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 housing–defined as housing that is lower than market rate–persists. 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.