Monthly Archives: January 2015

Eviction as a Last Resort!

NEWS RELEASE
Making Eviction a Last Resort:
In Partnership with LAJC and PHAR, CRHA Adopts Eviction Policy Changes

Charlottesville, Va., January 20, 2015 – After more than two years of vigorous campaigning by residents and advocates, on January 14 the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) formally adopted extensive amendments to its eviction policy. The newly adopted policy includes the majority of the changes championed by the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) and Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC). Many of these changes had already been informally adopted by CRHA during the course of the campaign and resulted in a 91% decrease in evictions from 2011 to 2014. In a win-win, the policies – which clarify resident responsibilities and provide residents avenues to get back on track after periods of financial hardship – have also already led to increased rent collection by CRHA.

The new policy, among other things, clarifies that residents will be offered one-on-one meetings with housing authority staff prior to court action; repayment plans will be offered to all residents who fall behind on their rent but are otherwise complying with their lease; lease termination notices will contain a clear explanation of how to remedy the violation; and a summons to court can only be issued when the amount owed exceeds $50. On the whole, the new policy makes eviction a last resort.

This successful campaign began on September 11, 2012, when Ms. Seay, an elderly woman and long-term resident, was evicted from her CRHA apartment on South First Street, sparking a community protest. PHAR and LAJC realized a systemic approach was needed: a new binding eviction policy.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, PHAR organized community members to speak out at CRHA meetings and other public forums for changes to CRHA’s eviction policy. At PHAR’s request, CRHA placed a moratorium on evictions from September through November 2012, acknowledging that their eviction policy needed to be revisited. In January 2013, CRHA comprehensively amended its Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy but failed to revise the eviction policy. Frustrated, over 100 people marched in protest of recent evictions and in support of dignity for residents of public housing.

PHAR continued to meet with Commissioners, lobby for a new written policy, and raise awareness about the necessary changes that had yet to be made throughout 2013. As the year drew to a close and no policy changes were offered by CRHA, PHAR and LAJC worked together to draft their own version of a new eviction policy. Throughout the spring and summer of 2014, PHAR and LAJC met with CRHA Commissioners to discuss their policy proposal. After months of meetings, public dialogue on the issue, and sustained demands, in the fall CRHA staff held a series of highly productive meetings with PHAR and LAJC representatives. On January 14, 2015, the CRHA adopted almost all of PHAR’s and LAJC’s proposed changes to the housing authority’s eviction policy.

Over the past two years, PHAR’s sustained campaign succeeded not only in changing CRHA’s eviction policy, but also in making eviction a last resort in our community. PHAR, LAJC, and the Charlottesville public housing community at-large are pleased with the changes we were able to achieve in partnership with CRHA. We will stay vigilant to ensure the policies that drastically reduced evictions and are now formalized in CRHA’s eviction policy are respected.

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The Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) was founded in 1998 and has become one of the strongest and most well-known resident organizations in the country. PHAR is the recognized “resident advisory board (RAB)” for public housing in Charlottesville. PHAR is made up entirely by and for people living in public housing. We advocate and organize in our community for systemic changes and assist residents with improving their quality of life.

Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) provides legal representation for low-income individuals in Virginia. LAJC is PHAR’s general counsel.

Follow Legal Aid Justice Center on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and find us on Facebook.
Check out our website! www.justice4all.org

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Celebrate!- Big Wins for Residents in January!

Time to Celebrate!

The January 14 meeting of the CRHA brought about great victories for Residents, PHAR, and the CRHA.
After years of hard work two policies were revised to improve resident life in public housing, and the CRHA also approved an Annual Plan that protects residents, expands participation, and seeks to outline big improvements in CRHA operations in the coming year! Finally, the CRHA is committing to participating fully in the City of Charlottesville’s efforts to end homelessness in our community.

All that in one night! Of course, most of these changes have been sought by residents and PHAR for years and we thank everyone who has protested, spoken out, showed up, and helped us to identify what changes will most have an impact on resident quality of life.

