Contributed by Caleb Roberts, Sophie Dulberg, and Ericka Bowman
When we talk about displacement, we often speak generally about the loss of affordable housing or talk about changes in neighborhood character and demographics. In focusing on these more universal trends, we can sometimes overlook the experiences of individuals and families who lose their homes and have their lives flipped upside down. Because relocation has become so ubiquitous in public and subsidized housing throughout our state and the entire country, understanding relocation policy and how it affects people every day is something that we’ve come to see as a necessity for our advocacy at Texas Housers.
The long-term effects of these relocations are not yet widely understood, nor have they been properly emphasized. However, the result of the relocation of 268 families from the Ripley Arnold public housing complex in Fort Worth has been telling. More than 90 families were evicted from or left their replacement housing and others were relegated to transitional housing for more than four years. In effect, all these families were essentially evicted.
Relocation happens for a variety of reasons from Relocation Assistance Demonstration (RAD), to big infrastructure projects like highways and bridges, to flooding and tenant demands for higher quality housing. As we research and accompany tenants through their relocations, some questions we are asking include:
Where do people move? Why do people move? How do they end up there? What kind of support do they have? What kind of support do they need? How do we know if the relocation went well?
Below, we have shared brief summaries of the recent relocations we have followed as an organization as well as a Resident and Advocates Equitable Relocation Checklist. To learn more about our work with these properties, search our website for more information.
Arbor Court was a project-based section 8 apartment complex in the Greenspoint neighborhood in Houston. It has flooded repetitively and the federal government continued to subsidize the rent for tenants living there despite significant habitability issues. In 2018, the tenants sued the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and through a settlement, they were allocated Housing Choice Vouchers which allowed them to move out of Arbor Court. Some were able to move to homes of their choosing, while many others were forced to move into housing of similar quality due to a variety of flaws in the relocation process. If they had been granted the benefits outlined in the checklist below and outlined in the URA and Section 104d, more tenants would have found themselves in housing of their choosing.
Butler Place was one of Fort Worth’s biggest and most historic public housing complexes, home to roughly 412 families. In 2017, Fort Worth Housing Solutions (FWHS) designated Butler Place for participation in the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which converts public housing complexes into project-based Section 8. In this instance, Butler Place is going to be demolished and redeveloped for some other purpose, meaning that many residents seeking replacement Section 8 housing have had to leave the neighborhood and the communities that they call home without a say in the matter.
Throughout the process, residents found the relocation challenging to navigate because there wasn’t clear documentation explaining how it would work. The RAD process moves families to mixed income units using a lottery system, making it hard for residents to truly plan for their future. Most families have moved from Butler through RAD, but due to an electrical problem about 85 families were given Section 8 housing choice vouchers to relocate from Butler. Families have moved out little by little and now there are fewer than 50 families left at Butler.
Cavile Place, public housing located in Fort Worth’s Stop Six neighborhood, is slated for redevelopment as mixed income housing as part of HUD’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative. Its tenants have been relocated with Tenant Protection Vouchers through Section 18 Demolition and Disposition. The federal money allocated to FWHS allowed the housing authority to use a bigger budget than some other relocation projects. As a result, costs like security deposits were covered by FWHS, enabling tenants more choice and flexibility when seeking replacement housing and allowing more staff to be hired to assist in the relocation process.
Clayton Homes is a public housing development just east of downtown Houston. A portion of its buildings flooded during Hurricane Harvey and went uninhabited for years. With the planning for the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, Clayton Homes was slated for demolition. Houston Housing Authority has just begun the relocations for some of the tenants in late 2020. Many tenants have been confused about when they will relocate. Some have been living out of boxes for months because Houston Housing Authority did not inform them that the relocation process had been delayed.
D.N. Leathers was a public housing complex that was displaced as a result of construction on the Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi in 2016. 122 households were relocated because of the project. As a result of community pressure, legal advocacy, and federal attention, some additional benefits were secured for tenants that allowed them more of a chance at finding housing, like mobility counseling. Unfortunately, by the time Corpus Christi Housing Authority had hired the mobility counselors, there were only 16 relocations left. As a result most tenants were not able to benefit from those services.
