PHAR’s submitted comments about RAD.
Say No to RAD in 2013 !!!
PHAR seeks to protect and improve our own communities. We acknowledge that the disrepair of public housing in Charlottesville demands serious efforts towards redevelopment. However, the state of disrepair is a result of decades of neglect, and a lack of local and national support for serious and meaningful redevelopment and capital improvement. It is with this understanding that we offer some preliminary and initial comments, concerns and questions regarding Rental Assistance Demonstration.
To be clear, we are opposed to any application for RAD in 2013.
RAD presents a huge shift in how public housing in Charlottesville is funded and operated. In fact, it eliminates “public housing” and replaces it with another model. That model, we are told, is based on how private housing would work. With the conversion comes many changes in policies, requirements, accountability, and drastically impacts the future of affordable housing. These changes are radical, and require a community wide discussion about the possible ramifications and application of RAD in Charlottesville.
That discussion has not happened. Any serious process regarding redevelopment needs to adhere to the unanimously adopted Residents Bill of Rights for Redevelopment. The simple first steps and groundwork for considering such a huge change would have been to educate residents first, and then approach PHAR for initial conversations about how this could, or could not, be applied in Charlottesville and how it compares to other funding options. A serious conversation about the need for funding redevelopment should begin with multiple funding options, not with only one option. From there a process should be crafted jointly which provides for more than token resident input into predetermined results. Residents ultimately should have the final say in whether a change of this magnitude is take place. Unfortunately, the rush to investigate and inform came from the top down with no initial input or discussion with residents or the duly elected advisory board. We understand that HUD does not require this kind of resident led planning, but we expect Charlottesville to meet the minimum requirements laid forth in the Residents Bill of Rights, but to also strive to go above and beyond the low bar set by HUD in regards to resident participation into matters that affect them gravely. Even now, despite the CRHA stating that it would not apply for RAD in 2013, and amid the Executive Director’s notice for applying for RAD, there have been no discussions with PHAR or residents about how this could be applied or if it is necessary, determine desired outcomes, or “setting a meaningful and enforceable process” to guide “substantive decisions about redevelopment”. To be clear, resident participation in such a major change must go beyond a handful of resident meetings where no specific information is offered and no questions are answered much less any response or reflection of resident concerns. Residents are still trying to get questions answered. Until those questions are answered there is no way to give concerns. In most instances residents don’t know which questions to ask. Training on RAD has been limited as far as public participation is concerned. We ask for more training that is resident friendly and allows all members of the public to participate and ask questions.
PHAR is encouraged by the recent agreement to have a series of information sessions for residents run jointly by the City of Charlottesville, CRHA, and PHAR.
We recommend that those information sessions should not be considered “resident meetings” under the HUD process for a RAD application submission. Rather, they should be a point at which residents can begin to formulate questions and ponder concerns, with the “resident meetings” to be held at a much later date. These information sessions will not produce fruit until more training is available.
We understand the rush to apply before 2013. The 93% subsidy lock-in is meaningful (although that in itself leads to many questions). However, two months is not enough time for the CRHA to perform even a semblance of due diligence, meet the HUD requirements for reporting, include a meaningful resident participation process, and preparing for the rigorous and speedy requirements expected once approval from HUD is given. Simply put, residents are unprepared, PHAR is unprepared, CRHA staff is unprepared, and the CRHA Board of Commissioners is unprepared to make a decision that impacts that future of publicly protected and affordable housing in Charlottesville. A great deal of work for the application is necessary, an even greater amount is necessary once approval is given. We are told that RAD could be stopped at any point if residents do not want it. We appreciate the sentiment, but the 2013 annual plan has already addressed this and it reflects one of many promises made by CRHA broken.
Residents are speaking now, the message is clear: Do Not Apply for RAD in 2013.
In summary, a process that might work if we were to all take a step back might include;
– Initial discussions about the need for funding redevelopment that involves all options;
– Setting a mutually agreed upon process for determining resident approval;
– Consensus on whether or not RAD is an acceptable option to consider;
– Initial workshops and information sessions about the need for the funding, and some potential benefits and negatives concerning RAD;
– Followed by trainings for staff, city, PHAR and residents;
– More workshops and info sessions for resident guided outcomes;
– Followed by CRHA and PHAR consensus to pursue RAD further and issue public notices;
– Information sessions at all of the sites at multiple times explaining potential RAD specifics in Charlottesville and based on past resident input;
– Public comment;
– Followed by multiple “resident meetings” exceeding HUD requirements;
– Polling of residents;
– Responses and adjustments to questions and concerns;
– A final poll of residents determining support or non-support.