Here’s what happened:

Eviction Prevention Put into Policy:
The effort to include prevention efforts and protect residents from eviction was begun in earnest on September 11 with eviction of an elderly resident from South First Street. A noisy protest was held, an arrest occurred. Residents demanded action form the housing authority! From there other protests ensued and culminated in over 100 people marching ion the streets for justice and dignity in public housing in May 2013. The CRHA had a hard time coming to see things from our point of view- but they did eventually. PHAR and Legal Aid presented a draft of a policy (informed by residents) and pushed to have it passed, after many arguments, and many more meetings, the CRHA staff and board came to support nearly all of the changes proposed by residents!370

Over the years, PHAR’s strong push to prevent evictions had a huge effect even before the new policy was passed. We have pressured CRHA to use eviction only as a last resort, and we have seen evictions drop dramatically from 2011 to 2014:
A 91% decrease in evictions!

*Some* of the new changes to how CRHA approached evictions are:
– eviction only as a last resort
– Summons to court only issued for amounts owed over $50
– No summons before the 25th of the month
– repayment plans offered to all
– more hardship exemptions offered
– 21/30 notices only issued after other informal notices and one on one meetings with residents to resolve lease violations
… and much more!

Improved Resident Access to Community Centers
Similarly, PHAR has been trying for two years to get an improved Community Center Use policy that expands access for residents. This effort had been largely ignored by CRHA for a very long time. Residents and PHAR mobilized, and even threatened legal action for CRHA’s unwillingness to negotiate (a cool provision under federal law allows resident associations to have negotiations on community center uses). Eventually, a meaningful negotiaion occurred and PHAR secured almost everything we had asked for! Those changes include:

– Centers will be available more hours: 8:00am to 9:30pm.
– Residents will be able to reserve the centers for 6 -8 hours on weekends and holidays!
– On weekdays flexibility to get more than 4 hours if there are no other reservations in the 2 weeks before.
– Electronic key code system (“key FOB”) will be in place soon, giving residents better accessibility.
– No cameras!  Video Cameras will not be installed in the community centers
– The requirement for residents to be in “good standing” was changed to allow residents to reserve if owing a balance of less than $50 for less than 30 days, and you can ask for a flexibility.

Annual Plan Includes Resident Desires and Addresses Concerns 
After many conversations, and a blizzard of memos and questions, CRHA passed an annual plan that largely reflects PHAR’s concerns and desires. Unfortunately, the Board of Commissioners were still resistant to meeting with PHAR to craft the plan, and Commissioners failed to attend resident meetings. Nevertheless, PHAR’s suggestions for the annual plan made it into the plan. These changes are too numerous to mention but add attention to:
– Expanding Resident Participation and Guarantees for Participation in the Redevelopment Process.
– Ensuring attention to Relocation for Redevelopment
– Making Improvements to the Family Self Sufficiency Program and Collaborating with PHAR Efforts and the City
– Using responsible funding ideas for management and operations.
… and about 50 other things!
PHAR also pointed out inconsistencies and bad information in the plan that helped the CRHA avoid including incorrect information in the plan.

Attention to Homelessness
One mistake the CRHA almost made was to claim that the Annual Plan was “consistent” with Charlottesville’s Consolidated Plan. The Consolidated Plan calls for the CRHA to include a preference in admissions for homeless persons. The CRHA was negligent in providing ample discussion on the issue in advance of the decision, despite City officials and PHAR asking for the idea to be talked about. At PHAR’s insistence, a preference is to be had for homeless. This preference will most likely be for families with children and will be referred to CRHA from the Continuum of Care overseen by Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. PHAR is glad to see CRHA partner with the City and our community to address this important issue.

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Speak Up! End Racial Bias in the Juvenile Justice System!

DMC Meeting FlyerDMC flyer 2015 community meetings for website

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