Housing & Transportation Key to Addressing Richmond Region Poverty

The Richmond Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission presented its Final Report and Recommendations to Mayor Dwight C. Jones and the City of Richmond. The report represents nearly two years of research, public input sessions, and committee work. The commission’s findings stress the need for a regional rapid transit transportation system and a comprehensive housing policy. Commission Co-Chair Ellen Robertson plans to have the report presented to City Council during their informal session tonight, January 28, 2013.

The Anti-Poverty Commission is a diverse and impressive group of business leaders, academics, faith leaders, policy makers, and community advocates. HOME’s Vice President, Lorae Ponder, was appointed to the Commission and served on the Education and Workforce Development committee. Ponder states,

“I was honored to work with such an exceptional group of thought leaders. We each came to the table with different perspectives. The Commission also included some representation from the counties, demonstrating the need and desire for regional cooperation, which is foundational to mitigating poverty in the City of Richmond.”

According to the 144 page report, over 25% of city residents currently live in poverty as defined by the federal government. That rate is twice as much as national average, the Richmond metro area, and the commonwealth as a whole. It is also several times higher than poverty rates in surrounding counties. Thirty-one percent of all people living in poverty in Richmond are children. Perhaps even more shocking, 39% (nearly 2 out of 5) of all children living in the City of Richmond are living in poverty. In addition, nearly 50% of the city’s population is poor, near-poor, or at risk of falling into poverty (defined as households with income less than $35,000).

Within the report, the Anti-Poverty Commission makes two kinds of policy recommendations to combat poverty in Richmond. First, is to reduce poverty by increasing household incomes. Second, is to mitigate the effects of poverty by increasing access to opportunity throughout the Richmond region. “In my view,” explained Ms. Ponder, “housing and transportation are at the core of this issue.”

The Anti-Poverty Commission’s recommendations echo the findings in HOME’s December 2012 report Where You Live Makes All the Difference: An Opportunity Map of the Richmond Region. Each suggest a regional approach to economic development and housing policies are needed to ensure the future vitality of the region and combat the concentrations of poverty within the city. Both reports stress the necessity of a regional public transit system.

Transportation

The Anti-Poverty Commission report addresses the importance of transportation by recommending a regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along the major transportation corridors in the metro area including Rt.1, 60, 360, and 250. There are almost 128,000 jobs along these high-travel corridors that are currently unreachable by public transit. In the 2011 Brookings Institute publication, Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America, Richmond ranked 95th out of the nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas in terms of transit coverage.

Effective transit will not only increase access to suburban employment opportunities, service providers and retailers for city residents, it will also increase access to work and entertainment destinations in the city for suburban residents. This is one of the many benefits for all residents in the region. An effective transit system is also a key factor in attracting companies to the Richmond region that are expanding operations, opening regional offices or establishing corporate headquarters.

There is overwhelming public support for a regional transit system. Ninety-six percent of public meeting attendees and 82% of those surveyed online voted in favor of expanding transportation service.

Housing

The Unique, Healthy & Inclusive Communities committee was charged with developing strategies that support the redesign of high-poverty communities and the inclusion of social supports and outlets for children, youth, families, and elders.

The report offers two major recommendations to improve housing conditions:

  • Redevelopment of current public housing stock utilizing a public policy strategy that does not displace low-income residents and proactively fosters trust among planners, the city, developers and residents
  • Train and employ Community Navigators and Service Coordinators as part of a supportive housing strategy within high-poverty communities

While the report recommends the City Administration develop a truly comprehensive, citywide housing plan encompassing the public and private sector, it does not address the specifics of what that would entail in this report. It does stress the need for expanding quality affordable housing stock and preserving, rehabilitating and developing existing housing stock in a plan that is distinct from any internal plan of the RRHA.

The report urges the City to create a housing plan with a holistic approach to finding housing solutions that benefit the region, in the same way that the Anti-Poverty Commission took a holistic approach to confronting issues related to poverty.

Implementation and Accountability

The Anti-Poverty Commission was very clear in the report with regards to expectations for implementing policy recommendations.

First, the report challenges City Administration with developing a strategic plan including specific budgetary requests, to begin implementation of all five Top Tier, high-impact recommendations as well as feasible Second Tier recommendations by February 15, 2013. Top Tier recommendations include creating a regional rapid transit system and the redevelopment of much of the city’s public housing stock without involuntarily displacing residents.

The report also recommends creating a permanent, independent citizen commission reflecting a cross-section of the community to monitor and evaluate progress, clearer communication across government offices, sharing the report with policy makers throughout the region, and establishing one or more dedicated staffers to monitor and coordinate the anti-poverty agenda.

Mayor Jones has indicated he would like to see a timeline of what can be done for the upcoming fiscal year, what is already underway, what recommendations will take longer to implement and what should be included in future budgets. The City Administration will be working closely with City Council to implement recommendations of the report.

The City of Richmond cannot achieve the agenda of the Anti-Poverty Commission alone. Without a commitment from policy makers across the Richmond region, residents of the city living in poverty will continue to be isolated from job growth and areas of high opportunity. Consequently, Richmond region will remain a less competitive region than similar-sized metropolitan areas.

“The report rightly acknowledges that city government has limited resources and capacity to tackle this problem,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “That’s why the work of this commission has been so important in that this report can provide a roadmap for us to create a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy involving all stakeholders. I believe we can make a meaningful difference over time if we all work together.”

HOME’s Lorae Ponder agreed stating,

“The recommendations are sound and represent best practices for addressing this issue. If followed, we will make tremendous strides in mitigating poverty and improving the quality of life for families in the region. If we try and solve the problem of poverty without addressing housing in an intentional and strategic way, we are missing the boat.”

Wanda Porter

Wanda Porter

This is a guest post by Wanda Porter. Wanda is HOME’s Events & Cause Marketing Associate and an AmeriCorps VISTA. Before arriving at HOME, Wanda freelanced in the film industry and served as Director of Client Services for a small ad agency in Chicago. Above all, she is the proud mama of three magical little girls.

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