Created from what we’ve learned from these relocations, the Residents and Advocates Equitable Relocation Checklist is a simple document that outlines 6 ways that local municipalities, private landlords, government departments, and advocates can benefit the lives of residents during the planning and execution of relocations. We believe that these 6 aspects of the relocation process would substantially change the outcomes for tenants being relocated.equitable-relocation-checklist
- Expenses covered upfront
While tenants have to pay for transportation to view new apartments, pay application fees, and security deposits and other expenses up front, in many instances they do not receive financial assistance in paying these costs up front, or ever. For example, when tenants relocated from Arbor Court, they had to pay their transportation, moving costs, application fees, and security deposits. This was often a significant barrier to finding housing for them. Many tenants did not get the chance to move into housing of their choosing. Costs during the housing search period should be paid for.
- Mobility counseling
In 2017, an Inclusive Communities Project survey found that only 12% of complexes in the Dallas region accepted Housing Choice Vouchers, many of them in low-income neighborhoods. During the relocation of Cavile Place, 60-70 tenants attended a single briefing on vouchers. This one meeting was not enough to help them access genuine opportunity. Furthermore, the majority of tenants, who did not attend the meeting, missed out on even the most basic overview of the voucher process. With mobility counseling, tenants can have more assistance and attention in order to find new housing that fits their needs and priorities, while navigating source of income discrimination, which is still legal in Texas.
We believe that there should be a maximum 1:20 relocation counselor-to-client ratio. As Houston Housing Authority has begun relocation of tenants in 184 units in Clayton Homes, it has become apparent that the one person assigned to relocate all of the families doesn’t have enough time to respond to and support tenants’ questions and needs. Tenants have been left confused and frustrated, while they wait for months to hear more information about a relocation that they thought was supposed to have started months ago.
- Extensions on vouchers
Tenants trying to use vouchers do not usually get ample time to properly seek desired housing. When relocating, they often need to reorganize all aspects of their lives including commutes to work, school enrollment, religious worship, and medical care. Tenants should have, at minimum, 120 days to search for housing with clear guidance and an easy process for extending the search period.
- Moratorium on evictions
It’s a common practice for landlords to ramp up evictions during the time when they are relocating tenants so that they do not have to pay for as many relocations. This is a cruel practice that we have seen take place in Arbor Court. Keeping tenants housed should be the number one priority of the entity displacing people.
Tenants should have access to clear, accurate information at any moment during the relocation. This includes consistent information about moving dates, regular updates in writing, and communication that is accessible to different literacy levels and languages. In the relocation of tenants from Arbor Court, many did not know that they could extend their vouchers. As a result, many settled for housing that did not fit their needs.
In the relocation of tenants from Butler Place, there were no documents available to tenants to explain how the relocation would work. In the midst of conversations about the relocation of Clayton Homes’s tenants, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and the Housing Authority did not update tenants on the status of the relocation for more than 2 years. These practices leave tenants justifiably confused and add stress and strain to the relocation process.
- Community advisory board
Most residents do not have a say about whether their relocation occurs or how it occurs. They are told about the relocation plans after other people have already decided what will happen to the place where they live. A community advisory board allows for community groups to gather information and advocate for a better relocation process.
In Corpus Christi, during the construction of Harbor Bridge, residents formed a community advisory board that met with TxDOT on a regular basis. In Fort Worth, NAACP and Community Frontline joined together with Fort Worth Housing Solutions for a resident advisory group, in order to oversee the relocations of Butler Place and Cavile Place. These community advisory boards helped tenants have a say in what occurred during their relocations and streamlined communication about the process.
Relocation and the housing insecurity that can result are immense sources of stress and strain on families. These 6 guidelines will help governments and private companies better meet the needs of the tenants they displace. Please contact us with any questions about how to put these guidelines into practice.