RRHA talks tackling city’s public housing problems

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It’s an issue Richmond’s previous and current city leaders have addressed.

“In the past, leaders made a decision to create public housing projects and push thousands of poor people to live in those projects. History has shown that that experiment just did not work,” said former Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones in his State of the City address back in 2015.

“The public housing in this city was intentional and we need to be just as intentional in the removal of public housing. That’s just going to take a lot of people,” said current mayor Levar Stoney in an interview last month.

But thousands of public housing units in several communities remain in the city.

“Just in the East End we have close to 2,000 public housing units within a stone’s throw,” said T.K. Somanath, CEO of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA).

Somanath says with concentrated areas of poverty, there is bound to be crime.

“When you really put so many poor people in a concentrated fashion these kinds of issues are inevitable,” Somanath said.

And after last Friday’s shooting of Special Agent Michael Walter, city leaders were again calling for decentralizing public housing.

“It’s going to take a much bigger effort to really find a way to dismantle what we’ve created as this unfortunate circumstance,” said Richmond City Councilman Andreas Addison.

The city has made efforts to revamp public housing.

Three years ago, 8News went through Blackwell and found drug needles and trash lining the streets. We went back to the mixed-use development Wednesday, which used to be filled with nothing but public housing, and noticed improvements.

“Guy used to stand on the corner of my house here selling drugs,” said Richmond resident Matthew Walton.

Walton says he’s lived in Blackwell for the past 22 years. He, along with several other residents we spoke with, say they’ve seen noticeable improvements.

“You want to be able to lay down at night, nothing to worry about,” Walton said.

RRHA says the plan is to not only revitalize buildings, but also the people that live there.

“To really motivate people to change their habits and behavior and hold them responsible,” said Somanath.

What used to be crime-ridden Dove Court is now Highland Grove, with a mix of older and newer homes. RRHA says some of those living in public housing now live here.

“A lot of positive outcomes not only in terms of reduction of crime but also a whole change in lifestyles,” said Somanath.

RRHA says Blackwell and Dove Court were more pilot programs, each with a few dozen homes. The first big development next on their list is Creighton Court.

“We are trying to disperse the 504 units on site off site,” said Somanath.

But Somanath says it will take time and millions from Richmond and the federal government to redevelop all of Richmond’s public housing.

Walton says if Blackwell is any indication, decentralizing public housing will make communities safer.

“At one time I was afraid to come on my front porch. I’m not afraid now,” said Walton.

Never miss another Facebook post from 8News

Find 8News on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.