YIMBY (Yes in my back yard!)

Virginia Supportive Housing’s New Clay House Expansion

The New Clay House is a 47-unit building located at 1125 W. Clay Street in Richmond, Va.  It is owned and managed by Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH). Opened in 1992, it houses formerly homeless single adults and is part of Virginia Supportive Housing’s portfolio of housing units which provide transitional housing for individuals who need extra supportive services to stabilize their lives and retain permanent housing. New Clay House has aged and become out of date. The units are single room occupancy (SRO) and residents share communal bathrooms and kitchens. Virginia Supportive Housing recently submitted a plan to the city which will renovate and expand New Clay House to a total of 80 units. The new project will include green space, will use energy efficient building standards and the units will be converted from SRO’s to full apartments. It will use a variety of tax credits and other funding sources so the project will not cost the city any money.

When neighbors got wind of the proposed expansion they sent angry letters to the Planning Commission in opposition expressing concerns about safety and possible declines in property values. Today, the Planning Commission heard comments both in favor of and against the proposal. They ultimately  voted in favor of the proposal and the final decision will be made tonight at the City Council meeting.

Helen Hardiman, HOME’s Director of Fair Housing, spoke in favor of the proposal and called attention to the possible Fair Housing implications if the Planning Commission were to deny the proposal. Should a Planning Commission or City Council make a decision which makes housing unavailable for a person or group of people because of their membership in a protected class, that Commission or Council has violated the Fair Housing Act. Many of the comments against the proposed expansion of the New Clay House were based on stereotypes about people with disabilities.

Morgan Barker, HOME’s Fair Housing Specialist, spoke in favor of the proposal but as a private resident of Carver. Below are her comments:

“Good afternoon Mr. Chair and members of the Planning Commission, thank you for giving me the chance to speak to you about Virginia Supportive Housing’s proposed project at the New Clay House in Carver.

My name is Morgan Barker. I have been a resident of the Carver neighborhood since August of 2014. I live on the 1400 block of Leigh Street in a duplex with two roommates, both of whom are young women like me. Next to us are young working men, and on the other side are VCU students. A few doors down on either side are families with young children. On the corner next to the Kroger is a rooming house. The New Clay House is about four or five blocks away. The neighborhood is a mix of renters, owners, families, single people, young people, old people, the list goes on. I have trust in my neighbors and my neighborhood as a whole. I’ve never felt unsafe though I have walked or biked around at all times of the day and night. I specifically chose to live in this neighborhood because it’s diverse, close to everything I need, and more affordable than other neighborhoods in the city.

In a city severely lacking in affordable and accessible housing, any addition of affordable and accessible housing, especially an addition that will be managed by a reputable provider like Virginia Supportive Housing, should be welcomed and praised. Carver is a great neighborhood for a project like this because it is in close proximity to a Kroger, the bus line, and other services. Additionally, Carver is a mixed income community. Much of the affordable and accessible housing in the city is in food deserts, areas with a high concentration of poverty, and far away from necessary services.

There is no reason to believe that the proposed plan for the New Clay House would be a detriment to the neighborhood. The New Clay House has been a part of the neighborhood longer than most current residents and the neighborhood has thrived with it in it’s midst. This addition would be an asset for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. Virginia Supportive Housing provides a necessary service to the city by providing participants with a path towards stabilization and success. This project would add to their capacity and ensure success for even more members of the city.

The best part about Carver is the diversity of residents, take away this project and you ensure that this neighborhood will become ever more homogenous. As a resident, that is not what I want to see. I hope you will approve this proposal. “

New Housing Virginia Study Finds Residents of Energy Efficient Affordable Rental Housing Save Over $600 per Year on Electricity Bills

Originally posted on HousingVirginia.org

Housing Virginia released today the findings of a first-of-its-kind study that demonstrates the impact of energy efficient construction requirements in affordable rental housing. The new report shows that the average resident of an energy efficient apartment saves $54 per month on their electricity bill, which amounts to $648 annually.

Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch article here.

The year-long study conducted by Virginia Tech’s Center for Housing Research also finds that apartments built to higher energy efficient standards, including third party testing and inspection, outperform new standard construction housing by more than 40% with respect to energy consumption.

