Five former public housing residents settled fair housing complaints they filed with HUD related to the privatization and redevelopment of their Hopewell, VA public housing complex under the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. In addition, HUD has determined that multiple residents were illegally denied their legal right to return to their RAD-redeveloped homes. The fair housing complaints alleged that the Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) and the developer Community Housing Partners (CHP) relocated residents with children to severely overcrowded, substandard housing during construction, and upon their return to the redeveloped property, discriminated against families with children and against residents with disabilities.
HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) announced in May that it had launched a formal investigation into the discrimination complaints filed by residents of the former public housing complex. The complaint described the impact of the alleged discriminatory practices: one of the disabled residents who was denied an accessible bathroom for months had to bathe in the kitchen using a bucket and rag; a single mother lost custody of her youngest child due in part to the instability and inadequacy of her housing during the redevelopment process; and another resident, whose repeated requests for a first-floor unit due to her severe heart problems, died of cardiac arrest and arrhythmia in her second-floor unit. On September 29, the complainants signed a conciliation agreement with FHEO, HRHA, and CHP that settles their discrimination claims.
In addition to the civil rights protections applicable to all housing, the RAD program rules also guarantee all residents the right to return to the redeveloped property. One former resident with a daughter in a wheelchair reports that she was unable to return to the redeveloped property because the new owner told her that there would not be a wheelchair-accessible unit. Several other residents report being misinformed and pressured by the developer, in violation of RAD program rules, to accept buyout offers to move elsewhere rather than return after redevelopment, apparently because their return would impact the new owner’s eligibility for Low Income Housing Tax Credits. HUD’s Office of Recapitalization laid out findings in a July 17, 2017 letter that HRHA had denied multiple residents their right to return to the property and ordered HRHA to immediately extend an offer to the families to return to their previous homes.
NLIHC and other advocates have long been concerned that RAD lacks adequate accountability to protect residents’ rights. “If HUD doesn’t improve oversight of the RAD program, this case could be just the tip of a wave of massive rights violations as HUD and local housing authorities privatize public housing to finance its redevelopment,” said Kim Rolla, attorney with the Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program at Legal Aid Justice Center. According to Jessie Cassella of the National Housing Law Project, “The issues and challenges experienced by tenants in Hopewell are not unique to this RAD conversion and emphasize the need for HUD to proactively monitor RAD conversions and enforce tenants' rights nationwide." Congress recently expanded RAD’s authorization to allow for the conversion of 225,000 public housing units nationwide, up from 60,000 originally authorized in 2012, and HUD is seeking to eliminate the cap entirely.
Key provisions of the conciliation agreement include:
- Eliminating discriminatory and unwarranted policies by the HRHA and CHP;
- Appointing a fair housing coordinator in perpetuity who will provide resources and contact information to applicants and residents to file fair housing complaints at HUD;
- Monitoring of both the CHP’s and HRHA’s future compliance with fair housing laws by HUD and through fair housing testing conducted by an outside expert;
- Requiring improved procedures by HRHA and CHP for handling requests for reasonable accommodations by people with disabilities;
- Requiring improved relocation procedures for future RAD projects addressing resident needs proactively from beginning to end;
- Requiring installation of an age-appropriate playground for older children at the property with resident input; and
- Creating fully funded after-school and summer programs for children at the property.