Richmond’s affordable housing remains elusive

George Copeland Jr. | 3/9/2023, 6 p.m.
“We thought Richmond had a win” was a common refrain during a recent City Council meeting, as community and faith ...

“We thought Richmond had a win” was a common refrain during a recent City Council meeting, as community and faith leaders called on council members to address ongoing issues with housing in Richmond and follow through on commitments made to address it.

More than 150 members of Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities attended a Feb. 27 City Council meeting to persuade council members to distribute funds for mobile home repairs and provide answers about an ordinance focused on affordable housing.

“Affordable housing is in crisis, and the people in this building have the power to do something about it,” said Don Coleman, pastor at East End Fellowship and RISC’s co-president. “We thought Richmond had a win, but we’re afraid that what Richmond has are two broken promises.”

According to the Partnership for Housing Affordability, a nonprofit organization that increases awareness about affordable housing issues:

• The current average cost of a home in Richmond is more than $300,000;

• Rents have risen in Richmond’s most affordable locations;

• In North Side and South Richmond, where rents normally have been hundreds less, prices are rising nearly almost twice as fast as other parts of the city;

• Overall, at the end of 2022, average rental costs ranged from $1,045 in North Side to $1,611 in the West End.

City Council had previously amended a housing ordinance in 2021 to send a dedicated stream of funding from a special reserve annually to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. However, RISC members said the ordinance was not being followed, with an estimated $2.4 million slated to be transferred to the fund.

City officials also had allocated $300,000 for mobile home repairs as part of its budget for the 2023 fiscal year, but the money has not been distributed months after that budget went into effect. A call to Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s office about the funding was not returned by Free Press deadline.

The public petition was the latest development for RISC’s efforts surrounding the state of housing in the city; last fall they also petitioned City Council to take action.

“The best time to fund affordable housing was 15 years ago” said Marty Wegbreit, a RISC member and appointee in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund’s supervisory board. “The next best time is today.”

In response, 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell sought to make clear that the council does not have the power and autonomy to act on its own in the matter. She cited the council’s responsibilities as elected officials, and the need for answers from the city administration as critical considerations before decisions could be made.

“It’s a process you have to go through,” said Ms. Trammell, who spoke about the texts and calls she received from constituents to take action.

“All that money is in a trust fund. We do not write those checks.

“I just want to make sure that we’re not crucified for something that we didn’t do,” Ms. Trammell continued. “I think there needs to be another discussion and (to) bring the truth to the table.”

Council President Michael J. Jones, 9th District, stressed the need for a comprehensive plan for the allocated funds, and requested that the City administration produce a report about its approach to mobile home repair and other housing matters.

Mr. Jones tasked City Council’s Chief of Staff LaTesha S. Holmes and Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders to present their findings to City Council and the Land Use Administration.

RISC members were unconvinced by this choice, pointing to how long the fund has been part of city law without studies or reports to determine how it is best used.

“The ordinance has been on the books since 2008,” said the Rev. Ralph Hodge, pastor at Second Baptist Church South Richmond. “Now you need a study?”

RISC leaders plan to schedule meetings with council members Stephanie A. Lynch, 5th District, and Andreas D. Addison, 1st District, to discuss housing and funding. More meetings, and appeals with city officials also are planned.