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Richmond Grapples With How To Expand Affordable Housing

Richmond's Artisan Hill development will include 70 income-restricted units
Richmond's Artisan Hill development will include 70 income-restricted units. (Photo: Louise Ricks, WCVE) Louise Ricks/WCVE

In 2005, elected officials in the greater Richmond region warned of rising housing costs and a lack of affordable options. Nearly a decade later, the city of Richmond commissioned a comprehensive affordable housing study. Many of those recommendations still haven’t been implemented and as prices continue to rise, there are limited affordable developments in the works. In our series Where We Live WCVE’s Megan Pauly has more for Virginia Currents.   

Transcript:

Education has been a big priority for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. In January he announced his plans for a new tax to help pay for school facilities.

Stoney: We are talking about 1.5 pennies. 1.5 cents for our children. Less than these two pennies I have in my hand. Surely our kids are worth that much.

He then turned to a different topic: housing.

Stoney: We must devote similar attention to our housing needs as well. Housing as you all know it – is foundational.

A 2015 report offered a conservative estimate that at least 15,000 affordable units were needed in the greater Richmond region to accomodate low and extremely low-income households. During his State of the City address, Stoney committed to building 1,500 new, affordable housing units in the city limits over the next five years.

To accomplish that, he said the city planned to roll out an incentive package for developers by the end of the year. The status of that package is still uncertain, and would have to go before Richmond City Council for approval. City officials, developers and housing advocates - many of whom are on Stoney’s affordable housing task force - have been meeting behind closed doors to talk about what they’d like to see in that package.

One of several floor plans for  RRHA's Creighton Court redevelopment. (RRHA)

Even without additional incentives, there are still some affordable projects underway – but few involve development of affordable housing in bulk. Plans to replace the public housing community Creighton Court have been slow to materialize. A $30 million federal grant fell through in 2013, but the city’s public housing authority started engaging with residents to form a strategy to help reapply. Last year, the developer asked the city to provide a $5 million bailout after a fifth application for the federal grant failed in 2016.  

CEO of Richmond’s public housing authority Orlando Artze says the first 18 affordable slots in the redevelopment project are expected to be open to residents in late August, or early September.

Artze: Nine two bedroom and nine three bedroom apartments to residents of public housing from Creighton Court. So we're working now with that owner and with residents of public housing in Creighton to make sure that they apply and qualify for those apartments.

The Goodwyn is slated for completion this year. (BHC)

There are other plans underway for residents with slightly higher income brackets. Through the Better Housing Coalition, there’s the Goodwyn at Union Hill in Richmond’s East End, where 52 units are expected to open by the end of the year. A family of three making around $45,000 and below would qualify to live there. A few miles away, construction continues on the Artisan Hill development, with a total of 70 income-restricted units expected.

But there have been other setbacks, like the recent news that a shuttered Quality Inn & Suites on Broad Street that was slated for a mixed-income development is instead being sold. Better Housing Coalition’s Greta Harris told BizSense that people - including families with children - have been using the abandoned hotel as a home.

The Mayor says the Coliseum redevelopment proposed by Dominion CEO Tom Farrell will include affordable housing, although the number of units there is still being negotiated.

Stoney: We're going through, doing our due diligence on the proposal from the respondent. But it will feature affordable housing, that's without a doubt. It's more than just about a new arena. It's about building a neighborhood and we want a neighborhood that can feature nurses, police officers, firefighters, public servants, folks who may make a middle class or working class income.

In January, Stoney also announced a separate city department dedicated solely to housing. Right now, it’s combined with economic development. Lee Downey is current director over the combined department.

Laura Lafayette is a longtime affordable housing advocate. (Photo M. Pauly)

Downey: The idea behind that is let’s put real focus on a couple of areas in the city that are seeing extreme change for the positive, extreme growth.

Laura Lafayette is CEO of Richmond's Association of Realtors. 

Lafayette: Housing is economic development. It allows for the attraction of jobs, the attraction of industry and it is a driver of the economy.

She points to one of the recommendations from the 2014 affordable housing strategy commissioned by the City of Richmond. It called for the city to increase its annual allocation to its affordable housing trust fund from $1 million to $10 million.

Lafayette: There's not an affordable housing trust fund in the country that works well without a dedicated source of revenue. It's just not enough money.

One of the 2014 strategy’s authors Nora Lake-Brown cited a lack of political will from city leaders at the time to implement the report’s recommendations: especially those focused on finding new sustainable revenue streams. For example, one recommendation was to impose a cigarette tax. But a proposal to levy that tax for public school repairs failed in city council earlier this year.

Lake-Brown: We recognize there are competing uses for new revenues if they were to be adopted [by city council].

In the coming weeks – I’ll dive into some of the report’s other recommendations to help spur more affordable housing for our series Where We Live.

For Virginia Currents I'm Megan Pauly, WCVE News.