RRHA Freezes Enforcement of Rent Collection


by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) has announced an agency-wide freeze on the enforcing rent payments through the end of the year. No public housing family will be removed from their home for debt owed to RRHA during that period.

“During this time,” the authority said, “RRHA will undertake an agency-wide evaluation of our public housing families’ rental accounts and give tenants that are in arrears the opportunity to come current. By utilizing a combination of repayment agreements, debt forgiveness, philanthropic contributions, and other eviction diversion methods, RHHA will endeavor to bring every RRHA family with a delinquent rental account as close to good standing as possible.”

The action comes in response to pressure from “tenant advocates,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, praised the move. “We’re very encouraged and we see it as a few steps in the right direction,” he said.

Now, nobody wants to see poor people needlessly evicted from their homes…

And it’s entirely possible that a big, bureaucratic agency like RRHA is among the more remorseless of the Richmond region’s landlords and stands in grievous need of reform. But let’s remember one thing: Rent payments account for about 16% of the authority’s operating revenue (or at least it did in fiscal 2017). If revenues fall short of projections, the authority has to cut spending. Depending upon how the budget is structured, rental shortfalls could impact maintenance & operations or tenant services.

RRHA financial documents indicate that rental revenue fell from $10,770,000 in fiscal 2016 to $10,476,000 in fiscal 2017, the most recent year for which figures are available — a decline of nearly $300,000. It was not clear from financial documents, however, whether the drop was caused by a brewing problem with rent payments or some other factor. Nor is there any way to tell from public documents if the decline in rental income continued into fiscal 2018 and 2019.

Whatever the current numbers, the RRHA needs to be alert to the free-rider problem. If public-housing tenants learn that they may be granted clemency from paying their rent, an increasing number may seek to game the system — withholding rent in the hope of having payments rescheduled or forgiven entirely. The desire to show compassion for families down on their luck must be balanced against the need to maintain an organization financially capable of meeting its obligations to all tenants — like keeping housing units in a state of good repair.

It’s a tricky balancing act. I will monitor this story as it unfolds.

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20 responses to “RRHA Freezes Enforcement of Rent Collection

  1. This is the kind of thing that happens downstream of a kid who fails in school. This is an example of the kinds of things society and taxpayers end up dealing with and paying taxes for when we have under-educated individuals who then have kids ….

    So for me the question is – is this a cost that we can avoid by investing more and/or better prioritizing our tax dollars on the “front end” instead of yammering about restorative justice and related?

    Every kid that does not receive a decent education is another candidate for this mess.

    • You are perfectly correct about the long term consequences of the problem, and the only possible solution – breaking the cycle with the children coming up. Simply spending more on schools is a lazy answer, almost an admission that you lack better ideas. And when somebody suggests some heresy like pushing able bodied Medicaid recipients into jobs, job training, or other activities that are pathways to work, you are the absolute first to rear up and howl like a banshee.

  2. Doggone good point. This is what happens out in Cal. They upped the larceny break even point (as they did in Virginia) and guess what? People just go in and take stuff. Dont’ care. Putting some out of business.

  3. re: ” Simply spending more on schools is a lazy answer, almost an admission that you lack better ideas. And when somebody suggests some heresy like pushing able bodied Medicaid recipients into jobs, job training, or other activities that are pathways to work, you are the absolute first to rear up and howl like a banshee.”

    100% Grade A Horse manure!!!

    The school angle is not just about money – it’s about how it’s is allocated also and I’d be the very first to admit – that MO MONEY for the current approach is problematic at best.

    AND I have no problem what-so-ever with work and/or more education as a requirement for Medicaid Expansion but the truth of the matter is that original Medicaid is not given to able-bodied people EVEN IF THEY DO WORK so the expansion was explicitly designed for those who do work and for starters, I’d like to see a break-down of how many recipients of the Expansion already work and how many do not so we actually do know what the flipping heck we are talking about instead of just peddling the current right wing pablum that did help to get the GOP defeated this past election. Ya’ll can’t win like this Steve -that dog aint going to hunt.

  4. The Conservative/GOP argument on money for schools is that more money is not the answer – okay on the simple premise – but there could also well be a penny-wise/pound-foolish. For instance, Pre-K – we’d argue against more funding for Pre-K – because it’s “Mo money”.

