City leaders, groups propose housing crisis solutions

George Copeland Jr. | 4/6/2023, 6 p.m.
Following months of rising rent costs, a high number of evictions and growing housing scarcity, Richmond officials have declared that ...
From left, Richmond City Council members Stephanie A. Lynch, Andreas D. Addison, Ann-Frances Lambert and Ellen F. Robertson address members of RISC at Saint Paul’s Baptist Church on March 28 during the RISC Nehemiah Action Assembly. Photo by George Copeland/Richmond Free Press

Following months of rising rent costs, a high number of evictions and growing housing scarcity, Richmond officials have declared that the city is in an affordable housing crisis.

City leaders made this issue official with a resolution passed during last week’s Richmond City Council meeting, followed the next day with a press conference during which Mayor Levar M. Stoney and council members outlined the details to address the crisis.

Potential solutions the city has developed so far include rewriting the city’s zoning ordinance to increase housing density, financial assistance for city employees who are first-time home buyers, and a taxable bond program that would allocate $50 million across the next five years, with bonds issued by the city in the form of loans.

City officials also hope the declaration and initial plan will bring experts from nonprofits, the private sector and philanthropic groups to the table to provide ideas and methods to increase the city’s available affordable housing.

“It’s a call to action,” Mayor Stoney said. “We need all hands on deck. We’re going to throw the entire kitchen sink at the crisis.”

The new plan was unveiled amid an increase in evictions in the city, a shortage of over 23,000 housing units, and as housing costs account for more than 30 percent of the average median income in the Metro Richmond area. The plan also was outlined as national figures and local groups offered their own support and ideas to address this issue.

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner recently presented a $14 million check to the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to increase affordable housing options for residents. Meanwhile, Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities sought to ensure that other, pre-existing solutions weren’t left untapped during the group’s Nehemiah Action Assembly at St. Paul’s Baptist Church Tuesday, March 28.

During the event, City Council members Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, Ann-Frances Lambert, 3rd District, Andreas D. Addison, 1st District, and Stephanie A. Lynch, 5th District, supported the addition of a budget amendment tying the bond program to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The nature of this amendment and the connection to the Fund, according to RISC member and Second Baptist Church Pastor Ralph Hodge, would also direct one-third of the bond’s revenue towards building housing for residents earning 30 percent or less of the AMI in Richmond.

“Bond programs work, they work in other cities,” RISC Co-President Don Coleman said. “Guess what? They worked while they kept doing the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.”

Councilmembers also promised to support a resolution filed by Councilmember Reva M. Trammell, 8th district, seeking to

release an allocated $300,000 in funds to local nonprofits for mobile home repair and replacement.

RISC members repeatedly have called for more decisive action from city leaders in response to a potential housing crisis for years, and have criticized how decisions made by Mayor Stoney’s administration have affected initiatives meant to address housing issues such as the AHTF.

“The city administration has dammed up the stream,” said Martin Wegbreit, a RISC member and city council appointee to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Supervisory Board, during the public comment section of Monday’s City Council meeting.

“Our citizen-supervised, proven local tool for the past eight years ... where developers have applied for two times more money than available, has been abandoned. City Council can un-dam the stream.”

Along with seeking the input of public and private interests, city officials are also looking to state leadership, including Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin, for assistance in tackling affordable housing.

“We need the state to not simply sit back and boast of a great surplus when so many of our citizens are struggling to live,” City Council President Michael J. Jones, 9th District, said during last week’s press conference.

“We need to ensure that they have a place to live and our governor, and the general assembly, the Richmond delegation, they’ve got to get serious about ensuring that our most vulnerable have a place to live.”

City Council’s resolution, and more information on Mayor Stoney’s proposed budget are expected to be discussed and approved during the next City Council meeting this month.