Building codes

Richmond Strangles the Poor With Red Tape

Mayor says he wants to "promote economic parity and social justice," then sends code enforcers to evict the poor from their homes.

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It was said of Charles de Gaulle that while he loved France, the French people left him cold. One has to wonder if something like that might apply to Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones.

Jones has spoken eloquently about the need to alleviate poverty — or, as he put it, "promote economic parity and social justice." He empaneled a commission that studied the issue in depth, and produced a fat report. But when presented with real, live poor people, his administration not only has ignored their pleas for help but kicked them when they were down.

Last week residents of two trailer parks sued the city over what they call an illegal and racially discriminatory inspection program. The courts will have to sort out whether those claims have merit. But even if only half of the claims are true, anyone reading the complaint filed in federal district court will come away from it astonished at how city officials have behaved.

The plaintiffs in the case are almost all Latino, as are the lopsided majority of the city's trailer-park residents — even though Latinos make up less than 7 percent of the city's total population. According to the complaint, which is being brought on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Legal Aid Justice Center, the city started planning for a sweep of its trailer parks three years ago, and started going through them in the early spring of 2014. It cited numerous mobile homes for violations great and small — from bad wiring to "improperly built decks and porches."

You can argue this is legit, even if the mobile-home residents own the trailers. But it would be hard to argue that the city acted out of a sense of compassion or decency — not when its violation notices threatened recipients with condemnation, criminal prosecution and fines of $2,500 a day.

What's more, all of the violation notices were issued in English only, which guaranteed most of the recipients couldn't read them. And the notices did not simply demand that the owners fix the problems. Instead, they insisted on a report by a licensed engineer regarding any structural issues. As well as an engineer's approval for any changes to electrical systems. Any new windows or doors would have to be replaced only with duplicates made or approved by the original manufacturer.

All of which runs into big money fast. Despite the cost some of the residents got busy fixing what the city said needed fixing — not that it did them much good. Hector Estrada, a resident of Rudd's Trailer Park on Jeff Davis, spent more than $1,000 on electrical and porch repairs. Didn't matter — the city condemned his trailer anyway and threw him out on the street. Estrada wasn't alone. The city condemned several trailers, sometimes rendering families with young children homeless. That's just what happened to Alfonso Altamira-Rojas, along with his wife and four kids.

Nobody would ever mistake a run-down mobile home for Shangri-La. But at least it's something. How does making whole families homeless improve their situation?

The residents repeatedly asked the city for help. A coalition of residents asked to meet with Mayor Jones, but — according to the complaint — "the Mayor's office failed for months to schedule the requested meeting." A code-enforcement official eventually relented on the demand that an engineer sign off on electrical work, but refused to drop the same requirement for structural work because, allegedly, "the requirement was statutory." Yet he couldn't cite the statute, and nobody else could find it either. Another official insisted work be done by a "HUD-certified engineer." Apparently there is no such thing.

Representatives of the trailer-park residents repeatedly wrote to city officials. They offered a plan to rectify deficiencies. They asked the city to work with them by using federal and other funds — some specifically designated to help low-income residents fix up their homes — to assist with repairs, obtain matching grants from local philanthropies, and so on. The city's response? Stony silence.

Granted, this is only one side of the story. The mayor's spokeswoman declines to comment on pending litigation. But Reva Trammell, the city councilwoman whose 8th District includes several trailer parks, told WTVR the city is not trying to shut anyone down and is not discriminating against anyone: "We would be discriminating if we didn't go in there and do our job."

Maybe. And maybe this is the place to note that if the city finally has decided to do its job, it sure picked a strange place to start. The Department of Social Services — the subject of not one, but three separate and damning reports — is such a wreck that it lost dozens of case files, and at times even city police have been unable to get it to respond. The city finances are in such chaos that most of the turnaround team brought in to fix them has abandoned ship. The outside auditing firm brought in to help also has thrown up its hands and quit.

It's a heck of a note to see a city that can't get its own act together kicking some of its poorest residents out of the only homes they can probably afford because they aren't up to code. This from a government that still has not submitted a comprehensive financial report that was due — under state law — last November.

Jones, by the way, is a Baptist minister. Perhaps he should remove the logs from City Hall's eyes before he tries to pluck the motes from the eyes of the poor.

This article originally appeared in The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. Sure, Richmond could choose to fix all its other problems first, but to do that they need money, and what better place to get it than squeezing the poor? I mean, it’s not like they could lay off code enforcement officers. And Social Services is a bureaucratic mine field. There’s no repairing those.

    The bottom line is, if the city’s poor want the mayor to address their concerns, they need to step up and start greasing some palms.

  2. No other comments for the poor?! Reason Racists!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. …Sure, fill up the “other” thread about a black guy killing whitey. *sobs*

  4. “Jones, by the way, is a Baptist minister. Perhaps he should remove the logs from City Hall’s eyes before he tries to pluck the motes from the eyes of the poor.”

    He’s also Black and a Democrat. Not necessarily awful things, but the combination of all three plus political office makes “Also a petty, power mongering, corrupt swine” a decent bet.

