RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s public housing authority announced that they’ll take over the embattled Grace Place apartments in downtown Richmond after failed inspections caused residents to be repeatedly turned out on the streets.
The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s (RRHA) new CEO, Steven Nesmith, made the announcement in front of the building at 400 East Grace Street on Tuesday, Dec. 20, saying that contractors were already in the process of evaluating just how much work would need to be done to make the building livable again.
“From an untrained eye I have, there’s serious structural damage,” Nesmith said.
Out in the Cold
Grace Place became infamous in 2021 when under previous owner Franklin Capital Group, severe building code violations caused the City to condemn the building — leaving the unsuspecting residents out in the cold.
Residents were allowed to return to the building a little over a month later, but much-needed repairs still were not made, and Nesmith revealed at Tuesday’s press conference that the previous owners owed a large amount of back taxes, which the RRHA took on as part of their purchase of the property.
Nesmith also promised that the RRHA would not repeat last year’s disaster.
“We’re not gonna put anyone out on the streets, that’s just not gonna happen,” he said.
Instead, residents will remain in their apartments while the building is inspected, and RRHA officials will find them housing elsewhere in the City if they determine the building is uninhabitable.
Not Public Housing
While the RRHA has committed to offering affordable housing once the improvements are completed, the building won’t be operated as public housing. Instead, Nesmith said the building will be run under a “self-development” program alongside private developers.
That’s an approach that the agency has used in other areas as well, most recently in the demolition and redevelopment of the city’s existing public housing, which is slated to be replaced by semi-private developments.
It’s a model that the city promises will bring a much-needed economic boost — and more market-rate housing — to depressed areas, but which some residents have criticized because it pushes them onto deeply flawed federal voucher programs and does not clearly define how affordable the semi-private units will actually be.
As Nesmith noted during the press conference, working with private developers means RRHA won’t be able to decide how much affordable housing the project actually produces.
“We won’t dictate what those terms are,” he said. “We’ll negotiate them with the developer.”
But in the meantime, Nesmith expects extensive work will be needed before the building will even be habitable again.
“There’s not electricity in a lot of these units,” he said. “We’re really concerned for their health.”
RRHA estimates that evaluating the building’s condition could take several weeks.