Plans to transform Richmond’s largest and oldest public housing community got a boost from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Monday.
HUD announced it was awarding the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority $450,000 to conduct a planning process that’s a precursor to redeveloping Gilpin Court, a 781-unit complex in the northern half of the Jackson Ward neighborhood. RRHA was one of eight housing authorities across the country to receive one of the coveted grants this year.
“[RRHA] could not be happier about the HUD Choice grant award,” said Stacey Daniels-Fayson, the housing authority’s interim CEO, in an email. “It is great news for the families of RRHA’s Gilpin Court and the Jackson Ward community. The award demonstrates the shared commitment of the RRHA, the City of Richmond, The Richmond City Health District and other community partners and stakeholders.”
Daniels-Fayson said the grant money ensures there will be a “robust community engagement process” with “collaboration at each level from various stakeholders.” The two-year process will build on community engagement work conducted through the city’s Richmond 300 Plan and Mayor Levar Stoney’s housing plan, she added.
Housing authorities around the country vie for the federal funding, called Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants. They’re meant to cover costs for housing authorities to hold a collaborative planning process with residents before overhauling public housing neighborhoods.
The other recipients announced Monday were Annapolis, Md.; Augusta, Ga.; Brownsville, Texas; Jackson, Mich.; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; and McKees Rocks, Pa. Thirty-two housing authorities applied for the money, according to HUD’s release.
Receiving one of the grants can help housing authorities compete for larger HUD grants, of up to $30 million, to implement the plans they develop. Of the recipients that have received the planning grants since 2013, roughly a quarter have gone on to secure a bigger grant, according to HUD.
As far back as 2009, city and housing authority officials have promised to demolish Gilpin Court and rebuild a mixed-income development where it stands just north of downtown. The oldest apartments date to World War II. Over the last decade, the complex has fallen further into disrepair as leaders have turned their focus to other projects, like the redevelopment of the Creighton Court public housing community in the city’s East End.
In 2019, then-RRHA CEO Damon E. Duncan attempted to jump-start Gilpin’s redevelopment process. HUD rejected the housing authority’s application for a planning grant at the time, citing both a lack of community engagement and local government support for the application.
This time around, RRHA submitted a joint application with the city of Richmond. Stoney, the City Council and various community organizations signaled support for the effort in the form of a resolution and letters accompanying RRHA’s application to HUD. Stoney pledged $100,000 to the planning effort in his letter of support.
Since then, Stoney’s administration has proposed, and the council has approved, money to renovate Gilpin’s main community center and fix its aging pool. Last month, officials celebrated the grand opening of new senior apartments in the neighborhood. The homes, in the renovated historic Baker School building, are the latest in a series of new projects to open near the public housing community.
In its application submitted to HUD in July, RRHA cast the process of charting a new future for the neighborhood as both a practical and symbolic undertaking.
Once a prosperous hub of Black community and commerce, construction of Interstate 95/64 in the 1950s divided the neighborhood and began a period of decline. This year, Jackson Ward marked 150 years since its founding.
“The planning process will be an act of healing that will help mend the physical, social, and economic harm that more than a century of policy has perpetrated,” RRHA’s application stated. “By planning with residents rather than for them, these efforts will transform the disconnected neighborhood into a single, whole community.”