Council approves new housing, shelter policies

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/15/2019, 6 a.m.
Overshadowed by the debate over renaming the Boulevard, Richmond City Council Monday night unanimously approved policy changes that will impact ...

Overshadowed by the debate over renaming the Boulevard, Richmond City Council Monday night unanimously approved policy changes that will impact affordable housing and the use of city property for cold weather shelters.

On the affordable housing front, the council set a policy requiring residential developers who receive a contribution from the city in any form — land, taxpayer funds, tax credits, etc. — to ensure that a minimum of 15 percent of the units are reserved for affordable housing.


Councilwoman Ellen Robertson

The policy requires the council to reject any ordinance that does not include such a provision for affordable housing, or apartments or homes that are targeted to people earning 80 percent or less of the regional median income.

Sixth District Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson spearheaded the resolution to establish the policy.

She said the development community did not object to the policy that she said after the meeting is long overdue.

“Everyone realizes we have a shortage of affordable housing,” she said. “If the city contributes to a development by providing land, or tax credits or taxpayer funds, then we need to be able to negotiate including affordable housing.”

Ms. Robertson also won a 9-0 vote on a separate ordinance aimed at beefing up money in the city’s affordable housing trust fund she pushed to create a few years ago to provide loans to help developers in renovating older affordable housing or building new units.

Currently, the City Council policy requires the mayor to set aside $1 million a year for the trust fund. The new ordinance will require an additional $1 million to go into the fund annually, with the money to come from city earnings from the sale of tax delinquent properties. That money ordinarily would go into the general fund.

In fiscal year 2018 that ended June 30, the City Attorney’s Office reported generating a record $5.9 million in delinquent taxes, penalties, taxes and legal fees and costs from the sale or redemption of 220 properties.

Separately, the council adopted an ordinance proposed by Ms. Robertson that would force the city administration to hold a public hearing, present a plan and secure council approval to use any city-owned property as a winter shelter for the homeless.

Ms. Robertson was upset when Mayor Levar M. Stoney moved the city’s winter overflow shelter from the old Public Safety Building near City Hall to the Annie Giles Community Resource Center across from the Richmond Justice Center.

She said she and her constituents were blindsided by the city’s move that she said was undertaken without consultation. She vowed that would not happen again in proposing the legislation.

The mayor moved the city shelter before publicly embracing a plan for replacing the Richmond Coliseum and attracting other development to the area near City Hall. That proposal, which has yet to advance to the council, included replacing the Public Safety Building with a new office building that Virginia Commonwealth University is expected to lease for research and medical space.