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How Affordable Is The “Affordable Housing” In The Coliseum Development? Rents In Line With Market Rates

Coliseum Development Rendering
Rendering of NH District Corporation's plans to redevelop the Coliseum and surrounding area. (Source: NH District Corp)

When Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced this month that he had reached a deal to redevelop the Coliseum and a large part of downtown, he said “an unprecedented level of commitment to affordable housing” would be a cornerstone of the project.

“We want those who work in this neighborhood to be able to live in it as well,” Stoney said. 

The city’s agreement with the developer, NH District Corp., calls for the creation of 480 units of affordable housing. That’s in addition to the more than 2,000 apartments and condos the developer will build across nine sites. 

NH District Corp. itself will be responsible for building 280 affordable units, but only 80 of them are expected to be built by 2022. The developer expects to build another 200 in the next five to seven years. The developer will also need to help raise $10 million in private donations. That money would go to the nonprofit affordable housing developer Better Housing Coalition, which will build 200 affordable apartments elsewhere in downtown.

Just How affordable Will The Navy Hill Apartments Be?

 

Numbers provided to VPM by NH District Corp. show the affordable housing units planned for Navy Hill will not be much cheaper than many market rate apartments in the Richmond region. 

The average gross rent in Richmond is about $1,060 regardless of size, according to 2017 data from the Census Bureau. Newer data from Zillow Research puts the average around $1,300.

At the Navy Hill development, the average monthly rent on an income-restricted studio apartment will range from $977-$1,180. That range increases to $1,047-$1,509 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,256-$1,811 for a two-bedroom. 

Compare that to the average market rate rent on the Navy Hill apartments: $1,180 for a studio, $1,550 for a one-bedroom and $2,100 for a two-bedroom.

The developer is only required to offer the income-restricted units for a period of 20 years, according to documents submitted to Richmond City Council.



A spokesperson for NH District Corp. said because the apartments will be newly constructed, comparing the rents to the average multifamily in the region isn’t fair. They said the rents also include assumptions about inflation and what the rental market will look like when the developer expects to complete construction in 2022.

“Navy Hill is an inclusive, thoughtful and transformational project for all Richmonders,” said Jeff Kelley, a spokesman for the developer, adding the agreement represents “the largest commitment to affordable housing in Richmond in recent years.”

But some activists question whether these apartments are truly affordable for most Richmonders.

Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, said the affordable housing at the Navy Hill development will be out of reach for those who really need it.

“When they say ‘affordable housing’ all they really mean is that it’s income-restricted,” Al-Qadaffi said. “They keep using that term ‘affordable housing’, but what does it really mean?”

None of the first 480 income-restricted apartments are expected to be offered for sale, but the agreement does allow for the developer to turn them into for sale units at any time.. 

Who Are These Affordable Housing Units For?

 

While many people think of affordable housing as being targeted at people making minimum wage or slightly more, the units at Navy Hill will likely be priced out of range for those residents. 

For example, somebody working a full-time, minimum wage job would need to spend their entire monthly paycheck on an income-restricted studio apartment at Navy Hill. 

In their proposal, NH District Corp. said its target residents are “VCU Medical Center and biotech workers, government workers, work-from-home parents, or any who may want to forgo the economic and environmental burden of an automobile-centric commuter lifestyle.”

People who want to live in one of the 480 affordable units, however, will have to meet strict income requirements. According to the developer agreement:

  • 40% of the 480 affordable housing units will be reserved for people making 60% of the area median income, or about $35,000 per year for an individual and $50,000 per year for a family of four.
  • 60% of the affordable units will be reserved for people making 80% of the area median income, or about $46,000 per year for an individual and $67,000 per year for a family of four.

The developer will have to accept rent vouchers from the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), but will not be required to give preference to people using the vouchers. This is important because the housing authority recently announced its plan to demolish and redevelop most of its stock of affordable housing, including the nearby Gilpin Court. 

Greta Harris, the CEO of Better Housing Coalition, said the affordable housing in the Navy Hill project will mostly be for “moderate-income” residents.

“It’s the new college grads, the new police officers, the folks serving us at all of these breweries and award-winning restaurants,” Harris said. “All of those folks need affordable housing, too.”

Harris’ organization will work with the developer to raise $10 million to build 200 affordable housing units as part of the Navy Hill deal. She said Better Housing Coalition already has about $6.5 million in commitments from private sources, but that money is contingent upon Richmond City Council approving the larger deal.

When Will The Affordable Housing Be Built?

 

Most of the 480 units of affordable housing aren’t likely to be available to rent until around 2024.

The agreement between NH District Corp. and the city requires 80 affordable units to be built in the first phase of development alongside a new coliseum. NH District Corp. has estimated that the first phase will be completed by 2022. They say the later phase, which will include an additional 200 units on-site, will be completed over the course of five to seven years.

The timeline for the 200 apartments being built by Better Housing Coalition is still a bit murky. Harris said the nonprofit is hoping to have the full $10 million in commitments by the time Richmond City Council votes on the deal. That is likely to be early next year. 

While Harris said they’d like to start building immediately upon approval, the nonprofit is still in the process of securing a downtown site for that development.

Mayor Stoney has hinted at the possibility of producing more affordable housing than what’s outlined in the agreement. Projections from Davenport and Company, the city’s hired financial advisors, show the project could generate surplus tax revenue of $1 billion. That projection is based on the best-case scenario.

A non-binding resolution submitted to City Council by Stoney states that the city should spend 15% of the surplus, potentially up to $150 million, on affordable housing and homeless services.