How should Richmond fight its poverty problem?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – There are no flowers blooming outside her home, no welcome mat at her front door.

“We are all trying to move. Everybody’s trying to get out,” Creighton Court Toshawn Webber said. Webber said the inside of her home has been relatively bare for several years. That is because the east Richmond public housing complex has been on the city’s short list for demolition.

“You just have to be prepared,” she said. “Just be ready to have everything to run. It’s scary.”

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Webber said she often sees construction cranes and crews working in the city and wonders if her neighborhood will be next. While she and her daughter work on a plan to get out of Creighton Court before they are forced out, Webber said she needed to make more money.

“I’m working and barely making it. So, I can’t go anywhere,” she said. “I’m stuck here until I can actually make enough.”

Mayor promises to fight poverty

After he was elected Mayor of Richmond in both 2008 and 2012, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones promised to transform Richmond’s public housing into mixed-income neighborhoods, similar to other cities like Atlanta and Chicago.

He made those promises during his annual State of the City address.

“I want us to find tonight, a new and different approach,” Jones said during his 2013 speech.

However, it has been more than five years since Jones took office, and with a little more than two years remaining in his term, the city`s six large public housing neighborhoods are still intact.

We wanted to know if the mayor’s bold plan is more talk than action, so we went to Richmond City Hall to question the mayor about what he is doing to fight poverty in Richmond.

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“People have paid lip service to it. We are not paying lip service to it,” Mayor Jones said in an exclusive interview.

He said by the end of his term, Creighton and Whitcomb Courts on the city’s East End would be torn down and transformed. Real estate developer TCB Development had already been brought on board to begin the work.

The mayor said it has taken this long to act because his Anti-Poverty Commission, appointed in 2011, has taken time to study the issue to form a plan of attack.

Jones said the city has run into problems with money from the federal government.

“We’ve applied for money and sometimes we’re successful and sometimes we’re not,” he said.

A complex problem

Richmond has the largest number of public housing units south of New York, with more than 10,000 residents making an average of $10,000 or less a year.

“We can’t have just one stratum of people living in a neighborhood. It was a bad idea to put poor people in one place 50 years ago and it’s a bad idea today,” Mayor Jones said.

Data shows public housing has become a permanent solution for many people.

More than a quarter of all public housing residents have lived there for at least 10 years. Some people have lived there more than 20 years.

Mayor Jones said the new housing he planned for the city will operate much differently. He said residents will be held to higher standards, including employment requirements and background checks, unlike the current system, where most who apply get in.

“As long as that system is there, then you’ re going to have people who take advantage of that system,” the mayor said. “When that system is no longer there, then you’ll be able to separate the people who want to go higher and the people who don’t want to go higher and it’s going to be up to them.”

Attainable jobs

Residents like Webber said she’d like the mayor to focus on bringing more attainable jobs to the city, so she can qualify for this new housing.

She said she currently has to pay for transportation to get to her temporary job in Chesterfield County.

“He wants to see Richmond thrive, understood. We all do, but at what cost?” she asked.

Jones and Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority stress, no residents will be displaced because of this housing transformation. Some residents will be offered subsidized housing. There are a number of privately owned, high-end apartments in Richmond with units reserved for low-income tenants.

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