By George Copeland Jr., Richmond Free Press
A coalition of religious and community groups have received new commitments from City Council members to address affordable housing, including the state of mobile homes, in the city.
The pledges came Tuesday evening during the annual Nehemiah Action Conference hosted by RISC, Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities, that was marked by personal testimonies and calls for action from community members and organizers. More than 500 RISC members filled the exhibition hall at the Greater Richmond Convention Center for the conference and many others participated virtually.
Fifth District Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch promised to vote in favor of allocating $300,000 to project:HOMES for a pilot program aimed at repairing or replacing mobile home units in dire conditions.
“We can’t make miracles, but we can put our money where our hearts are,” Ms. Lynch said. “It’s going to take a lot to fix hundreds of years of systemic oppression, but we can do it.”
Ms. Lynch also pledged to lead efforts to ensure the city meets its own target for allocating 30 percent of its $10 million in funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund toward those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income, and to ensure that allocation is maintained and that the percentage will grow in the future.
Emotions ran high throughout the two-hour conference as group leaders detailed why their requests and solutions were the best path forward for Richmond’s future. A common cry of “Justice demands risk!” echoed throughout the hall from speakers and the audience.
Due to a family health emergency, 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell was unable to be present for the conference, but she already had submitted a budget amendment that includes $300,000 to project:HOMES, according to RISC leaders.
Councilmember Katherine Jordan, 2nd District, also expressed support for the amendment, according to RISC.
Not every goal the group set for the conference was met, however. James “Jim” Holland, who represents the Dale District on the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, declined to promise support for a $150,000 allocation for project:HOMES ahead of a board vote on the budget on Wednesday.
“I’m not going to make that commitment right now because I usually don’t make them in advance before the final review of our budget,” Mr. Holland said.
RISC’s calls for adoption of a specific gun violence intervention program in Richmond have gone largely unanswered by Mayor Levar M. Stoney, who has introduced his own plan that the coalition feels doesn’t go far enough.
The coalition also criticized Mayor Stoney for not continuing his meetings with the group on gun violence prevention following his re-election in November 2020. The mayor has criticized the coalition’s tactics in seeking further talks as “bullying and intimidation.” Mayor Stoney also has accused RISC of using “gun violence victims as pawns,” a characterization that those who have lost families to shootings challenged during the conference.
“I am no pawn. This is my story,” Holly Gilliam-Shaw of Union Branch Baptist Church told the conference-goers. Ms. Gilliam-Shaw has lost both her husband and stepson to gun violence during the past decade.
“This is my pain, the pain my children and I will live with for the rest of our lives. I will forever have a hole in my heart because of (the mayor’s) unwillingness to act.”
RISC called on its members attending the conference and those watching virtually to turn out in large numbers for the City Council meeting next Monday, April 11, to advocate for approval of the city budget allocation for project:HOMES.