Council approves new shelters for homeless

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/16/2023, 6 p.m.
Proposals for two new city-supported homeless shelters – including one at 1900 Chamberlayne Ave. that drew fire from area businesses …

Proposals for two new city-supported homeless shelters – including one at 1900 Chamberlayne Ave. that drew fire from area businesses — cleared City Council Monday.

Both new shelters are to open Dec. 1 and operate until April 15, according to the ordinances, though additional papers are to be introduced that would make each a year-round operation

Before the vote, no opposition surfaced over the plan to turn a former hostel at 7 N. 2nd St. into a 50-bed shelter for adults with children that is to be run by the nonprofit shelter group HomeAgain. That group is to receive $663,850 from the city to support the operation through mid-April.

That was not the story for the Chamberlayne shelter that the Salvation Army is to operate.

That proposed shelter drew the most attention, with more than 20 people offering pros and cons in speaking to the council.

But in the end, the plan to create a 150-bed shelter at the former church site secured unanimous approval from the nine-member governing body.

The approved ordinance allocates $1.4 million to the Salvation Army.

The shelter is to be open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week and would provide wrap-around services to assist clients and identify more permanent housing, according to 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch.

The decision to go with this site is a reversal from three years ago when the council approved the Salvation Army’s decision to move its Central Virginia headquarters to the site, but barred the faith-based group that has operated in the city for more than 136 years from operating a shelter at the location.

The council lifted that shelter ban in 2022 when it approved changes to the zoning ordinance to allow shelters in more areas of the city, including the Chamberlayne Avenue site which is zoned for light manufacturing.

David Kohler, president of the Chamberlyane Industrial Center Civic Association, warned the council before the vote that at least some of the 100 businesses that belong to the organization could move out if the shelter were approved. He previously has said that his group would consider going to court to block the shelter if council voted for it.

In other business, City Council:

• Saluted the Adopt-A-Street Committee of the Richmond Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for its service to the city for 25 years.

• Voted to maintain the current real estate tax rate of $1.20 per $100 of assessed value, essentially allowing an average increase of 7.7% in tax bills that residents will receive in 2024.

• Passed legislation to create the city’s first Public Safety and Services Commission, an advisory group that would be limited to offering recommendations for improvements to the Department of Public Utilities. Council, however, provided only $5,000 for staffing the commission previously described as “toothless” as the members are to be unpaid volunteers who are to only meet quarterly after they are appointed.

• Approved a plan to have new city employees join the Virginia Retirement System and also authorized the administration to borrow up to $150 million to shore up the city’s internal Richmond Retirement System that will continue to operate for current members and retirees.

• Amended the city’s Richmond 300 master plan to make most of the major public housing communities priority development areas. The communities include Creighton, Fairfield, Hillside, Mosby and Whitcomb, though not Gilpin, where planning for a major overhaul is underway.

• Awarded a $29,000 grant to enable the Sankofa Orchard on South Side to make improvements to the nonprofit orchard that has been created to provide fruit to city residents.