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Changes to Come in Richmond’s Projects

Plans to redevelop public housing in Richmond could force residents to relocate while the city rebuilds the housing. The redevelopment could lead to healthier communities that have both housing and businesses. The process is meant to transform public housing communities into areas where people of all incomes would like to live.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones and his administration plan to address the issue of public housing in Richmond’s East End by working to deconcentrate poverty in that area. The two projects that the city plans to redevelop first are Creighton Court in Richmond’s East End and Whitcomb Court located in the Eastview area, bordering Jackson Ward.

With the large number of children in these housing projects, the city assures residents the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority will take the well being of the students into account when the relocation process takes place.

Chub Eberhardt, a Creighton Court resident, said he didn’t like the idea because it would mean separating members of the community.

“We are going to protest if they come over here trying to get this. People over here need this. We is a family group, we take care of each other,” Eberhardt said.

Maxine Cholmondeley, the interim CEO of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, explained that city officials cannot talk about neighborhood revitalization without working to revitalize public housing.

The goal according to Peter Chapman, the deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and planning, is to create neighborhoods that resemble the mixed-income communities that existed generations ago. Chapman explained that these mixed-income communities provide children with the opportunity to have role models from all walks of life within their immediate neighborhood.

“What urban policy experts came to the realization of, about 20 or so years ago, maybe a little bit longer, is that you cannot create healthy, economically and socially viable and vibrant communities if you concentrate and in effect, warehouse low-income people,” Chapman said.

Cholmondeley explained that the housing authority would be undertaking mixed-income housing, which would mean having people of different income levels living in the same neighborhood. Along with this idea of mixed-income housing, she said there is also the idea of mixed-use neighborhoods. Mixed-use neighborhoods would bring services to the community.

“In order to have a neighborhood that is desirable and a neighborhood where anybody would want to live, we want to have mixed-use. That again would be not only housing but it would be doctor services, libraries, schools, banks, coffee shops, office space and commercial space all in the same area so that persons who live there have access to jobs and services,” Cholmondeley said.

Chapman explained that right now Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court are located in what is known as a food desert. A food desert, he said, is described as an area where people have to travel long distances to buy basic consumer goods. By redeveloping the area and creating mixed-use neighborhoods, Chapman said the city would like to attract a supermarket and other businesses to that area.

When you look at taking on economic revitalization of hugely underinvested areas, you have to start somewhere and typically you start with a component that will help to spark redevelopment, catalyze redevelopment, send a message to local stake holders and non-local stake holders that this community is moving in the right direction,” Chapman said.

Chapman explained that the revitalization plan focuses on Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court rather than other housing projects in the city in hopes that redeveloping these communities will help gain support for eventually redeveloping all of the housing projects.

Creighton Court, he said, was chosen strategically because of its close proximity to Armstrong High School, which is another asset to the city. Chapman said Armstrong High School consists of an area between 22 and 24 acres that the city would like to redevelop as a residential area with some retail.

Whitcomb Court, on the other hand, was chosen because a private developer- who Chapman could not name at this point- was interested in doing work on a site close to the housing project. Chapman said the city considered Whitcomb Court because it could create some synergy between the redevelopment projects. 

Cholmondeley said that she and a group including the mayor, the chief administrative officer for the city, the deputy chief administrator for economic and community development, the superintendent of schools, two of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority commissioners, and the president of the chamber of commerce took a trip to Atlanta to tour the property and hear how the Atlanta Housing Authority utilized the process. She said it made sense to visit Atlanta because it was close by and the city had been working on revitalization there since the ‘90s.

Cholmondeley also explained the concept of mixed-income housing and mixed-use neighborhoods is not unique to Atlanta. She said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been encouraging housing authorities to begin redevelopment for several years. Now that the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority has looked at the way Atlanta implemented the two concepts, Cholmondeley said the Richmond can adapt the idea to the situation here.

Chapman and Cholmondeley emphasized that this will be a long process, which will take place over the course of several years. Cholmondeley said the city will need different parts of the community’s support, including schools and businesses in the area.

Chapman said the city began the cherette process, which is a process that includes structured meetings with people who live in the communities affected by this redevelopment. The cherette process began in 2010 and brought residents together with the public and private sector to cast a vision for what they want the East End to look like. Chapman added that this does not mean all of the residents in Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court are aware of the proposed changes.

Although the redevelopment process would force families living in Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court to leave their homes, Cholmondeley explained that the housing authority has to secure housing for the residents. The housing authority would do this by either relocating them to another public housing unit or by providing a housing voucher that would pay for a portion of their rent.

Further, Cholmondeley said the housing authority will also be taking the schools into consideration because there are so many children that live in these housing projects. She said relocating families could mean the children have to attend a different school.

“A school is a school. You go to school for one thing and that’s to learn. You can make friends everywhere. I ain’t got no problem making friends. Most the time it is difficult going to different schools because then you go to school with enemies and people that are trying to make bad things happen for you,” Ilt Jackson, a student at Armstrong High School, said.

Chapman said there will be plenty of community meetings that will be posted through the community associations to further the community engagement and outreach during this process.

Jodeci Coleman, a student at Richmond Community High School, has been a resident of Creighton Court for about 15 years. He said the change could be positive for the community because it could change the dynamics of the neighborhood.

“We’re really very excited that the mayor has this as a focus- deconcentrating poverty- because we think it can only benefit our residents. We look forward to working with the city and moving this forward,” Cholmondeley said.

The Richmond Housing and Redevelopment Authority is expected to issue a request for qualifications to attract a master planner for the redevelopment of Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court sometime this week. Chapman added that within the next year, the housing authority and the office of economic and community development will be working closely with the chosen developer to create a revitalization plan that will also include a relocation plan for the residents of the two housing projects.