RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Members of 22 congregations filled the Richmond City Council chamber last week to raise concerns about evictions, gun violence, money going to fund affordable housing and dilapidated mobile homes in the city.
Faith leader in the group Richmonders Engaged to Strengthen Our Communities (RISC) He said the city has yet to act on initiatives they believe will help address the problems and called on city council members to support their efforts and lobby Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration.
After religious leaders addressed the council and the public comment period ended, approximately 150 RISC members braved the cold for a press conference just outside Richmond City Hall.
Where is the money for affordable housing?
Richmond’s housing crisis is worse than before the pandemic, Rev. Mairi Renwick of Union Presbyterian Seminary told the board on Nov. 14, with rents rising faster than inflation, vacancy rates falling, and eviction calls rising after statewide protections are exhausted.
“It’s not just that people can’t find an affordable place to live, it’s that there’s nowhere to live,” Renwick said. “The problem is the units. We need a massive influx of affordable housing units reserved for those people that have been priced.”
RISC has been pushing for a dedicated funding source for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund – a proposal from Mayor Levar Stoney approved by the council last year to use a portion of the city’s tax revenues to fund affordable options for low-income residents. income – and for the city to set aside $20 million in federal COVID funds for the fund.
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money has been awarded to the trust: $10 million in FY 2022 and a proposal for another $10 million in 2023. While the city has allocated $2.9 million in local funds for 2022, local funds have not dedicated to fiscal year 2023.
Renwick questioned council on where the dedicated stream of local funding was for 2023, saying “people need somewhere to rest” and that more money in the fund would help bring about more affordable developments across the city.
The city’s response
“This body is committed to building an inventory of affordable housing, having enough resources to address our mobile home challenges, addressing gun violence in the city, so we’re listening,” said Prime Minister Cynthia Newbille to RISC members after they have spoken.
When Stoney announced his proposal, his administration said it expected the dedicated funding stream would grow $2 million annually and reach “An unprecedented $10 million” in fiscal year 2026.
Jim Nolan, the mayor’s spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment or an interview. But Nolan previously told 8News that the administration had an “understanding” with the board to replace the federal funding with the trust fund.
Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders told the board and RISC members that the administration has implemented an eviction diversion program and is working to propose a pilot program to help families gain access to housing . Saunders also did not respond to 8News’ request for an interview.
After leaving the council meeting, RISC members said the city needed more urgent action to address the problem as evictions mount, and questioned Saunders’ response.
A focus on gun violence in Richmond
There have been 47 gun-related homicides in Richmond year-to-date as of Oct. 10. 30, according to crime data by the city police department. The city recorded 76 last year and 61 in 2020, the data show.
Mayor Stoney and City Council members unveiled plans to address the gun violence, including a gun buyback program and a plan to hire “violence breakers.” These initiatives have been the subject of criticism regarding their effectiveness and diffusion.
RISC has asked the council to direct city agencies to help implement Group Violence Intervention, a program they say already has a funding source and has helped reduce gun violence in other places.
First implemented in the 1990sGVI focuses on community engagement between law enforcement and residents.
rev. Marvin Gilliam Jr., pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Richmond, told the board that RISC believes GVI can work in concert with the city’s current gun violence framework. He added that REAL LIFEan organization founded to help the needs of those previously incarcerated, has already secured funding for GVI and just needs help connecting with the city’s police department and social services.
“The effective implementation of the GVI depends in particular on the cooperation of city government agencies, namely the Richmond Police Department and the Department of Human Services,” the Rev. Gillian said. “This doesn’t require money from the city, it just requires that city entities can share data and resources to help the National Network of Safe Communities and REAL LIFE do the work of saving lives and providing the right services.
‘We need something now’: Problems with mobile homes in town
Pastor Donald Coleman, co-chair of RISC, spent his three minutes of public comment sharing concerns about crumbling mobile homes in Richmond.
Coleman applauded the city for setting aside $300,000 to establish a program to fund mobile home repairs and replacements. And he acknowledged that Stoney’s administration said it was working on developing a comprehensive plan for the money.
But Coleman said things were moving too slowly for those struggling to keep warm in dreary mobile homes in freezing temperatures, saying council mobile homes were “falling apart all over our city”.
“We need something now,” Coleman said during the Nov. 14, adding that RISC will not “give in” to the issue until it is addressed.
Paulina Chavez addressed the issues she is facing in her mobile home after RISC members left the board meeting.
“We suffer from cold and heat. This is why we are here tonight,” she said through a translator. “Right now, my caravan has no heat and my children are getting sick. It’s not just my problem, there are hundreds of other families who they are facing the same kind of problem in their caravans.”