The population of the Richmond, VA region reached 1.29 million in 2017, the highest in its history. While this type of growth yields many benefits for the city, it also has the risk of exacerbating long-standing problems, including a rising cost of living, with increasingly unaffordable housing. The one in five Richmond households that earn less than 30% of the area’s median income pay more than 50% of their limited gross income on housing—and people of color are disproportionally represented in this statistic. The Connect Capital team from Richmond is exploring solutions to reverse this trend and ensure that Richmond is a welcoming place for people across the income spectrum.
In this interview, Michael Smith, Managing Director for Community Investments and the Built Environment at the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, shares how the Richmond team plans to create pathways to ensure that more families and individuals have a quality place to call home. Michael grew up in Virginia and is eager to apply the learnings and tools he developed as an urban planner, affordable housing developer, and policy to this work.
This is the first of a six-part interview series with team coordinators from each of the six Center for Community Investment’s Connect Capital initiative teams. Team coordinators help their multi-sector teams steward work to address their community’s shared priorities.
What are you all trying to do?
After the Connect Capital convening in October, we are working to align and leverage various sources of capital to increase affordable housing production in a way that addresses the extensive racial inequity that exists in Richmond. One of the ways we will do that is by improving the housing voucher system so it can truly provide quality housing. We are exploring different policy tools, programs, and financing structures that can help us achieve this—both changes to what exists and potentially new models. At the core, our work is about using capital to help reduce racial inequity.
If we are successful, many more individuals and families will have a broad range of choices for moving or relocating to areas they see as desirable. We want to make sure that within our housing production system, there are a broad range of options for everyone, particularly for people in the low-income tiers in our region. In so doing, we hope to have a significant effect in shifting the narrative of affordable housing, public housing, and the housing voucher system.
How is this work building on what you all have been up to in your community?
There’s already been a call to action from the Mayor of Richmond to think more comprehensively about housing demand and need. There’s also already been some momentum to think differently about how financing and community engagement tools work to meet the needs of city residents. Different partners, including anchor institutions like nonprofit healthcare systems, are coming together with housing developers, philanthropic entities, and transit advocates to think differently about how we all play our part in the creation of affordable housing options. Connect Capital is timely because it provides a platform to build from and coordinate the momentum. The initiative also fits well with current work happening to plan for the city’s future, including: renewing the master plan, which is surfacing a lot of data about existing conditions, demographics, and land use patterns; a regional housing plan that aims to bring local jurisdictions in the region to see how they are each addressing affordable housing needs; and ongoing work on transit following the opening of the bus rapid transit line in June of this year.
How are you hoping Connect Capital will help?
Connect Capital will establish a platform, that hasn’t historically existed, to workshop ideas and then apply them. We will have a table available for those in private, public, nonprofit, and advocacy sectors to come together in a more coordinated fashion to think about how to put ideas to practice. Additionally, we will have access to best practices and the opportunity to engage with peer cities.
What has been most interesting or surprising to you or your team so far?
I’m interested in how unique an opportunity we have to center this work in health and racial equity. I’m pleasantly surprised at how receptive other partners and stakeholders have been to this effort, and how they have begun to participate by thinking of their potential contributions. We are at a time in Richmond when residents and leaders are thinking more comprehensively about how the city should develop and grow, and people are considering housing opportunities, wealth-building opportunities, health access, and equity in a way that creates an opening to bring additional partners to this effort.
What are you most excited about next?
I’m excited about using Connect Capital to think differently about community engagement and to shift the narrative of who Richmond is for and who belongs here. I’m also excited about the new partnerships that will be created that center on racial and health equity. Having that as a core driver of the work opens up exciting possibilities for the future of our residents and the city.