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Richmond City Council approves plans to sell surplus city property to nonprofit for affordable housing development
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Richmond City Council approves plans to sell surplus city property to nonprofit for affordable housing development

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More than a dozen city-owned properties will soon become affordable housing under a deal between Richmond and the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust.

With the city setting out to sell up to 77 properties it owns within the next two years, the Richmond City Council earlier this month approved plans to convey 15 parcels to the local nonprofit.

Local experts with the nonprofit Partnership for Housing Affordability say the Richmond metro area has an affordable housing shortage, and that the region needs to add 1,000 new apartments reserved for families making less than the median income annually to meet projected needs.

In order to meet demand and alleviate the burden on people currently paying more than 30% of their income on housing, the city has set a goal of creating 10,000 new housing units by 2030 for individuals and families making less than about $30,000 and $45,000, respectively, each year.

While city officials are aiming to increase funding for local housing subsidies to $10 million each year, Sharon Ebert, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for economic and community development, said conveying surplus city property to housing nonprofits is another strategy.

"Our mission is to create affordable home ownership here in the city," she said in a news conference earlier this month. "A lot of those 15 parcels will actually allow more than one single family unit to be built on them, and we are going to ask for development agreements ... to ensure that they get developed within the next five years."

In April, the City Council adopted a biennial real estate strategy that calls for the sale of 77 city-owned properties. The properties on the list include lots in low-density residential areas and larger parcels where city officials imagine apartments, town homes and other large scale multi-family and mixed-use buildings could rise.

The 15 properties the city plans to convey to the trust make up about half of the lots city officials lumped in a category of 36 properties that can be used to build single or two-family homes.

Ebert said the city did not move to convey all 36 properties in the recently approved ordinance so that there's enough time to focus on development plans for the 15 properties that will be sold to the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust for $15.

The city designated the trust as its land bank in 2018 as a way to convert vacant lots and tax-delinquent properties into affordable housing.

Under the land bank model, the trust works with a community advisory panel to solicit and approve development plans that create housing that's affordable to households with a moderate or low income. 

Erica Simms, CEO of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, said the city has conveyed nearly 40 properties to the land bank program since 2018. She said 15 of those properties have since been transferred for the development of 23 new units that will be built by nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, project:HOMES and Urban Hope.

"In this real estate market, they could easily auction them off to the highest bidder," Simms said. "I just think it's really significant that they would make a decision to forgo that and transfer them for a $1 each, so that they can be used to build affordable housing."

Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Association of Realtors and chair of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, said the development of more affordable housing is pivotal to address the city's yawning racial wealth gap and other socioeconomic disparities.

"People need stable shelter in order to thrive," she said. "We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’ll have more positive vocational and health outcomes ... if we've still got people who don't know where they'll lay their head down at night or if they're stressed about paying their rent or mortgage."

The city's real estate plan also features two other categories of 41 parcels that make up 16 potential development sites, some of which could become major projects.

Among them are the shuttered Richmond Coliseum, the city-owned land on Arthur Ashe Boulevard and the Fulton Gasworks Site. Each of those sites will be the subject of a request for proposals and a small area plan before any development takes place, Ebert said.

While the city does not plan to convey any additional properties to the trust this year, Ebert said in an email Thursday that the city is planning to solicit development proposals later this year.

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