The City of Richmond, VA released a Consolidated Action Annual Plan for the fiscal year of 2011-2012. The writing of the Plan is attributed to the Department of Economic and Community Development as well as the Division of Neighborhood Revitalization. The plan discusses many aspects of community development and revitalization however the focus of this paper will be on citizen participation, the role of non-profits, and public housing.
The entire plan lays out the housing, economic, and community initiatives that the city plans to undertake or continue during the year. The Executive Summary states that, “As in previous planning years, the City continues to embark on its community development efforts in partnership with our departmental agencies, local non-profits and local and state quasi-governmental organizations.” (Plan pg. 1.) The city lists over a dozen non-profits and around 5 governmental/city agencies that they intend to work with to carry out the Consolidated Plan. Richmond entered into public-private partnerships prior to the publishing of this plan and intends to continue to use those partnerships to bridge the gap between citizens’ needs for assistance and the city’s budget.
In Chapter 3 of Arena’s Driven from New Orleans, Arena points to the non-profits who acted as guides to the St. Thomas development as to blame its eventual fall. His argument is that non-profits took away the residents’ main power of political mobilization and agitation by advising them to work with developers. The non-profits viewed privatization as inevitable, so they encouraged residents to get on board and work with the developers with the hope that they might get some of their needs met by being cooperative. The process of privatization of public services also lets the government off the hook for services that it is responsible for providing. This makes the privatization of public services via the public-private partnerships discussed by the Consolidated Plan for Richmond, VA a major weakness of the plan.
The citizen participation section indicates the following responsibilities of the city regarding citizen participation: “1. Provide a summary of the citizen participation process. 2. Provide a summary of citizen comments or views on the plan. 3. Provide a summary of efforts made to broaden public participation in the development of the consolidated plan, including outreach to minorities and non-English speaking persons, as well as persons with disabilities. 4. Provide a written explanation of comments not accepted and the reasons why these comments were not accepted.” (Plan pg. 12-13.) One of the themes in Driven from New Orleans is the importance of citizen participation, if not control, of community development. The residents of St. Thomas and the surrounding area developed STICC (Arena pg. 60-64) in order to oversee the social services being offered to them. STICC represents a form of citizen participation by citizens that the local government has excluded from the processes of development. The specific outreach to minorities is a positive in these responsibilities however there are not many opportunities for any citizens to be involved in the drafting of the Plan. Only two public hearings were held for citizens to share their opinions (Plan pg. 13) and there is no evidence that citizens had any opportunity for formal participation or leadership within the Department of Economic and Community development—another weakness of the Plan in terms of inclusion of citizens in the planning process.
In the housing section of the plan, it is stated that the city will redevelop two public housing projects and that, “The Department of Social Services will continue to be a resource as residents work to increase economic self-sufficiency.” (Plan pg. 19.) The commitment to redevelop public housing projects instead of removing them shows a significant ideological difference between Richmond and New Orleans. This commitment to improving public housing is a strength of the plan however the added focus on self-sufficiency is an issue.
Arena describes the late 1960’s and 1970’s shift in New Orleans towards the idea of self-help, or greater control by residents of public housing projects (Arena pg. 57.) This seems like a positive plan that would increase citizen participation and power, however the intention to “wean them off government dependence” (Arena pg. 57) is harmful. As discussed in class, “weaning” is a term used exclusively about babies. Treating independent adults like babies that need to be weaned is demeaning. Despite this, St. Thomas residents fully supported the self-help efforts that were encouraged by the government and their non-profit leaders. The focus on self-sufficiency in the Consolidated Plan has the potential to be a weakness of the Plan due to the connotations of weaning, however it can also be a strength by providing more power to residents of public housing over their developments. Execution is everything in self-help efforts and the Richmond Plan does not lay out how their self-sufficiency plans will be carried out.
The housing and citizen participation sections of the Consolidated Plan have both positive and negative aspects in terms of Arena’s argument in Driven from New Orleans. However, the public-private partnerships are a major weakness that Arena would reject because of his thesis that non-profits’ support and encouragement of privatization was the cause of public housing’s removal from New Orleans. As of 2015, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s website claimed that “RRHA, through its Property Management and Assisted Housing rental housing program, serves nearly 10,000 residents in approximately 4,100 public housing units and through the Housing Choice Voucher Program (also known as Section 8) provides housing assistance to nearly 3,000 families.” The continued support of public housing developments is a fundamental difference between Richmond and New Orleans; it doesn’t look like Richmond’s projects are under any (immediate) threat of removal.
Arena, John. Driven from New Orleans: How Nonprofits Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatization. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2012. Print.
Department of Economic and Community Development, and Division of Neighborhood Revitalization. “Consolidated Action Annual Plan For Fiscal Year 2011-2012.” The City of Richmond. 2011. Web. <http://www.richmondgov.com/EconomicCommunityDevelopment/documents/20112012AnnualPlanESG.pdf>.
“RRHA Departments.” RRHA. Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, n.d. Web. <http://rrha.com/departments.shtml>.