The study is the first of its kind in Virginia and one of the first in the nation to verify actual electricity usage in apartments built to meet high level efficiency standards.

View the full study here. Or, for an easy-to read fact sheet, click here.

“Virginia has been a leader in encouraging energy efficiency in the affordable rental housing market and this study verifies the effectiveness of this strategy,” said Robert Adams, Executive Director of Housing Virginia. “The energy efficient design and standards add to the economic benefit that these lower income families and seniors receive. Every dollar not paid for utilities can go to other important family budget items, including food, transportation, and healthcare.”

Another key finding of the study is that construction standards of this type do have a significant impact on the affordability of apartments for lower income families and seniors. The impact is greater as incomes are lower. For example, at 30% ofmedian income, the average tenant will see their ability to afford housing increase by nearly 10%. In Virginia, 30% of area median income is an income of $23,250 per year for a family of four.

The target communities are affordable rental housing that is developed through the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s (VHDA) Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The study included senior housing and family housing. It also looked at the differences between new construction, rehabilitated housing and adaptive re-use.

Beginning in 2007, VHDA implemented a set of incentives in the LIHTC program that encouraged developers and builders to use a recognized third-party standard in design and construction in order to reduce long term energy usage. The incentive required the use of rigorous standards, third party testing and inspection from EarthCraft Virginia and LEED. Virginia was one of the first states to provide these types of incentives in the LIHTC program and has been a national leader in this regard. This study confirms that these policies are achieving their intended goals. Construction of EarthCraft homes with these energy efficiency features costs no more than 3% more than that of traditional construction.

“When VHDA made changes to its tax credit program several years ago to encourage green building construction techniques, it created a very positive effect on affordable housing developments in Virginia,” said VHDA Executive Director Susan Dewey. “One of the best results from these changes is that utility bills have been significantly lowered for tenants, thereby improving their quality of life. I am pleased that this study confirms that we are on the right track.”

“Through VHDA’s leadership and the work of our development partners, 196 developments representing more than 13,500 apartments have been certified in Virginia since 2007,” added K.C. Bleile, Executive Director at EarthCraft Virginia. “This study demonstrates the value of green building implementation through public-private partnerships to achieve monthly utility savings for residents, maximize financial investments, and support sustainable communities.”

The study was conducted by the Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. Dr. Andrew McCoy, the Center’s Director, served as the principal investigator for the project. During the spring and summer of 2014, researchers visited 15 affordable apartment complexes across the state and met with residents to conduct energy usage surveys. Tenants provided permission to allow access to actual utility consumption for the previous 24 months. The behavioral surveys and consumption data were correlated to the apartment’s original energy usage estimate that was calculated when the unit was built or rehabilitated.

The energy use behavior survey revealed a number of findings that point to opportunities to achieve even greater savings. Residents reported setting thermostats at levels that exceed typical comfort temperatures, which impacts utility costs and building durability. This indicates a need for better education about the potential savings and strategies for adjusting resident behavior. Resident responses also indicated a need for more education about the equipment and design of their apartments in order to take full advantage of efficiency technologies.

“Our interaction with residents reveals that there are substantial savings that can still be achieved with more effective education and incentives. We have also learned some lessons that will help us to refine design standards and make better decisions on what technologies to deploy,” stated Dr. McCoy.

The LIHTC Program is the primary federal housing program designed to create rental housing that is affordable to families and seniors with low and moderate income. Under the program, private investors in affordable rental housing receive a tax credit as an incentive for investment. The program serves families and seniors with incomes up to 60% of the area median. In 2014, 60% of the area median income was $46,500 for a family of four. The program produces over 100,000 apartments every year nationally and approximately 2,000 per year across Virginia.

Disparate Impact: What in the world does that mean and why should I care?


The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a landmark case on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 and yet little know what the words ‘disparate impact’ mean or how greatly this decision will affect them and fair housing in every community.

Disparate Impact is a legal doctrine under the Fair Housing Act which means that a policy or practice may be considered discriminatory if it has a disproportionate “adverse impact” against any group based on race, national origin, color, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

Wait, What?

