A Richmond-area affordable housing nonprofit recently purchased land in Chesterfield County on the site of the former Colbrook Motel, where Black travelers could safely spend the night during the Jim Crow era.
Better Housing Coalition is looking to build low-to-moderate income homes on the former motel site along the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor in Chester.
A nonprofit specializing in affordable housing development, Better Housing purchased two parcels totaling nearly 10 acres of land for $1.2 million in March, according to Chesterfield County real estate records. Located in the Bermuda District, the project is slated for a spring 2023 completion at the estimated cost of $36 million, said Stacie Birchett, vice president of external affairs for Better Housing.
“The planned Colbrook development extends affordable housing opportunities ... in an area with few affordable homes of high quality,” Birchett said.
The corridor’s affordable housing needs outweigh the stock in an area of concentrated poverty, where aging motels and mobile home parks offer scant options.
Sixty-five years ago, motels on the same strip were seen as havens. In 1956, the Colbrook Motel began appearing in “The Negro Motorist’s Green Book,” also known as “The Green Book.” First published in 1937, the guidebook provided a list of motels, hotels and other travel establishments such as restaurants and gas stations, that were safe for Black travelers. It was published annually until 1966.
Better Housing is working with area historians to find ways to honor the history of the former motel.
The location of Colbrook, Birchett said, will offer future residents workforce development programs and assistance with occupational goals. The future units are in close proximity to John Tyler Community College.
The nonprofit plans to build 166 multi-family apartments and 16 town homes on the site. A mix of two and three-bedroom units and about 244 parking spaces will be provided. A community center is also set to be built for programs and events.
A garden, playground, pocket parks — small, accessible neighborhood parks —and a walking trail are also slated for the site.
As defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, affordable housing is housing where the occupant pays no more than 30% of their gross income to live.
At Colbrook, households whose incomes are between 40% and 60% of the area median income, can apply for a unit, Birchett said.
In the first phase, 47 one-bedroom units will start at $400 a month to a maximum of $1,210 for three-bedroom units.
In February, Better Housing received a $3 million donation from Henrico County-based Altria Group Inc. to assist the nonprofit in providing more affordable housing in the Richmond area. Of the $3 million, Altria gave the nonprofit $1.75 million in 2020 and plans to provide the remaining balance over 2021 and 2022.
Over the next three years, the nonprofit looks to build and maintain 1,000 new units to serve a minimum of 2,000 low-to-moderate income residents, mostly to people of color.
“The Richmond region has a long and complicated history of racially discriminatory housing policies and practices that were implicitly upheld by private industry,” the February release says. Such policies included redlining, a form of housing discrimination, that in turn caused disinvestment in majority Black communities and binding legal obligations in property deeds and/or contracts that kept Black families from purchasing homes in popular Richmond neighborhoods, a news release from the nonprofit states.
The primary source of funding for the Colbrook property is from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and a mix of debt and grant dollars from public and private sources, Birchett said.
Better Housing has 17 multifamily rental communities and has built and sold over 200 single-family homes to first-time homebuyers, according to the nonprofit’s website.
This summer Better Housing plans to begin construction on the Cameo development, a 67-unit rental community in Jackson Ward and a 160-unit rental community in Chesterfield County’s Winchester Forest.
Single-family homes are also being built on the former Armstrong High School site in Richmond near the intersection of North 31st Street and Nine Mile Road.
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