Altria Group Inc. is giving $3 million to the Better Housing Coalition to help the nonprofit finance more affordable housing for low- and moderate-income people in the Richmond area.
The donation from the Henrico County-based Fortune 500 company is the largest corporate gift in the coalition’s 33-year history.
The Richmond-based nonprofit that specializes in affordable housing development said the money will help underwrite the development of at least 1,000 affordable housing units in the Richmond region over the next three years.
BHC’s portfolio now includes 17 multifamily rental communities with 1,600 units under management, as well as more than 200 single-family homes that it built and sold to first-time homebuyers.
The new units under the Altria donation are expected to serve about 2,000 low- to moderate-income residents, the majority of whom will be people of color.
BHC also is seeking to leverage the Altria investment to raise a total of about $10 million in other corporate and philanthropic contributions.
“This really is a unique opportunity for us to advance racial equity,” said Stacie Birchett, who oversees fundraising for the organization as its vice president of external affairs.
“There is a long history of racial discrimination in housing,” Birchett said. “Organizations like BHC were created and continue to exist to counter some of those policies.”
While the housing market and construction market have remained strong in the Richmond region during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, “You don’t see many affordable housing units being built,” she said. “The demand for affordable housing exceeds the supply. There are many low-income families and seniors who struggle to pay the rent.”
Rental costs range from about $500 per month to $1,300 per month at the various Better Housing Coalition multifamily units in the area.
BHC mostly develops and provides rental units, but the organization also plans to use the money from the Altria donation to support homeownership opportunities for at least 50 households.
It also plans to offer more support services for residents. For instance, BHC is planning to provide telehealth services to at least 200 low-income senior residents.
Altria, the parent company of top U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris USA, is offering the contribution as part of a $5 million commitment the company made last year to support causes that advance social and economic equity.
“We spent time over the course of the last year working with our employee resource groups and members of the community to ask: What are the areas of the community that would benefit the most?” said Altria spokesman Steve Callahan.
Altria contributed $1.75 million to BHC in late 2020 and will provide the remaining balance in 2021 and 2022.
“Housing alone does not solve systemic racism, but it offers a foundation for families to experience security, stability and hope for a brighter future,” said Greta J. Harris, BHC’s president and CEO, in a statement. “This is a significant undertaking and we are most grateful for Altria’s investment in our work and commitment to transforming our region.”