Disparate impact theory safeguards the right to a fair shot for everyone.

Why Does It Matter?

Where you live determines where you work and how you get there, your access to healthcare, and the school your child attends. Unfortunately, policies and practices still exist that – intentionally or unintentionally – keep some people out of housing they can afford simply because of who they are. While we have made great strides in advancing fairness in the housing sector, segregation persists and there is still more work to be done. Everyone benefits from a housing market free from discrimination where the full participation of all Americans is possible. Additionally, from a business standpoint the disparate impact theory helps us maintain open markets free from discrimination – a critical component to the prosperity of America’s future. Discrimination disrupts our economy, causing inefficiency and instability by constraining the full economic participation of all hard-working Americans.

Can you explain by example?

An apartment complex only allows people with full-time jobs. This bars disabled veterans and other people with disabilities who may not be able to work full-time, even though they can afford the apartment. The complex could instead consider all income to assess someone’s ability to afford rent.

A city decides to prohibit all housing that would be affordable to working-class people, and that has the effect of excluding most or all people of color in that region. If the city cannot show a valid reason for its policy, or if a more fair and effective alternative is available, then the policy would have to be set aside under the disparate impact approach.

A lender has a policy of allowing its loan officers to overcharge consumers at the loan officer’s discretion. The result is that women are charged higher prices than their male counterparts—even though both have the same credit profiles. In a case like this, the lender would have to abandon the discretionary pricing policy and take steps to insure that women are not over-charged for lending products and services.

Ok, I know understand. What can I do about this?

You can make noise by:

  • Sharing this blog so more people understand
  • Share our Facebook post and re-tweet our tweets with hashtag #KeepHousingFair
  • Join us in DC on Wednesday, January 21, from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. as we rally to Keep Housing Fair at the S. Supreme Court


Here is some more explanation and history on this case from the Shelterforce blog.


Supreme Court Decision Could Be Crucial to Protecting Domestic Violence Survivors

several hands of different races reach up towards an extended hand. The palms have words written on them, including:

“This concept – evicting victims of domestic violence because of the abuse they face is not only wrong but illegal – should not be controversial. The courts and the federal government agree, having repeatedly found that the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence because of its “disparate impact” on women.”

Read Michaela Wallin’s piece, posted on the American Civil Liberties Union’s blog, about how disparate impact affects the fair housing rights of domestic abuse survivors

Mapping Opportunity: Educational Opportunities and Residential Location

Originally posted on VA Housing and Education:

Heather Mullins Crislip, President and CEO, Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia

Brian Koziol, Research Director, Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia

This post is adapted from Where You Live Makes All The Difference: Opportunity Mapping in the Richmond Region a report by Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME), which can be found in full at http://phonehome.org/PolicyResearch/Research.aspx

Housing and education are inextricably linked. Quality schools have a strong influence on housing values.  Therefore, higher performing school districts are often unaffordable for low-to-moderate income households.[i]


Moreover, access to a quality education is an essential ingredient to ensure future opportunity.  Receiving a quality education increases the ability of an individual to secure adequate employment and stay financially stable enough to generate intergenerational wealth.

Educational Opportunities and Residential Location

As one study found, children from public housing living and attending schools in a middle class neighborhood, showed measurable improvement in…

View original 1,079 more words

“The killing of Michael Brown is a problem we all share.”

I work for a civil rights organization; an old, established one with a formidable reputation.  I do research for them; I get paid to make sense of the inequalities that exist in our country.  I am a middle class, well-educated white male and constantly struggle with the fact that I’m in a very privileged position to be able to do what I do for a living.  The killing of Michael Brown has affected me tremendously, in ways that I have yet to even fully comprehend.  Maybe it has to do with the idea that I like to think that what I do makes a difference and that fighting the good fight matters; I guess it does on some level.  The fact remains that there are stark inequalities between races in this country.  These disparities aren’t some sort of modern day Darwinism played out within the confines of our society – they have been purposefully designed and implemented to move the advantaged further ahead at the expense of the disadvantaged.  We don’t, by any stretch of the imagination live in a “post-racial” world; race has almost everything to do with, well pretty much everything.

