Richmond declares an affordable housing crisis emergency: What's being done to fix it?

Posted at 5:37 PM, Mar 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-31 11:18:39-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- It's official. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and a majority of Richmond City Council have declared an affordable housing crisis emergency in the City of Richmond. They passed a resolution Monday night to do so and held a press conference Tuesday to lay out the details of the resolution and how they planned to address the issue.

People in metro-Richmond are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing costs. On top of that, there is a 23,320-unit shortage.

Roughly 15 different out-of-state LLCs are responsible for a majority of eviction cases in the city, which saw a massive uptick in such cases early this year,according to RVA Eviction Labs.

"It's a call to action," Mayor Stoney said, hoping the urgency from his administration and council would spur innovative solutions to solving the crisis. "We need all hands on deck, just like we're doing on the front of gun violence. We're going to throw the entire kitchen sink at the crisis."

His plan to address the issue includes:

  • Redevelopment of public housing communities
  • Rewriting the city's zoning ordinances for greater housing density and design purposes
  • Giving financial assistance to first-time home buyers who work for the city
  • A $500,000 revolving loan program added to an existing $300,000 fund for alternative housing, including manufactured homes
  • A $50 million taxable bond program for the next five years

The bonds would be issued by the city.
Anyone who buys a bond would be given a loan by the city and must pay back the loan and additional interest payments along the way.

The city's "one-to-one" leverage match on the bond program, it said, would double the money made from the bonds from $50 million to $100 million in five years. The Stoney administration called that method expedient and efficient.

However, some housing advocates with Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities, also known as RISC, have problems with the potential effects of the bond program.

"Mayor Stoney is not sharing that the $50 million in bonds will actually cost the city $138 million in debt over the next 25 years," Pastor Amy Starr Redwine, a member of RISC, said.

Richmond City Council President Mike Jones supported the move.

"There are going to be some other organizations, there are going to be some people who say, well, we should do it the way that we've always done it. We can't. The need has changed. The challenge has been changed," Jones said.

RISC members also spoke out at Monday night's city council meeting, asking where money meant for the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund, laid out by a city ordinance, will tie in.

"More than two years ago, you enacted a dedicated funding stream for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. That generated $2.4 million from FY22 and $3.7 million from FY23. The city administration has dammed up the stream and has not and will not put any of that $6 million into the trust fund," Martin Wegbreit, a city council appointee to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Supervisory Board, said. "Our citizen-supervised, proven local tool for the past eight years, the trust fund, where developers have applied for two times more money than available, has been abandoned."

“That money should be in the trust fund, so that’s one of the reasons why we have been asking our city council members to pass a resolution to put the money that has come from tax abatements to be put in a reserve that can then be put in the Trust Fund and to put a budget amendment in the budget for next year, that would have the money, that is owed to the Trust Fund according to the ordinance, put in the Trust Fund," Redwine said. 

When asked how money for the trust fund would be used, Mayor Stoney and Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, who kickstarted the fund, responded with this: 

"The affordable housing trust fund is an advisory board that helps us with some of these decisions, but the future of what we want to see is, we want to see is we want to bring everybody to the board. It's a trust for how the funds will be used. What we want to bring to bear is the expertise, the ideas, folks who are in the nonprofit world, philanthropic world, the private sector, so we can see a more broader view on how we go about using these dollars to get more people into affordable homes."

Councilman Jones called on Governor Glenn Youngkin's administration to act as well. 

"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," Jones said. "Those that are at 30% AMI. We need to ensure that they have a place to live and our governor, our general assembly, the Richmond delegation, they’ve got to get serious about ensuring that our most vulnerable have a place to live.”

Several council members are meeting with RISC Tuesday night at St. Paul's Baptist Church.

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