Should there be any doubt that some public housing residents are skeptical about the city’s plans to transform its public housing into mixed-income communities, consider last week’s meeting of residents and community organizers.
The opening prayer includes an invocation against “mass eviction.”
It’s the sixth annual community forum on public housing held by Residents of Public Housing in Richmond Against Mass Evictions or RePHRAME. About six dozen people attend the meeting at the Greater Mount Moriah Baptist Church, where residents are urged to get educated, be prepared, ask questions and demand answers.
“Don’t let people make you feel less than what you are,” says Lillie Estes, a member of the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission who sits on its Citizen’s Advisory Board.
The city is laying the groundwork to redevelop Whitcomb and Creighton courts, both of which are aging, run-down complexes. They hold about 1,000 apartments and 2,500 residents, most of them women and children. The average annual household income for both communities is roughly $9,000.
The Jones’ administration, following the path of other municipalities nationwide, seeks to replace traditional concentrated and isolated public housing projects with mixed-income units. It already has begun such work at the former Dove Court housing project in Highland Park where as many as 300 new, mixed-income units will be built.
“I’m really excited by what’s happening in Highland Grove,” Estes says. “People are over there living now. The walls are thick. You don’t have to worry about the wind coming through.”
But she and others raise concerns about residents forcibly displaced by redevelopment, including where they’ll live in the meantime and how many will be allowed to return to the new communities.
“We are landlocked in the city of Richmond, you have to understand that,” longtime community activist and Richmond NAACP member Roy Bryant says in a fiery speech. “We are landlocked and the only place to get land is to take it from us.”