Housing key to poverty trap

This is a guest post by Amy Weiss. Amy is originally from Richmond, Virginia and is a second year law student at the University of Richmond.  She graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2007 where she studied history and anthropology.

Anyone familiar with the Metro Richmond area knows there is a huge economic disparity between the city and the surrounding counties.  Many other cities suffer the same problem.  Wealthy, white families have left the once thriving cities for the suburban neighborhoods in the surrounding counties.  In effect, this segregates the predominantly white students from higher income families from the predominantly black students in the city.

In a recent article for Style Weekly, Reverend Ben Campbell pinpoints one big part of the problem.  The composite index used to calculate what percentage of school costs the state pays.  Even though Richmond city families on average make significantly less money than their county counterparts, as a result of the composite index, the state actually pays higher percentages of the costs for schools in Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico Counties than it pays for Richmond City Public Schools.  Schools get the rest of their funds from local taxes.  As a result, the county schools enjoy better funding, facilities, and resources than the Richmond city schools.

The quality of education often determines students’ future.  Worse facilities and resources mean Richmond students are less likely to have the same opportunities later in life that county students enjoy.  Without these opportunities, the cycle of poverty can continue.

Reverend Campbell noted the recent crash in the real estate market caused the difference in the composite indexes to intensify.  This hurts the Richmond City Public Schools just when they need that money the most.

Housing discrimination has been a big factor in the disparity.  “Not in my Backyard” (NIMBY) attitudes of county residents and over-regulation of affordable housing are harmful not only to the lower income families who need affordable housing, but also to the entire Metro Richmond area.  In contrast, studies have shown increased access to affordable housing not only helps people directly in need of that affordable housing, but the economy as a whole.

Housing has a big impact on residents’ access to other important resources including education.  Promoting affordable housing would address the problem at its root.

A wide range of housing options in Richmond and the surrounding counties would be a start to reversing the effects of decades of segregation and discrimination. Mixed income developments are crucial to reducing poverty and the disparity of opportunity that baldly stares us in the face in central Virginia.


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