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Yes, Virginia [Taxpayer], we are all Slumlords. Maybe We Can Stop It.

I decided after seeing and reading this article (here’s the follow up article) in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on public housing that I had to contend for the faith – the libertarian faith that is – anew:

Richmond public housing agency weighing ‘bold move’ to boost financial stability

I was hoping the “bold move” was to sell the projects to the residents.

But NO, not yet!  But see what YOU, Virginia Taxpayer help own and operate.  Yes, RRHA is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia:

Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the largest housing authority in the state. RRHA, a property management and real estate development company, provides quality affordable housing and leads community revitalization efforts throughout the City of Richmond.

RRHA, through its Property Management and Assisted Housing rental housing program, serves nearly 10,000 residents in approximately 4,100 public housing units and through the Housing Choice Voucher Program (also known as Section 8) provides housing assistance to nearly 3,000 families. (emphasis added)

That’s right – RRHA owns over FOUR THOUSAND UNITS of housing – and since RRHA is a state agency is effect – guess what – YOU help own it!  (Or at least pay for it)

But all is not well in RRHA-land:

Problems are mounting across the public housing communities that nearly 10,000 of Richmond’s poorest residents call home, and the cash-strapped agency that oversees the properties doesn’t have $150 million for needed repairs.

Sewage lines break, mold gathers around leaky window sills and rickety heaters sputter and fail in the January cold. Concrete foundations are deteriorating and appliances give out. Emergencies drive expenses.

Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority officials say things will only worsen with time, as the roughly 4,000 units age and federal subsidies used to keep them up dwindle.

OOPS!  So where will they get the 150 MILLION DOLLARS for the improvements?  Time to get out your wallet, Virginia taxpayer!  Well, first they have a bold move to take:

To that end, officials are weighing asking the federal government for permission to convert the courts – Gilpin, Hillside, Mosby, Fairfield, Whitcomb and Creighton – from the federal public housing program to the Section 8 housing choice voucher program.

The authority would retain ownership and operation of the communities and officials say residents would not see substantive changes, but Somanath estimated it would net the agency an extra $7.5 million annually to apply toward property maintenance and planning for large-scale redevelopment. That’s because federal payments for Section 8, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s main program for providing public assistance in the private housing market, are higher than they are for the public housing program.

Hitting the federal dole – yes borrow from PRChina – is hardly a bold move to me.  But public housing is in serious trouble all over the US.  It was stated in the article that some public housing agencies are in danger of bankruptcy.

Now I am not sure what happens when a public housing unit declares bankruptcy but I am sure it is not pretty for the residents.  Probably the creditors would at least consider a forced sale of the units.  That is likely to be the major asset a public housing agency would have to pay bills.  The residents are likely to go from the public slumlord to private ones.

So, here’s my concept – “sell” the units to the residents.  A sliding scale would be set up to reward longer term residents and maybe some sort of sales restrictions to protect the new owners from exploration from house flippers etc.  With ownership and potential for equity in a home to call their own – residents will be empowered to improve their lives, their homes and their neighborhoods.  Could be some transition loans or even grants to help get the needed repairs made since the banks could hold a mortgage on the new privately-held units.

In fact, there is existing law that allows under certain circumstances to sell public housing to the residents.  I think it is too complicated and too compromised.  But Section 32 of the US Housing Act of 1937 does allow certain residents to buy the housing:

The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA) permits PHAs, through Section 32 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, to make public housing dwelling units available for purchase by low-income families as their principal residence. Under Section 32, a PHA may (1) sell all or a
portion of a public housing development to eligible public or non-public housing residents, or (2) provide Capital Fund assistance to public housing families to purchase homes, and (3) provide Capital Fund assistance to acquire homes that will be sold to low-income families. Section 32 generates an exception, allowing the Public Housing Capital Fund to be used to acquire units for sale that will not be put under public housing ACC contracts. This does not apply to the use of the Capital Fund by the PHA to build or substantially rehabilitate units that are not public housing for sale under Section 32. Although public housing units that are newly constructed or substantially rehabilitated may be sold under Section 32, such construction and rehabilitation by the PHA is not covered under this section, but rather is governed by the public housing
development and modernization regulations. The final Section 32 rule replaces the Section 5(h) rule.

Secretary Carson, call your office!  I would think he would be keen to change this and make it a way to bring the promise of homeownership to those who have to lived among us in public housing.

Maybe Libertarian Cliff Hyra will add this to his budget of ideas.  End the projects!  Let’s get the Commonwealth of Virginia out of the slumlord business.


About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

4 Responses to “Yes, Virginia [Taxpayer], we are all Slumlords. Maybe We Can Stop It.”

  1. N. Hardy says:

    The worst public housing project in America is the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago. Guess whose family operated that slum?

    Valerie Jarrett’s- Obama’s Chief of Staff- uber millionaire now living in his tony Washington mansion with Michelle.

    There’s Money in Public Housing Mr. Sanders- Corrupt Money and contracts.

  2. N. Hardy says:

    Valerie Jarrett’s grandfather was Robert Taylor- Slum Lord extraordinaire of the worst housing project in America:

  3. Jay D. says:

    I urge readers to understand this “public private partnership” scheme. Developers/contractors and banks collude to earn billions while the taxpayer and bank investor is on the hook for the failure.

    So much opportunity for corruption. Who in government thinks this is a good idea?


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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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