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.There are currently no comments highlighted.