RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The long-awaited redevelopment of Creighton Court will get underway in May with the demolition of 32 vacant buildings, but not without concerns from residents wondering about their housing options.

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s plan calls for replacing more than 500 units in the public housing community in the city’s East End with up to 700 townhouses, apartments and homes for sale and rent that offer “different levels of affordability.”

The demolition process will be done in three phases, with the initial step including the razing of 32 vacant buildings between Creighton and Nine Mile roads. According to RRHA spokesperson Angela Fountain, crews have begun removing, handling and disposing of “asbestos-containing materials within the buildings in a manner that follows industry safety precautions.”

“The buildings are being abated and prepared for demolition, which will occur from May until October of 2022,” Fountain wrote in an email. “Demolition will soon be followed by construction of new infrastructure and the first 68 units of new, affordable housing, which are anticipated to open in the Spring of 2024.”

“How many homes are they going to build for low-income in the new development in phase one? I really don’t know,” Marilyn Olds, the president of the Creighton Court Resident Tenant Council, said to 8News. “They [RRHA] say one thing but sometimes you have to wait to see how the money runs.”

RRHA’s 3-phase demolition plan for Creighton Court (courtesy of the city of Richmond)

The project is expected to take several years and will have up to 150 redeveloped units that will either be sold or rented at the market rate, according to Fountain. The total number of units available for residents in low-income households is not clear.

Creighton Court will not be replaced with new public housing units when complete, but RRHA has vowed to include “deeply subsidized rental housing assistance to at least the same number of low- and extremely low-income families as were assisted” as of March 2019.

RRHA has also “guaranteed a newly constructed or rehabilitated unit” at the redeveloped Creighton site to every resident who both notifies the authority in a timely matter of their plans to return and is “eligible for transfer to the relevant subsidy program, if any.” The affected resident must have an active lease when RRHA vacates them from their home during the demolition process.

Residents have been given relocation options, including federal tenant protection vouchers, RRHA project-based vouchers, being moved to another RRHA public housing site or another unit within Creighton. Some of the residents moved to Armstrong Renaissance, a former high school that was renovated for public housing.

Olds raised concerns over how residents have struggled to get housing with the vouchers and how accepting a tenant protection voucher puts them into the federal program and out of RRHA’s purview.

She also questioned how many units will be affordable for those in low and extremely low-income households and said that many residents opted to leave when they had the chance. Olds estimated that fewer than 15 families decided to remain in Creighton when asked to vacate for the demolition process.

Rendering of redeveloped Creighton site. (courtesy of the city of Richmond)

“It’s kind of heartbreaking for folks that have low-income means to know that all these places are being taken down and that there won’t be accommodation for folks that can’t afford these new places because the rents are going to be outrageous,” she said. “And that’s a battle that we’ll have to deal with when it comes.”

Olds noted that RRHA closed its waiting list for public housing and project-based vouchers as it has nearly 16,000 people on it with only 55 vacant public housing units across all of RRHA communities.

“The Agency’s goal is to minimize the impact on those in need of housing by reopening waitlists when we are able to cut the wait time down to less than six months for housing,” RRHA Interim CEO Sheila Hill-Christian said in a statement. “In our public housing portfolio, RRHA has not had the number of units available to make a significant dent on that waitlist. This is due, in large part, to the lease enforcement moratorium on collecting rent.”

Olds also pointed to the fact that RRHA stopped leasing units at Creighton Court in 2019 before they received federal approval for the demolition process. RRHA reported that only 296 of its 503 units were occupied as of Jan. 25, 2021.

“They [RRHA] got the property just where they wanted, with half of us got put out, moved out or died. They closed it down and you couldn’t rent Creighton anymore,” Olds explained.

The redevelopment of Creighton Court has been discussed for over a decade. The next two phases of the demolition process, which calls for the demolition of 312 units, will begin after the 68 new units are constructed following the first phase.

“Exact dates are challenging to give taking into consideration factors such as assisting Creighton Court Families with relocation housing options, funding, Federal, state and local government reviews and approvals, supply chain issues but generally we look forward to the second and third phases of demolition to begin shortly after Phase 1 construction,” Fountain said, adding that RRHA expects to get the funding to finish the project.

RRHA will begin with Creighton Court but it also plans on redeveloping Richmond’s other public housing projects.

“All the other public housing residents, I told them ‘y’all watch carefully what’s happening to Creighton because it’s going to happen to you,'” Olds told 8News. “It has to be done right.”