If this process were to begin now, the results of the City Manager’s stretch objectives should be known and incorporated into any process or decision making regarding RAD.
This is workable process, but which cannot be performed in haste before the December 2013 deadline. In any event, no process should be taken with a predetermined outcome, and no process however good can ensure PHAR or resident support for RAD moving forward.
The conversation around RAD has been riddled with uncertainties. Some of the uncertainties are based on questions about HUD/RAD process and administration. Others are related to the specifics of how, where, and when RAD would be applied in Charlottesville. Other uncertainties surround the impacts on current and future residents, and the effect on affordable housing in Charlottesville. Without clear answers to questions, specifics of the program in Charlottesville, and clear and enforceable commitments and guarantees from the CRHA and the City of Charlottesville we see no reason to support RAD in any form. The pitfalls are too numerous to mention, and plenty that we are yet unaware of. Uncertainty is a dangerous place to put low-income residents of Charlottesville in and a terrible place to leave the city when it comes to long term protection of affordable housing.
There will be no PHAR support of a RAD application with the following uncertainties left unaddressed:
– Agreement between CRHA, the City of Charlottesville, the CDC, and PHAR that all redevelopment funding options have been explored;
– A relocation plan must be communicated, agreed to by residents, and detailed fully before any RAD application is submitted;
– Enforceable commitments to protect the converted units as affordable in perpetuity must be given before any RAD application is submitted;
– Enforceable commitments that the “de minimus” will not be used;
– Enforceable commitments that public housing sites will remain where they are;
– Details, including income levels and numbers of units, regarding potential mixed-income development and de-concentration strategies;
– Clarity and details on all aspects of submission requirements, including those required once approved, before an application is considered;
– All details regarding funding, investors, timelines and tax credits must be known before any RAD application is submitted;
– All details regarding changes to resident protections, leases, processes communicated to residents. All differences between the current ACOP and a future Section 8 administration plan known, and processes in place for public participation in the crafting of these plans;
– Clarity on the waivers of HUD regulation that CRHA will seek must be known before an application is submitted.
– Clarity and agreement on how RAD affects City of Charlottesville planning for affordable housing, including but not limited to the SIA before any RAD application is submitted;
– Clarity and details regarding oversight, accountability, and jurisdiction by HUD, the Virginia Landlord Tenant Act, the CRHA, and the City of Charlottesville;
– Clarity and agreement on the makeup and function of the CRHA Board of Directors;
– Enforceable commitments to include resident participation in CRHA governance by way of resident commissioners;
– Results of the City Manager’s stretch objectives known before an application is considered;
– Results of a social impact study known before any RAD application is considered;
– Strict adherence to the Residents Bill of Rights for Redevelopment in spirit and in law;
– Final decision making authority in the hands of residents;
– A mutually agreed upon process for meaningful and enforceable process.
The above are initial uncertainties that once addressed do not ensure PHAR support of RAD. They are the bare minimum by which we would consider support of a RAD application.
Potential Negative Impacts
PHAR is concerned about every aspect regarding RAD. RAD represents a substantive change for public housing. This is quite literally the most important decision regarding public housing in Charlottesville since urban renewal. The consequences of Vinegar Hill are well documented, and the effects still impact the community negatively 50 years later. PHAR will not support any program in public housing that may recreate or re-formulate the disaster that was urban renewal in Charlottesville. Our concerns are many, but a few are highlighted here:
– Bad process. As mentioned above, the process thus far has been inadequate. Questions linger, decisions seem to have been made from the top down, and the rush to submit an application is underway. This is not a responsible way to seek to improve a community. The residents Bill of Rights has been violated already when it comes to participation, and many aspects of RAD point to possible violations of other parts of the Bill of Rights. We have a hard time trusting a housing authority that has such a bad track record at abiding by the Residents Bill of Rights. A RAD program in Charlottesville will become a nightmare if residents are not driving the discussion, planning, and decision making including the financing.
– Loss of affordable housing. Currently, despite its flaws and underfunding, the 376 units of public housing remain the only existing affordable housing that is protected forever. The RAD conversion sets a potential timeline for the reduction of Charlottesville’s affordable housing stock, leaving uncertainty as to whether at least 376 units will remain affordable in this rapidly changing city. Tax credits run out, mistakes get made, mortgages and contracts expire. Despite HUD assurance about the renewal of these contracts, there are many holes and ways that protections could disappear. In 15, 20, 30, or 40 years decisions could be made to eliminate these units as affordable, or to relocate affordable units to other parts of the city. UVA has a growth plan, known by the city of Charlottesville, that seeks to have the housing market address student, faculty and staff housing close to the University. While this may not be in the immediate plans, decades down the road the property at Westhaven will be especially enticing to developers. With protections removed the entire community at Westhaven could be dramatically changed or the very least, turned into market rate. While SIA follows a different model, the uncertainty and potential vulnerability of CRHA units in the SIA could face a similar fate. While there may still be a place for affordable housing in Charlottesville, communities would be dispersed and dismantled. It wouldn’t necessarily happen overnight, but decades down the road decisions will be made. If the units were to remain public, they would be protected from these decisions.