Understanding and more importantly accepting the fact that public policy over the past (at least) 100 years has purposefully oppressed people based on skin color is the first step to understanding why the killing of Michael Brown is a problem we all share.  Inequality abounds in the natural world; faster or more alert or more naturally cautious little fish grow up to be bigger fish; sluggish, less alert or less cautious fish become dinner.  Fish however, at least as far as I know, aren’t prone to public policy that dictates whether they become dinner or get to grow up.  Humans are a different case; we impose rules, regulations and public policy rooted in the retention of power rather than the expansion of equity and morality.

I’m not an expert on constitutional law, sociology, law enforcement, or race relations. I am an expert in civil rights research and data analysis.  I have conducted exhaustive research on the impacts of public policies on our urban areas, from the discriminatory practices of the Home Owners Loan Corporation which dictated where private home loans would be insured by the Federal government, to the impacts Brown V. Board of Education had on the fabric of our society.  In Richmond as in many other cities across the Country, bus lines don’t extend into job-rich suburban counties, educational infrastructure is crumbling, public housing policies ensure that poverty is deeply concentrated, disparities across the board are rising. The mortgage lending debacle that lend to the collapse of the economy was centered in the communities most unable to weather the storm.  In Richmond, those neighborhoods with the highest rates of African American homeownership also experienced the highest rates of foreclosure.

Much of the work I do leaves me enraged.  It should enrage you too.  I believe that every life matters.  I believe that all people want a better life.  I believe that the inequalities in our society are no longer sustainable.  Part of me would like to see the outrage in Ferguson increase and spread to every city across the country.  However, the sensible side understands that the system we have all had a hand in creating can be changed.  It took hundreds of years of purposeful intent to get to where we are; it will take as many years to make things right.

Most of you are not engaged in the type of work that I am. Most of you do not spend time thinking about the tangible as well as intangible privileges you have or haven’t received due to your skin color. Frankly, it doesn’t matter.  I believe we all have the ability to change our system and this is my challenge to you: take a deep, hard look at your personal biases, try to understand from where they came and change them.  Until we, as a collective society, are able to see people as they truly are we will continue to prevent valuable lives from reaching their full potential and that, my friends, is an unfathomable travesty.


Brian Koziol is Director of Research at Housing Opportunities Made Equal.

Letter to the Editor Concerning the Prevention of Saint Paul’s College from Providing Refuge

The following letter to the editor was published in the Richmond Times Dispatch on June 29, 2014.

The recent decisions to prevent the private Saint Paul’s College from providing refuge to 500 unaccompanied immigrant children at their vacant campus, as well as the general angst about immigration in our region is very concerning.  Immigration and providing refuge those escaping violence and hardship is a hallmark American value for which we should all be proud.  Immigration generally is important to our culture, economy, and moral foundation.

It is important that new arrivals have housing choice.  The Fair Housing Act of 1968 acknowledges this. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq.,  prohibits discrimination by housing providers, including municipalities, whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons on account of race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.

Every person in the United States is protected by the Fair Housing Act regardless of their immigration status.   This is well established law.  In past years, the U.S. Justice Department has taken enforcement action against municipalities that have attempted to reduce or limit the number of Hispanic families that live in their communities.

Statements reported in recent news media made by some Brunswick officials such as, “There is this negative perception of gang violence – these people are coming from Central America”[1] indicate that officials may be attempting to deny these children access to housing on account of their nationality.  Municipalities such as Brunswick County have an additional duty to “affirmatively further fair housing” by virtue of their receipt of federal Community Development Block Grant funding.  We believe that making housing unavailable based on national origin may violate this obligation.

Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) is the only statewide fair housing organization in Virginia.  HOME’s mission is to ensure equal access to housing for all people.  HOME works to tackle systemically divisive housing practices on a larger scale through fair housing enforcement and research, advocacy, and statewide policy work.   We encourage municipalities and housing providers to reflect on the Fair Housing Act, and its requirements that prohibit making housing opportunities unavailable based on national origin.  We welcome further discussion.

Heather Mullins Crislip
President and CEO
Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME)