HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Update, 6:40 p.m., February 16, 2023: Just over an hour after this story was published, management at The Pines reached out to let 8News know that they had decided to accept RRHA’s 5% increase, allowing Ms. Mickleberry to stay in her home.

They added that they had made renovations to the apartment, including new flooring and cabinets, in the past year, but that RRHA did not accept this as a major renovation that could justify an increase over 5%.

Ms. Mickleberry told 8News she has not yet received confirmation of the adjusted rent.

Roslyn Mickleberry can’t stay in her apartment in Mechanicsville because her housing voucher won’t cover an extra $37 a month — and won’t allow her to pay the difference herself. Now, she’s facing an expensive move with no affordable options in sight.

“I really don’t have the money to move,” Mickleberry told 8News in February. Living on a fixed income, Mickleberry, 62, said she’ll have trouble even affording the deposit on a new apartment.

Mickleberry receives a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV), a form of rental subsidy that allows her to live in private housing while the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) pays part of her rent.

Currently, her rent totals $1,114 a month — one-third of which she pays, and two-thirds of which are covered by federal, state and local funds.

But this year, her landlord requested that rent be raised to $1,207 — an 8% increase, more or less in line with the average price increase for the Richmond region. RRHA rejected that request, saying they couldn’t approve a hike of more than 5%, adding up to a total rent of $1,170.

A walkway outside of Roslyn Mickleberry’s apartment complex in Mechanicsville. (Photo: Jakob Cordes/WRIC)

RRHA confirmed to 8News that they never approve more than 5% rent increases unless the landlord can prove that they’ve made major investments in improving their property. They also confirmed that the 5% limit wouldn’t be adjusted during periods of high inflation, such as the past year.

“This standard was executed by RRHA in an attempt to protect our most vulnerable families from the intentional rent gauging that was taking place by landlords that were in some cases upwards of 40 to 50 percent increases,” a representative of RRHA wrote.

“It seems like if everything else is going up from eggs to rent, why can’t the voucher go up?” Mickleberry asked.

RRHA informed the landlord of the rejected increase in December 2022. On Jan. 26, Mickleberry’s landlord told her she had to be out by Feb. 28.

“Anywhere you live, the rent’s gonna go up every year”

Mickleberry has had little luck finding rentals within the price range set by RRHA. On the day 8News spoke with her, she was set to tour two homes in Henrico. When we followed up days later, she said they had been no-gos.

“Their rent is $1,200 or $1,300,” she said. “My voucher is not enough wherever I go.”

Mickleberry began to cry as she described the stress of having to move on such short notice, with no clear idea of where she’ll go. She said that even if she finds a place to live this year, she’s worried she will just have to go through the same thing again next year.

“Anywhere you live, the rent’s gonna go up every year,” she said.

There was one alternative given to her by RRHA — they say she can join the waitlist for one of Richmond’s public housing projects, which would require her to give up her voucher.

“Only one that’s easy is if you go straight to the projects or something like that,” Mickleberry said, adding that she won’t even consider it.

She told 8News that she grew up in the projects, that she was proud of having escaped them, and that she doesn’t want her son, who’s currently in college, living there.

“I don’t want to worry about my baby getting out of the car,” she said. “He don’t know how to survive out there.”

Housing Squeeze

RRHA itself is now transitioning away from public housing projects, moving forward with plans to demolish most of the aging stock and replace them with voucher-based programs much like the one Mickleberry now uses.

But even as the agency puts more emphasis on vouchers and affordable housing tax credits, a comprehensive report on the region’s housing found that the very units needed to meet that demand are disappearing from the market.

Average rents by the number of bedrooms in the Richmond region. (Source: Richmond Regional Housing Framework)

The average asking price for renting a 2-bedroom home or apartment in the greater Richmond region is now over $1,400. That’s a much more rapid rise than that for a studio apartment, which has actually remained relatively flat since 2016.

Dr. Ben Teresa, a VCU professor and researcher with the RVA Eviction Lab, said that pattern is caused in part by what developers decide to build.

“Those types of rental units are certainly not being created in the new construction,” he said.

In fact, the number of 2-bedroom rental units in the region has actually decreased over the past six years, further driving increases in rent.

The number of net units created by the number of bedrooms in the Richmond region. (Source: Richmond Regional Housing Framework)

“I think you can find examples still of previous two-flat apartments converted into owner-occupancy,” Teresa said. “Certainly in Church Hill, I think that’s part of the process of gentrification.”

He added that the housing squeeze has an especially large impact on residents, like Mickleberry, who rely on a fixed income or who make less than 50% of the Area Median Income ($36,000 for a family of 2).

“The reality is that there are very few, if any, quality housing options for this segment of the population,” Teresa said.

Running Down the Options

Mickleberry waited for years to get approved for her voucher — and has only had it since 2021. Now, she’s trying to get her voucher transferred from RRHA to Hanover’s housing authority, because she believes they’ll be willing to cover the slightly higher rent.

However, Hanover told Mickleberry they can only approve the voucher transfer once RRHA takes action on their end — and after weeks of calls, Mickleberry has gotten few answers and no concrete timeline for when the transfer might be completed.

“I’ve been calling and calling them,” she said.

To add insult to injury, when Mickleberry offered to cover the extra $37 a month herself, RRHA told her it wouldn’t be possible, and that she would have to move and find somewhere willing to rent out a 2-bedroom apartment for less than $1,200 a month.

RRHA told 8News that the hard cap of 5% was designed to prevent price-gouging by landlords and that they made no exceptions for residents who offered to pay the difference themselves. But that might change next year.

As part of their annual review process, RRHA said they’re considering a proposal to allow voucher recipients to “self-certify to their willingness to pay the increased amount, if necessary.”

Still, that does little to help Mickleberry, who must move by the end of the month.

For now, she’s making plans to book a hotel room while she continues her search for a place to call home.