Richmond likely to provide funds for neighborhood repair

Catherine Leth

Capital News Service

The City of Richmond is on a path to give financial assistance to private firms doing work in blighted neighborhoods.

Two bills in the General Assembly, House Bill 1668 and Senate Bill 799, look to create a “community revitalization fund” that would allow renovators to apply for loans or grants when working in deteriorated residential areas.

According to HB 1668 sponsor Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, most funding will be given to nonprofit groups; for-profit companies can apply as well.

“The city is trying to find new ways to combat blight and fix up derelict properties,” said McClellan. “We’ve got buildings up in Northside that have been boarded up for 40 years, so if somebody wants to come and buy it and fix it up, they can apply to the city for a grant or loan to do that.”

Under current state law, localities cannot give money to private entities without express permission from Virginia lawmakers. This is one of many statewide policies that makes it harder for Richmond to fix up its neighborhoods, according to Chris Hilbert, a member of the Richmond City Council.

“I hope that people can see that and give localities, particularly some of our older cities, these powers to effect change in our jurisdictions,” said Hilbert. “It’s very difficult to speak with folks and give them, from the local perspective, a lot of hope and/or action about what can be done because the state laws really tie up local governments.”

Hilbert, who helped create the legislation, said blighted areas are a haven for prostitution and drug dealing, and tend to “drag down” neighborhoods. He showed little concern for property rights supporters who oppose government action targeting owners of blighted houses.

“I was taught early on that my right to swing my fist ended at my neighbor’s nose,” said Hilbert. “I feel like those owners of blighted properties are swinging indiscriminately at property owners around them.”

The revitalization fund could be used in four ways:

  • Loans or grants to organizations for the construction, renovation, and demolition of residential structures.
  • Infrastructure improvements.
  • Acquisition of blighted properties.
  • Sustainability projects for residential structures.

The proposal has met little opposition in the General Assembly. HB 1668 passed the House on a 99-0 vote Tuesday, and SB 799 passed the Senate on a 35-3 vote earlier in the session.

Other Projects

The City of Richmond created Neighborhoods in Bloom in 1999 to work with nonprofit groups on repairing and selling vacant historic homes. The project involves meeting with community leaders and analyzing crime and poverty statistics to find areas most suitable for renovation. It was awarded the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Opportunity and Empowerment Award in 2006 for significantly decreasing crime rates in their target neighborhoods.

The Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods (ACORN) was formed as a nonprofit group in 1998. ACORN acts a resource center for homebuyers, promoting the renovation and selling of old or abandoned homes in Richmond.

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