Antwon Cloird: Richmond Needs a New Approach to Housing

blogimage.jpgThe city of Richmond has no idea how to approach the public housing problems that the community is facing. 

The Nevins and Hacienda facilities are in terrible condition and the city’s plan is simply to move all of the residents out of their apartments and to demolish the buildings with funding from the federal government.  But where are they going to put the displaced tenants?  No one has an answer to that question and it seems to me that it is actually the most important question here.

As most citizens of Richmond are aware, the public housing in our city is crumbling and the tenants are suffering.  The Richmond Housing authority has been labeled “ineffective” by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  As the buildings crumble – with people living in the common areas in some cases and live wires exposed in the apartments in other cases – the city simply proposes to order everyone out.  Meanwhile, the RHA and the city do not have even Section 8 vouchers to issue to the evicted tenants, so they have no where to go.

What Richmond officials are proposing is not a way to solve the community’s housing problems, but rather, it is a way to shift the responsibility from one place to another.  It is not as though the tenants are being moved from an old decrepit building to a newer and safer one – they are just being shoved out the door (some with vouchers and some without) and into the laps of landlords whom they will not be able to pay over the long run or just straight onto the streets.

I think that the city needs to focus more attention on the long term good of the public housing residents.  I propose that more money and time be invested in the education and training of the public housing residents.  Much of what leads to the deplorable conditions at places like Nevins and Hacienda stems from a lack of working with the tenants to build skills that would serve them well in the work force and at home.  If the city were to spend money to teach its public housing residents how to manage a property and give them the skills and money to maintain the facilities, the city would not find itself in this kind of situation.

Additionally, the tenants would be well served, and the community would benefit, if more money were allocated for services such as psychiatric and drug counseling.  One of the most devastating aspects of low-income housing communities is the high prevalence of drugs and untreated medical conditions.  By using funding to give tenants access to counseling in conjunction with the skills training, the city could go a lot further in its effort to create self-sufficient members of society who can obtain housing without the aide of the local government.

The government must invest in training and work with its housing residents if it wishes to see long term improvement in the quality of living at housing projects rather than having to shift the tenants and the quality problems from one place to another now and again.

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