Tenant wins SRHA case

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A district court judge has ordered Suffolk’s public housing authority to find a mentally ill woman a new home, reversing his earlier default judgment that led to her eviction.

Judge James A. Moore Jr.’s April 9 writ of possession authorized Vickie Whitehead’s eviction from her Chorey Park public housing unit 12 days later, according to court documents.

It was a default judgment after her client failed to appear in Moore’s courtroom, explained Anna Jane I. Zarndt, senior attorney with the Virginia Legal Aid Society, describing it as “unique procedural” ruling.

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The Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority applied for the writ after Whitehead failed to pay rent between January and March, accumulating arrears of $574, to which the authority added interest, a $25 late fee and $58 costs, according to paperwork filed with the court and signed by Theresa Boone, property manager for Chorey Park.

According to a social services worker who testified for her in court Wednesday, Whitehead had suffered “a fixed delusion that someone else had paid the rent.”

Whitehead has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and her most recent hospitalization involved a “psychotic disorder,” the social service worker told the court.

“She did not think she had to pay her rent,” she said. “She didn’t really understand. She didn’t feel she had the need to pay. I offered to pay her rent, but I did not know the exact amount.”

Judge Moore asked whether Whitehead — who did appear before his bench Wednesday — was competent to testify, and whether she had a court-appointed representative.

“If she’s in a position where she can’t handle her own affairs, the housing authority has to have someone they can deal with,” said attorney Elaine Inman Hogan, representing the authority.

Zarndt said, “I don’t think it’s a concern,” adding that her client had been a tenant with the authority since 2006 “with absolutely no problems.”

“One thing I know about this particular diagnosis is there is no guarantee that, going forward, everything is going to be OK,” Moore said.

Zarndt said that her client receives a stable disability pension and, normally, support from the Western Tidewater Community Services Board — though, “unfortunately,” she was not “represented by the community services board” during her recent troubles.

“The housing authority is stuck in a difficult position,” Hogan said, “because they have to be able to collect their rent.”

Hogan said earlier, “Our position is, there is absolutely no basis for a motion to set aside the judgment.”

But Moore, deciding to do just that, said, “You all get together and work it out — work out an arrangement for her to move back in.”

Zarndt said that her client would repay about $900, all told.

Since her eviction, Whitehead said she’s been residing at an Econo Lodge and The Pavilion at Williamsburg Place, a psychiatric facility.

“Thank God I still got somewhere to stay; otherwise I would be homeless,” she said outside the courtroom Wednesday. I hope I can be back in Chorey Park. I want to continue paying my rent, like I always have.”