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Questions Remain about Housing Authority Change

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The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is changing the company that processes its mortgage loans, a switch that may create a financial hardship for customers.

It's unclear how many of the authority's mortgage holders would be affected, when the agency made the change and why. RRHA was unable to answer basic questions about the scope of the home loan program and who will be affected.

"We're trying to respond as best we can," External Relations Director Valena Dixon said Thursday. "We're a team. We don't work in a vacuum."

As of Monday, the authority hadn't provided access to the contract with the new processing company, as sought in a Freedom of Information Act request made March 20, in violation of the state requirement that agencies provide records, deny them or request more time within five business days. RRHA spokeswoman Osita Iroegbu said the authority would provide the requested information Monday, a day before the scheduled loan processing switch, but Style Weekly hadn't received it by press time.

The issue came up at a recent RRHA Board of Commissioners meeting during which Carver neighborhood resident Wayne Towns said he was concerned that his 30-year mortgage was being moved from the Virginia Housing and Development Authority to Neighborhood Housing Services beginning April 1. He said the new mortgage holder charges a 4-percent processing fee for payments not made by automatic draft, and it doesn't accept checks.

Towns told the board that notice of the change came in a letter that arrived fewer than 10 days earlier. Unless the board renegotiates those fees, he said, "This new agreement may put some hardship on people."

Chairman Sam Young asked if Towns could come back in three weeks to discuss his concerns with the board's Real Estate Committee. But the changes would be in effect by then, Towns noted. "I just want to make it clear," Towns said. "This affects everyone who gets these loans."

"If there is a major issue we need to address," Young responded, "We'll circle the wagons sooner."

A loan officer at Neighborhood Housing Services said Executive Director Christie Smith is the only person authorized to speak with news media. An automatic response from her email states she is on vacation and not responding to inquiries until April 7. A Virginia Housing and Development Authority spokesman said that because the authority is no longer servicing the loans, he wouldn't answer questions. Calls to Chairman Sam Young went unreturned.

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