Hampton Roads public housing lacking federal funding, scoring low on inspections

10 On Your Side

(WAVY) — More than 217,000 Virginians rely on federal rental assistance to put a roof over their head.

Thousands of them live right here in Hampton Roads, but the places they call home don’t always meet the mark.

Data released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows several local public housing complexes scored low on their most recent inspections.

10 On Your Side investigated and found failing inspection scores at public housing complexes in three of the seven cities.

Some residents said the problems they experienced forced them to leave. We spoke with local housing authorities, which said there’s a severe lack of funding from the federal government which has caused aging properties to deteriorate.

“In my unit, we’ve experienced flooding. We’ve experienced mold,” said Alezia Hawkins.

Those are some of the issues Hawkins has dealt with over the last nine years living at Tidewater Gardens in Norfolk.

“Every time my neighbor has an issue in her bathroom, I have an issue in my bathroom,” she said.

Tidewater Gardens scored a 58 on its latest HUD inspection. A 60 is considered passing.

Several public housing communities in Norfolk, Newport News and Suffolk received failing scores.

“My kids told me ‘Mom, it’s time to get out,’ so that’s what I did,” said Lorita Hargrove.

Hargrove is a throat cancer survivor who lived at Aqueduct Apartments and Marshall Courts in Newport News. Aqueduct most recently scored a 57, while Marshall Courts just passed with a 61.

“I had mold and water leaking from the wall there and the air conditioner unit was leaking and my walls turned gray,” Hargrove said.

Hargrove put in numerous maintenance requests but she said they were Band-Aid fixes, so the problems persisted.

She moved out of Marshall Courts earlier this year. She believes some of the issues she dealt with impacted her health.

10 On Your Side investigators spoke with other public housing residents who didn’t want to go on camera, but they said they experienced problems ranging from large leaks, to HVAC systems not working properly.

We’re told problems like these impact public housing communities across the country.

“They aren’t getting the amount of money that the federal government has committed, so that means they aren’t able to cover the basic costs that a building manager or owner has to cover to keep their buildings in decent condition,” said Will Fischer, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities based out of Washington, D.C.

HUD said it’s not getting enough funding from Congress, either.

Fischer with said that’s led to a massive backlog of unmet needs.

“The underfunding just goes back for decades, so these needs have just piled and piled over the years,” Fischer said.

Housing authorities receive two sources of funding from HUD: one for operating costs, which covers things like maintenance issues. The other is for capital grant projects, which covers things like roofs and HVAC replacements.

In 2010, HUD documented more than $25 billion in capital needs for public housing, but experts said that number has likely ballooned, creating a bigger deficit for housing authorities to deal with.

“The housing industry estimated that from 2010 up until 2021, the backlog has grown up to about $70 billion,” said Ronald Jackson, executive director for the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

HUD is working to update its estimate of the national backlog in capital needs for public housing now, after Congress requested more updated data.

Local housing authorities said they’re in a frustrating position.

“If you have a need of $100 and you’re only getting $25, that’s basically what it comes to,” Jackson said.

Fischer says it’s an unfortunate cycle creating hardships for low-income families.

According to CBPP, 68% of Virginians on rental assistance are seniors, children, or people with disabilities.

“These are problems we could solve, but we have to be willing to put the resources into doing it,” Fischer said.

Housing officials in Hampton Roads said there are projects in the works to help create a better living experience for residents.

As with any aging property, local housing authorities know the challenges that come with maintaining their properties.

“You’re looking at housing that in some cases was built in the 1950s, 1970s,” Jackson said.

Pair that with a $25-billion deficit in federal funding, and we’re told those challenges are exponentially harder to overcome.

“We’re looking at somewhere in the $40-50 million range in terms of our backlog of capital funds,” said Karen Wilds, executive director for the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

10 On Your Side spoke with the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Both acknowledge these communities need a decent amount of work; however, we’re told the scores don’t always accurately reflect the condition of units.

“We lose almost 10 points for erosion. We’ve lost points for vegetation growing up on a fence,” said Donna Mills, chief housing officer with NRHA.

Mills said money to fix those site issues could be put to better use in resident units, but at the end of the day, the federal funding they do have just isn’t enough.

Wilds, with the Newport News housing authority, agrees.

“It’s very frustrating but at the same time we just have to keep moving forward,” Wilds said.

That means strategically planning projects to get the most bang for their buck.

The Marshall Courts complex in Newport News has been undergoing modernization over the last seven years. It’s taken a lot longer than planned, partially due to the funding shortfall, but the units have been improved.

“We’ve done the major renovations,” Wilds said. “They’re almost new buildings.”

Housing authorities are also turning to HUD special programs like Rental Assistance Demonstration. The physical condition of these units is improved and gives residents the ability to secure assisted housing long-term if they choose.

The Choice Neighborhood program is an even more sought-after initiative.

“The only way the housing authority saw to really revitalize the area was through this large grant funding,” Jackson said.

Last year, HUD awarded the Newport News and Norfolk housing authorities $30 million each. The funds will be used to demolish and rebuild units at Ridley Place in Newport News and at Tidewater Gardens in the St. Paul’s area of Norfolk.

Experts said the projects will bring mixed-income housing units while improving the neighborhood’s landscape.

“Not only does it address the housing needs but it also addresses the neighborhood and economic development,” Wilds said.

After demolition, groundbreaking for the replacement buildings at Tidewater Gardens is expected sometime in June of next year and completion is expected in 2022.

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