots, private-school scholarships, and a panoply of charitable programs, but their lives tend to be chaotic and they live paycheck to paycheck. All it takes is one financial setback, and they can’t find money for rent.

As the housing provider of last resort, RRHA arguably has the least credit-worthy customer base of any landlord in Virginia. I’m not the least bit surprised that it has the highest eviction rate.

Let’s ask ourselves, what would happen if RRHA adopted practices, either voluntarily or under compulsion of state law, to curtail evictions by means advocated by tenant-rights groups? What if RRHA extended the length of time for tenants to come up with the cash?

First, would late payments and eviction rates noticeably decline, or would tenants just adjust expectations push up against the new limits like they pushed up against the old?

Second, would RRHA suffer a diminution of cash flow?

And, third, if it did, what would be the consequences? Would RRHA have less money to pay for desperately-needed repairs? Put another way, to what extent would showing clemency to those who fail to pay their rent on time impact negatively those who do?

My problem with social justice warriors is not that they have compassion for poor people (some of whom deserve compassion and some of whom don’t), but that they propose remedies without taking into account the unintended consequences. No one knows the answers to the questions raised here. Some unintended consequences are entirely foreseeable, but no one seems to care.

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6 responses to “A Partial Defense of RRHA Eviction Policies”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    How about an RRHA owned Pawn Shop? If you need some money for rent then you bring something of value to “RRHA Pawn It!”. A TV, stereo, gun, cell phone, etc. RRHA Pawn It! makes the payment. You can have your property back if you pay back the money within 90 days (no interest). Otherwise, the item goes on sale in the associated store.

  2. Brilliant! You ought to shop the idea to Ben Carson.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Uh, might want to think about what you might be incentivizing there….

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        naw… why put too much thought into it… remember , we’re talking about the poorest of the poor here…

  3. Gee, it’s hardly surprising that when Richmond bulldozed its way through Jackson Ward and Oregon Hill in the 50s, replacing neighborhoods of privately-owned homes with Mosby Court et al, (1) the concentration of poverty in the “projects” since then has only got worse, and (2) there’s been no gentrification anywhere near the “projects” despite the proximity to Church Hill, but (3) gentrification is a big issue where there are no “projects,” from Oregon Hill over to Maymont and across the River south of Forest Hills. What you are touching on here is not mismanagement by RRHA but a statistic that’s a direct consequence of the forces that created the “projects” with their concentrations of poverty in the first place. No wonder that statistic stands out.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I suspect a lot of the clients are women with kids… dad is not around… and/or got sent off to prison. Any number of things from a broken appliance to a kid with an illness or Mom ended up on drugs.. can topple them into even worse financial disaster.

    You can blame them for being badly educated and making bad choices… not the least of which is having kids when they are already on the edge of financial disaster.

    RRHA is no different than those neighborhood schools serving primarily poverty-afflicted neighborhoods. Neither the schools nor RRHA can really fix the problem – they’re dealing with the symptoms.

    You can curse the darkness or you can truly try to understand the dimensions of the problem and work towards better solutions – none of which, will ever approach silver-bullet perfection.

    The more kids that you can get truly educated – and that includes teaching them how to be a reliable and trustworthy employee… the more we chip away at this … or ..we can just find dozens of different ways to highlight the various ways of “failure”.

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