    And it works that way for pretty much any additional program… so the net effect is to essentially advocate freezing the current approach in place – i.e. no more money – just “work it out” with what you got, not a penny more until you show better results from all the money you currently get…

    right?

  5. I believe it is a fair statement to expect a person to have to pay some form of “rent” to reside in a property. With that said, housing through RRHA is the cheapest offering available. The minimum rent amount is $50 and this includes water, sewer and electricity. I know a family who has 1 adult and 1 child in Gilpin Court living in a 2-bedroom apartment and is charged $68 a month. I think it be beneficial to learn why these individuals are unable to pay their rent. Are they being charged in excess of what is reasonable for them to pay according to their income? Do they have an income and if not why? Are they disabled and not aware of how to apply for disability benefits? Are these isolated incidents and renters only needing one-time assistance? If so, HUD has a link on their Virginia portal for this remedy. I would never want to see anyone evicted from their home either however I believe the reasons why need to be identified and then determine what is the best course to take going forward.

  6. ATWBM makes a reasonable comment and I’m sure the administrators work diligently to do their mission within the constraints of rules and resources available.

    But I was struck with the idea of what the renters could “afford” and how this aspect fits in to the larger concept of “affordability” in a given region but especially so in regions where housing demand is great and the cost of housing is also.

    For instance, in NoVa, would there also be a housing agency like is depicted in this blog post that provides housing similar to RRHA in Richmond?

    Is this kind of housing for people who work but cannot afford a place to live or is there more require to “qualify”?

    Are there RRHA type agencies across Virginia that serve a similar group of folks?

    What happens to folks who cannot get a rental unit from RRHA, do they become homeless?

    The thing I find frustrating in BR sometimes is the narrowing of the focus to one area ostensibly to focus on the government’s role and what kind of folks are being “helped” and whether the government is screwing up and/or the recipients are doing all they can do to help themselves. It’s valid to look at those issues but as ATWBM points out – it’s much more complex than limited “looks” at the issue that tend to not portray the overall context.

    So, is RRHA an agency to provide affordable housing or is it an agency to mitigate homelessness or what?

  7. I will try to answer some of your questions based off information found on the websites and what I’ve learned working with residents and different agencies.

    Are there RRHA type agencies across Virginia that serve a similar group of folks?:

    RRHA is a Public Housing Agency (PHA) that is locally administered (for the City of Richmond) and federally funded. They are a branch of HUD. In Virginia, there are approximately 40 PHA’s.

    For instance, in NoVa, would there also be a housing agency like is depicted in this blog post that provides housing similar to RRHA in Richmond?:

    NOVA (Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax) are included in the PHA’s. They use the same Federal guidelines to determine eligibility and rent.
    Is this kind of housing for people who work but cannot afford a place to live or is there more require to “qualify”?:

    The only admission requirement regarding income is not to exceed the limit set by the federal guidelines which are calculated according to the area and size of the family. It is extremely low. The majority of the lease holders residing in PHA’s do not have an income that is taxed/reported or they are receiving disability or social security which are below the income guidelines.
    You do not have to have good credit. A person’s criminal history could be a barrier for admission. Depending on when the conviction occurred and the circumstances they will allow you to reapply at a later date. They provide a 92-page document which explains in detail the Admissions and Continued Occupancy Guidelines.

    What happens to folks who cannot get a rental unit from RRHA, do they become homeless?:

    It depends on the reason they were denied and what the current situation was that caused them to need housing. There is a “Homeless Crisis Hotline” and a shelter or transitional program in place to address almost every issue. Although there is “No Place Like Home” this would be a starting point to provide shelter and allow the person to connect with a housing counselor to begin working on placement for permanent housing.

    So, is RRHA an agency to provide affordable housing or is it an agency to mitigate homelessness or what?

