Charlottesville considers changes to public housing program, residents express concern

Proponents of the plan insist new program is not meant to privatize

Members of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority are examining the possibility of restructuring the city’s public housing options, a move which is drawing some criticism from groups saying the change would harm residents of public housing projects.

The change is part of an appeal to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, who launched a voluntary pilot program in January known as Rental Assistance Demonstration.

For agencies accepted into the RAD program, public housing projects — which are owned by the government — would be restructured as programs known as Section 8 project-based vouchers or Section 8 project-based assistance. Under this set-up, residents find housing on their own and use the assistance through RAD to pay for rent, rather than living in government-owned buildings.

RAD is meant to increase the sustainability of low-income housing options. Nationwide, HUD estimates that public housing units require $26 billion in repairs — which the department lacks the requisite Congressional appropriations to pay for.

If an agency is selected as one of the 60,000 participants in the RAD program, the approved public housing projects would have to convert to one of the Section 8 assistance contracts by Sept. 30, 2015.

Constance Dunn, the executive director of the housing authority, is a strong proponent of the program’s implementation in Charlottesville. She said the program is not an attempt to privatize public housing, but rather, a necessary measure to address the fiscal deficits the city has or will encounter in maintaining and renovating its public housing.

HUD

The Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents is opposed to the implementation of RAD in Charlottesville, saying the details are too unclear and the program is being implemented without the appropriate amount of time for consideration.

“One of our initial concerns is protecting affordable housing long-term,” association organizer Brandon Collins said. “Our concern was that 15, 20, 30, 40 years down the road, these units would no longer be affordable housing — that they would convert to market rate or something like that.”

The association is also concerned that the RAD program in Charlottesville would force current residents to relocate, which could have serious ramifications, Collins said.

Dunn said the switch to RAD would open low-income housing projects to those seeking to invest in the rehabilitation of these public units.

“HUD has come up with a plan to assist housing authorities to bring in extra income, and it’s not privatization,” Dunn said. “It’s the ability to go out and access non-HUD funds.”

Dunn said she thinks objections to the RAD program are based upon “speculation that there is some ulterior motive.”

“The program does not allow for a decrease [in public housing units],” Dunn said. “Everyone has a right to return [to their house] in the event that you might need to relocate folks for renovation.”

To participate in the program, the Charlottesville public housing agency would have to have a meeting with all residents of the public housing.

During renovations, residents who would be unwilling to wait for public housing renovations to be finished would be given alternative public housing or a Housing Choice Voucher that would allow them to search for private housing.

The Charlottesville housing authority has not yet filed an application for RAD and is still in the process of receiving education from HUD.

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