    MAybe the hispanics in the trailer parks were supposed to give in and go live in Official For-The-Poor projects-type housing? Where they would reliably vote for Jones as long as he could keep running, because he made the Gravy Trains run-on time?

    1. Maybe the hispanics in the trailer parks were supposed to give in and go live in Official For-The-Poor projects-type housing? Where they would reliably vote for Jones as long as he could keep running, because he made the Gravy Trains run-on time?

      ^This guy gets it.

      1. I’ll bet a big chunk of change that he missed one OBVIOUS aspect of the issue, though.

        He should have added “and then the Mayor’s brother “George” and his construction company can come thru on building that “income property” that the new owners paid so much money into the Mayor’s campaign coffers for.

  5. “We would be discriminating if we didn’t go in there and do our job.”

    Maybe they should consider applying for a productive job.

    1. Just following orders. These guys would make great Nazis.

  6. I can’t say for sure, not there (thank goodness), but I doubt that racism has anything to do with this. It is probably more simple.

    Over time, these trailer parks have trailers that are older and less attractive all the time, increasingly surrounded by newer homes because of suburban sprawl. Most of the neighbors really want the trailer parks gone because they are old, look rundown, and (so they believe) suppress property values.

    You really don’t need to find any hidden racism to see how this happens.

    1. Disproportionate impact, anyone?

  7. not that I am sticking up for the city, just observing how these things usually go …

  8. The city is just being responsive to the citizens … you know, the ones who pay property taxes, organize politically, actually contribute money to campaigns, you know, Upstanding Citizens!

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  11. Richmond is predominantly African American. Hispanics are taking jobs from African Americans and by living in cheaper substandard housing, they can accept a lower wage. I’m sure the city could find similar building code infractions in African American neighborhoods, but that would be considered racist.

    1. Richmond is predominantly African American.

      Well, I guess “50.6%” is predominant – barely.

    2. Yup. Have a cruise through the black ghettoes as well, and I’m CERTAIN more code violations will be found. Corruption runs deep. Payback is lurking in this somehwere.

  12. What’s more, all of the violation notices were issued in English only

    Oh come on. I know the US doesn’t have an “official language” but that doesn’t absolve immigrants from learning the de facto nation language.

    1. *insert missing words and suffixes as appropriate…*

  13. An building inspector making up statutes? I am shocked! -Captain Renault.

  14. First they came for Chevron………

  15. One has to wonder how the mayor thinks that making these people homeless is going to help the city. Or do they have plenty of jail space for vagrants?

  16. What’s more, all of the violation notices were issued in English only, which guaranteed most of the recipients couldn’t read them.

    Too bad. If you don’t read English, find someone who does. If you do nothing, suffer the fate of idiocy.

  17. Blacks run Richmond. They don’t care much for other races — especially Hispanics and Asians. If the trailer park had been filled with blacks rather than Hispanics, this thuggish police state behavior would not have happened. But nobody wants to go down that investigative road.

    Demographics: http://richmondca.areaconnect.com/statistics.htm

    1. Probably something to this. There is a lot of “bad blood” between blacks and hispanics. Mainly due to the fact that hispanics take jobs that blacks believe they should be entitled to.

  18. My first impulse was to say it probably was a racism tearing its ugly head but then I saw that the mayor was black and remembered only whites can be racist. I’m now certain there are very profound and magnanimous reasons for this policy of throwing families out on the street. Does the mayor live nearby? Is he disturbed by all the wild late night quinceanera parties? Does this lead to loss of productivity resulting in poorer services rendered by the mayor and city? Maybe the smell of carnitas is more then the mayor can stomach? Perhaps he’s allergic to cilantro? Why should he suffer all of these things and have his land value decrease just for some Latinos. DEY TUK ERRR JEBS after all.

  19. I smell a back room good ol boy deal somewhere behind this. Someone wants those trailers and their owners/occupants gone so THEY can use them for their own profit. Most jurisdictions, when code enforcement goons come calling, first issue “fix it” notices… and few jurisdictions have such insane requreiemts for “engineering”. Building and electrical codes are standard, and can be found in the rules and regs of the jurisdiction in question. Most simply refer to state or ICBO codes. No need to pay engineers for a case by case analysis costing thousands on a trailer that likely is worh maybe two thousand. Same with mandating the windows be replaced with original or like… in almosst every case, these would not only not be available, but not to current codes. No one could put such windows in a stick built home.

    Someone should search below the surface… this stinks of corruption. Its not about “public safety” at all. Its about that land…..

    It would be nice to know WHICH Richmond is in question… which state? So simple to add that. No clue

    1. Richmond Times Dispatch…Richmond, VA

  20. Guess he neglected enforcing racial justice, language justice, trailer justice, poetic justice, deck justice…

  21. Jones is the Vester Flanagan of trailer parks occupied by Hispanics.

  22. What’s more, all of the violation notices were issued in English only, which guaranteed that only citizens and legal residents would be able to read them.

    FIFY

  23. Social Justice is truly a wonderful thing.

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  25. This is so sad. I lived in a trailer some years ago and we did fine.

  26. They do not speak English and do not vote, but they do burden the government and consume resources the mayor has reserved for blacks. That is the real problem in the mayors eyes.

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