The Richmond City Council is poised to dedicate millions more on an annual basis for the construction of new affordable housing in the city.
A council panel on Thursday endorsed a measure proposed by Mayor Levar Stoney that would establish a steady funding source for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. A majority of the council’s returning members say they support passing it when the ordinance comes up for a vote in early 2021.
“We are far behind in making this move,” said Ellen Robertson, the 6th District councilwoman who backs the measure.
If approved, the ordinance would direct new tax dollars from expiring real estate abatements to the city fund that supports private development projects with units reserved for people earning less than the region’s median income, which is approximately $89,000.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed a new wave of housing insecurity, the Richmond region faced an affordable housing crisis. Median rents in the Richmond region increased by 20% over the past decade, while average income rose by 10%, according to a Partnership for Housing Affordability analysis released earlier this year.
That has led one in three households to be cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their monthly income on their housing, the analysis found. Without increasing the supply of homes with lower rents, the problem will get worse.
Stoney introduced the ordinance for a dedicated funding source in late September when he unveiled his administration’s housing plan. It set a goal of bringing 10,000 new affordable homes to the city by 2030. To do it, the ordinance would lockbox new tax revenue from properties with expiring real estate tax abatements. It would generate $2 million to start, and rise to a projected $10 million annually by 2025.
The council has already indicated it wants to see at least that much in the trust fund as soon as next year. In the fall, it approved a resolution requesting Stoney direct $10 million to the trust fund in his next budget proposal, which he must submit to the council in the spring. In the current fiscal year, the council approved $2.9 million for it.
Advocates have long said the scope of the problem merits more resources.
“It’s as if we’re using a garden hose to put out a house fire,” said Marty Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society and a member of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Oversight Board. “Worse than that, we’re not even sure the water supply will remain constant. We have to do better.”
Wegbreit joined several speakers from the advocacy group Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities in lobbying the council’s Finance and Economic Development Standing Committee.
The dedicated funding stream was a long overdue step leaders should take to curb evictions and ensure the city’s most vulnerable families have safe housing, RISC members said. They implored the council panel, which had delayed a vote on the measure twice, to send it to the full council for a vote.
Along with Stoney and Robertson, Council President Cynthia Newbille, the 7th District representative; Stephanie Lynch, the 5th District representative; and Michael Jones, the 9th District representative have each signed on as co-patrons for the ordinance. Councilman Andreas Addison has expressed support for the measure, as well.
Not everyone is sold on the idea.
Kristen Larson, the 4th District councilwoman, voted against recommending the ordinance for approval at the committee level. She questioned whether it is prudent for the council to pledge revenues to the trust fund at a time when the city’s finances are still feeling the effects of the pandemic.
“It’s more binding at a time when we are looking at economic uncertainty in front of us,” Larson said during the committee’s discussion. “I am really concerned about the economic forecast of our city.”
The council is scheduled to weigh the measure on Jan. 11 at its first full meeting of the new year.