Beyond Rent Control: New Approaches to Affordable Housing in Richmond


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Richmond City Council narrowly approved one of the most stringent rent control and just cause eviction ordinances in the country on Tuesday, but supporters and proponents alike recognize that these efforts alone may not be enough to fix the city’s housing market.  A lack of affordable housingdefined as housing that is lower than market ratepersists. Fortunately, a few innovative local efforts are working to change that.

1. Turning blight on its head
A new initiative from the Richmond Community Foundation aims to tackle the city’s blight while creating more affordable housing for the city’s low-income residents. 

The Richmond non-profit’s Social Impact Bond Initiative works by selling bonds to private investors to purchase blighted properties, flip them, and then sell them to low-income Richmond residents.

“It’s not going to be easy, but we’re confident it will be successful,” explains Jim Becker, President of the Richmond Community Foundation.

The initiative’s goal is to make houses more readily available for low-income buyers, thereby expanding the availability of affordable housing in the city. They do this by offering the flipped houses first to graduates of the first-time homebuyers course given by local non-profit SparkPoint. At the same time, the program reduces the number of blighted properties in the city, which is somewhere between 100-150 dwellings.

“There’s not a lot of inventory of affordable housing in the city right now,”Becker explains. “This program is going to change that while reducing the impact of blight on the city’s finances.”

The Richmond Community Foundation expects to have their first houses flipped and ready to sell by early autumn.


2. More affordable housing for the city’s seniors
There are one hundred and sixty new units of affordable housing for Richmond’s seniors currently in the pipeline for development. The Miraflores housing development and Harbour View Senior Apartments are each slated to bring 80 units to different parts of the city.

The Miraflores project, which is planned for Wall Avenue just north of Cutting Boulevard and west of San Pablo Avenue near the El Cerrito del Norte BART station, will bring a contemporary design blended with traditional Japanese architecture to a new home for the city’s senior residents. The design honors the historic Japanese-American flower nurseries that occupied the site since the early 1900’s. 

A joint venture between the Community Housing Development Corporation of North Richmond and affordable housing developer Eden Housing, the Miraflores development will be one of the most transformative projects that the neighborhood has seen in recent memory. 

“The units are going to be deeply affordable,” explains project manager Woody Karp of Eden Housing. “Residents will only pay 1/3rd of their income for the units, and the residents will move in with vouchers from the Richmond Housing Authority.”

In addition to the senior living facility, the Miraflores project will also restore a natural creek that has been long-hidden in a pipe underneath the nearby highway.

“Opening up this creek will be a huge amenity and will really bring life to this 14-acre parcel that has been a blight for many years,”Karp explains.

Currently under construction, Harbour View Senior Apartments, also referred to as Greenway Senior Apartments due to its proximity to the Richmond Greenway, is set to bring apartment complex residential gravitas to the neighborhood. The four-story structure will be one of the largest senior housing complexes in the city, and it is bound to be a desirable spot for senior residents in the city.


3. Tapping Obama for assistance
Richmond is currently a finalist in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative from the Obama Administration. This project aims to spark economic development in cities around the country through guidance from federal experts. 

This guidance can come in many forms, but Richmond Mayor Tom Butt’s office is pushing for a focus on the development of affordable housing. 

“Building more affordable housing benefits everyone in Richmond,” say Mayor Butt.“Affordable housing provides direct benefits to households and the local economy by increasing families’disposable income, which they will spend at local businesses.” 

A team from the National Resource Network, the experts behind the initiative, will visit Richmond by the end of the month to determine whether the city is the best candidate. Either way, Richmond city officials and residents will have free access to knowledge from the Network through their online resources.

“The National Resource Network's broad library of online tools, resources, and technical assistance significantly enhances our ability to find innovative solutions for fiscal, economic, and community challenges affecting Richmond,”explained Mayor Butt.

 

Rent control may or may not provide a short-term fix, but these projects can help achieve long-term affordability in Richmond.


Photo courtesy of HKIT Architects.

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  • commented 2015-07-24 16:36:57 -0700
    I don’t know the details of what richmond will adopt, but I can say that in SF, rent controls have led to some very interesting unintended consequences (not that the two cities are comparable). Because of rent control, when the prices of units for sale increase, owners pull inventory off the market because having renters decreases the value of the property (1 perverse effect). This decreases the supply and increases the pricing of available units which creates a phenomenon where two comparable units will vary drastically in pricing (2nd perverse effect) and overall reduces the availability of units for sale (3rd perverse effect). It is my opinion that rent controls (as they currently exist in SF) creates inequality where its intended consequence is equality (4th perverse effect).
  • commented 2015-07-24 08:41:18 -0700
    It is such a noble and honorable thought to provide more affordable housing and senior housing complexes but the reality is how we are going to pay and maintain them in a long run. The rent control law just stopped any chance of change that was possible with new investments in the city of Richmond. It seems the city wants to go backwards or stay stagnant at best while other cities take advantage of the new investment influx opportunity. In order to sustain the low income housing we need to attract investors and we just chased them away and thereby heading towards failure and criminal activities in the future.
  • commented 2015-07-24 06:35:57 -0700
    These are the kinds of positive programs we need. The RPA attitude that all landlords are evil and need to be punished will have the opposite effect, driving out and discouraging people who otherwise might want to invest. Yes, new properties are exempt from rent control, but not from the one-sided and vehemently anti-property owner provisions of so called “just cause” provisions, nor from the exhorbinant fees that will be charged to maintain a $2 million per year bureaucracy essentially dedicated to making property owners’ lives miserable. Richmond has many positive things to offer and should be an attractive place for investment in new workforce housing. We should try to keep the focus in that direction.
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