When the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners voted in summer 2019 to sell long-vacant land in Blackwell, dozens of new affordable homes were supposed to rise in the South Richmond neighborhood.
A year-and-a-half later, those vacant lots are still languishing, and no new construction is imminent. The land has not yet changed hands, and nonprofit developers to which the housing authority agreed to sell it have received no indication of when it will.
“We applied in good faith, we received our letter of award ... we are in partnership with three other nonprofits to do that work. And here we are almost two years later, and we’ve seemingly made no progress toward receiving those parcels,” said Laura Lafayette, who chairs the board of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust. “This kind of delay doesn’t serve the community.”
Residents in the neighborhood have taken notice, too.
“As a community representative, someone should show us some decency in letting us know what the problem is,” said Pamela Smith, vice president of the Blackwell Historic Community Civic Association.
Smith has lived in the neighborhood for 32 years. In that time, she has witnessed its revitalization step by step. To finally see the new homes rise on the lots would “mean the world to me,” she said.
In June 2019, the board authorized the sale of 55 vacant parcels: 34 to Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation and 21 to the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust. The vote followed a solicitation, which drew two proposals the previous fall.
Under the plans, 50 of the lots would become homes reserved for people earning 80% of the area median income: $57,200 for a family of two or $71,500 for a family of four.
The five other lots would be developed and sold at market rate.
The properties dot a now-gentrifying neighborhood where a 440-unit public housing complex once stood. RRHA received a $26.9 million federal grant in 1997 through the HOPE VI program to demolish the complex and transform the area.
In the two decades since, the housing authority and developers with which it worked built 325 income-restricted apartments and single-family homes, including 90 in the neighborhood, with the grant funds.
During that span, the properties that RRHA planned to sell — clustered between Dinwiddie Avenue and Stockton Street from 15th to 19th streets, and Everett and Decatur streets between Ninth and 11th streets — have sat vacant.
At the time, RRHA officials said the transaction, and plans for the land, required approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That hasn’t happened yet, and the plans cannot move forward until it does, said Angela Fountain, an RRHA spokesperson.
“Pending the approval from HUD, RRHA intends to convey the land to our partners,” Fountain said in a statement. “Until that approval from HUD, a time frame for disposal has not yet been determined.”
Fountain said she did not know why HUD had not yet signed off on the plans, but RRHA was going through a “routine application review process, which always takes some time.”
A HUD spokesperson said the federal agency was in contact with RRHA this month about additional information it needed before it could approve the plans.
Frustration over the stalled project led one member of the board to raise questions about its status at a real estate committee meeting held earlier this month.
Barrett Hardiman, whom the Richmond City Council appointed to the RRHA board in July, questioned why staff had not shared more about the delay, or a new timeline for delivering on the previously approved plans.
A lack of information was impeding the board’s ability to provide oversight, Hardiman said.
“At this point, I can’t say that anywhere near enough information is flowing through this board to make qualified decisions. It’s just not.”
He added later: “The board needs to be, at the very least, informed when changes are made to actions that were taken and why those changes were made.”