    RRHA is an agency that provides “low income housing” versus “affordable housing”. If you watch this segment produced by WTRV and the ones listed below it, you will have a better understanding of why this agency should be a last resort. You raised important questions and I hope I was able to assist in answering them. If you have any others please let me know .

    https://wtvr.com/2019/05/28/roaches-rats-mold-multiple-richmond-public-housing-properties-fail-federal-inspection-scores/

  8. This entire affair is a cheap political maneuver, based on delusions. For example:

    As reported on Nov. 3, 2019 in the Wall Street Journal commentary by Phil Gramm, and John F. Early, titled The Truth About Income Equality, the census fails to account for taxes and most welfare payments, painting a distorted picture.

    “The average bottom-quintile (lowest 20%) household earns only $4,908 … (But) The average bottom-quintile household receives $45,389 in government transfers. Private transfers from charitable and family sources provide another $3,313. The average household in the bottom quintile pays $2,709 in taxes, mostly sales, property and excise taxes. The net result is that the average household in the bottom quintile has $50,901 of available resources.

    (So) Government transfers go mostly to low-income households. The average bottom-quintile household … receive government transfers of some $17 for every dollar of taxes they pay. … No matter how much income you think government in a free society should redistribute, it is much harder to argue that the bottom quintile is getting too little or the top quintile is getting too much when the ratio of net resources available to them is 3.8 to 1 rather than 60 to 1 (the ratio of what they earn) or the Census number of 17 to 1 (which excludes taxes and most transfers).

    Today government redistributes sufficient resources to elevate the average household in the bottom quintile to a net income, after transfers and taxes, of $50,901—well within the range of American middle-class earnings. … Antipoverty spending in the past 50 years has not only raised most of the households in the bottom quintile of earners into the middle class, but has also induced many low-income earners to stop working. In 1967, when funding for the War on Poverty started to flow, almost 70% of prime working-age adults in bottom-quintile households were employed. Over the next 50 years, that share fell to 36% …

    Any debate about further redistribution of income needs to be tethered to these facts. America already redistributes enough income to compress the income difference between the top and bottom quintiles from 60 to 1 in earned income down to 3.8 to 1 in income received …” End Quote.

    In short, American democracy is dying in a sea of deceits, lies, and darkness.

    • I would want to know the source of the commentary’s data. The latest Congressional Budget Office estimates that, in 2016, the average income among households in the lowest quintile was $21,000 before means-tested transfers and federal taxes (that seems much more realistic that the $4,908 cited by the authors). After means-tested transfers and federal taxes, the average household income in the lowest quintile was $35,000. (A $14,000 increase from transfers, a lot less than the $45,389 cited by the authors). The source: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/55413#section0

      After taking into account state sales and excise taxes, the income would be lower than $35,000. That is a far cry from the $50,091 cited by the authors. Also, bear in mind that is an average, which means there were a whole lot of households with an income lower than $35,000. These days, rent for a decent apartment will run $700-1,000 per month. That would take a big chunk out of that less than $35,000 per year.

      • Since these type of benefits are tax free, a proper analysis would recognize the benefits as tax free. Then to compare with people working and not receiving these types of benefits, grossed up an amount that would reflect income before taxes. Alternatively, the post-tax income of working people should be compared. Of course, any earned income by benefit recipients must be treated the same as anyone else with earned and taxable income.

        This is another reason why ignoring our immigration laws hurts many low-income people. Turning off the supply of unauthorized labor would raise wages for American workers at the bottom.

      • The Fair Market Rent for a 3 bedroom unit in the Richmond VA area which averages 926sf is $1,421. Assuming a family had 2 children, boy and girl this is what would be needed.

        https://www.huduser.gov//datasets/fmr/fmrs/FY2019_code/2019summary.odn

  9. re: ” (But) The average bottom-quintile household receives $45,389 in government transfers”

    would be interesting to see a line item breakdown of those payments.

  10. This site claims RRHA is “evicting and displacing families while refusing to lease vacant units.” Supposedly, RRHA could be earning more rent, but is instead attempting to “justify demolition without approval from HUD.” I cannot verify these claims, but it’s possible that RRHA actions are tied to Navy Hill/ other urban-planning goals.

    https://us.iofc.org/news/call-for-accountability-for-rrha-regarding-public-housing-evictions?fbclid=IwAR3pVTxm6SD_II6qbLoQd_xyKD2G6KRbxTq-Dn4DsCpyXFHGm12nEezyB98

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