– Income targeting and household composition. By converting under RAD the CRHA could change its income targeting to include those with higher incomes. Further, if the 50% conversion per development were to be waived, the potential for shutting out very-low income families in favor of elderly and disabled units would leave hundreds out of accessing affordable housing in Charlottesville.
– Mobility vouchers. A dangerous incentive to consider. HUD promotes the idea of this allowing residents a choice to move if they do not like the new system under RAD. However, if the vouchers are unavailable, as they are now, it is hard to see how this would work. Further, if a large number of current residents were to take advantage of the mobility vouchers, those at the bottom of the list will continuously remain at the bottom of the list. There are many questions surrounding the coordination of the current Section 8 waiting list and a waiting list under RAD. While the public housing waiting list is long, the Section 8 list is shut down almost perpetually. Mobility vouchers will not do anything to reduce either waiting list, and will have the effect of keeping the waiting list closed in perpetuity, with those waiting the longest still waiting. RAD, the mobility vouchers, and the combined waiting lists will have no positive effect on reducing the numbers of families seeking affordable housing in Charlottesville.
– Regulation and Oversight. The full impacts of the changes from HUD oversight and regulation are yet to be known. The housing authority will no longer report to HUD in depth the way they do now. The ACOP will be replaced with an administration plan. The differences in these plans, regulations governing them, and public input into policies are not fully detailed. RAD funding should not be a backdoor to eliminating resident protections or benefits. Conversion could also mandate a change in CRHA Board governance, appointments, composition, and function. The details of governance are not known to anyone at this time. The City of Charlottesville is currently reviewing how it might improve the functioning of the housing authority, the results of this review should be know before a RAD application is submitted, and the administration of the RAD program needs to be understood and integrated into the City Manager’s proposals.
– Funding Alternatives. PHAR believes that a full understanding about all of the options for funding redevelopment does not currently exist. RAD is only one option. Discussions have been had in the past regarding what options there are for funding redevelopment. The CDC was supposed to have played a role in this decision. Creative thinking and alternatives need to be explored. How do we know that RAD is better than other options. We will not be able to answer that question until we know details on the property values, potential ways to develop undeveloped land, potential partnerships and other types of leverage. PHAR stated, as a compromise regarding the SIA, that we consider two options for funding redevelopment: conversion or project based (RAD) and a private style model, or using leverage and mixed-income and retaining public housing. Our choice remains retaining the 376 units as public housing and protected affordable housing.
– Relocation. The next step in any of the progress on redevelopment needs to be relocation. Any decision about funding will need to rely on what the CRHA’s approach to relocation is. This affects all aspects of redevelopment, but especially capital items. An understanding of demolition of renovation cannot be had until a basic understanding and agreed upon plan for relocation has occurred. Our original understanding was that Levy Avenue would be developed first as way to handle relocation while renovation or rebuilding at the other sites was underway. Is this still the plan? RAD seems to negate the efficacy of this plan. The details of this plan must be known by residents, it is the number one concern outside of “right to return” that residents have. Relocation cannot be known or agreed to until the specifics and makeup of redevelopment of existing sites is known and understood. Without a relocation plan a RAD application puts the cart before the horse.
Attached is a list of questions. We demand that these questions are answered and considered by CRHA Commissioners. It is not a comprehensive list, merely a start. One can easily see that these are too many unanswered questions to be able to make a decision on RAD. Thus, we find that making a decision about RAD in haste is poor judgment and bad stewardship of public housing in Charlottesville. We will certainly have more questions. We warn against using HUD process concerning responses to our concerns and questions allowing for token input into predetermined outcomes. Our opposition to a RAD application 2013 is two-fold and simple:
1. We don’t have all the answers to some of the questions.
2. What we do know is unacceptable.
We ask that the CRHA table this conversation on RAD, to not apply in 2013, to begin an open and thorough evaluation of all funding options for redevelopment, respect and coordinate with the City Manager’s stretch objectives, and re-start a process for establishing the CDC.