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Affordable Housing in Coliseum Redevelopment Deal Won’t Target Those Most in Need, Expert Says

Richmond Coliseum
(Crixell Matthews/VPM)

The proposed redevelopment of the Richmond Coliseum and surrounding neighborhood includes 480 income-restricted apartments, but there are questions about how affordable those apartments will actually be. 

At the Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission meeting Wednesday night, the citizen board heard from Ben Teresa, an assistant professor at VCU and co-founder of its RVA Eviction Lab. Teresa told the commission that the largest need for affordable housing is for people making less than 50 percent of the area median income, or, in other words, low and extremely low-income residents. Teresa said those people are not being targeted with the income-restricted housing that’s a part of the Coliseum redevelopment deal.

“The Partnership for Housing Affordability study published a few years ago found deficits of affordable housing under 50 percent of area median income and surpluses of affordable units between 50 and 100 percent,” he said.

The income-restricted housing proposed in the Coliseum redevelopment deal would only target people making 60 and 80 percent of the Richmond region’s area median income.

The developer, NH District Corp., told VPM earlier this year that monthly rent for an “affordable” studio apartment could be up to $1,180. An income-restricted two-bedroom apartment could cost as much as $1,811 per month. 

At the time, Greta Harris, CEO of the Better Housing Coalition, said these apartments would mostly serve moderate-income residents like new college graduates and service sector workers. NH District Corp. is partnering with Harris’ organization in building the 200 of the 480 income-restricted units.

According to the proposed developer agreement, 40 percent of those units will need to be reserved for people making 60% of the regional median income, or about $36,000 per year for an individual. The rest must be reserved for people making 80 percent of the regional median income, or about $48,000 per year for an individual. 

The use of the regional median income as the benchmark for affordability — as opposed to just that of the City of Richmond — has also drawn criticism from some activist groups. 

On Wednesday, Teresa said the median income for Richmond is about 20 percent less than the region’s, meaning affordable housing touted in the deal might not be so affordable to Richmonders.

“So in this regional figure, for example, 80 percent of area median income is affordable to a family making 100 percent of the city’s area median income,” Teresa said. “So questions of affordability hinge on what spatial scale you are talking about.” 

Representatives for NH District Corp. have argued that using regional wages as a benchmark is standard practice and is used by the federal government for determining affordability.