By Elizabeth Holmes, WTVR

RICHMOND, Va. — A justice ministry made up of 22 congregations across Central Virginia say Richmond’s city leaders are not doing enough to address the city’s lack of affordable housing options.

Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities, also known as RISC, says the city’s affordable housing crisis is only getting worse.

“We have an affordable housing crisis here in the city of Richmond, and it’s both in terms of the availability of rental units and the high cost of rent,” said Amy Starr Redwine, a member of RISC.

In the city, RISC says the average rent for a 1 Bedroom/1 Bathroom apartment is anywhere between $1,400-$1,600 each month.

Between January and February, roughly 900 eviction hearings were listed in Richmond court.

Now, the advocacy group says Richmond’s city council is not holding up its end of the bargain when it comes to creating more affordable housing units in the area.

In 2008, Section 16.51 of City Code established a fund identified as the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The code says the fund shall be funded through annual appropriations by the City Council.

In 2021, the city council enacted Section 12.46 of the City Code. It says that revenues from expiring real estate tax exemptions shall be credited “to a special reserve assigned to support the affordable housing trust fund established by section 16.51 each year after such expiration. The city council may appropriate funds from this reserve to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.”

“We though Richmond had a win,” said Martin Wegbreit, a member of RISC and Director of Litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society at Monday night’s city council meeting. “The special reserve has only one purpose: to support the affordable housing trust fund. To follow your own law, the city council can appropriate this special reserve for no other purpose. There is no discretion here.”

He and other members of RISC said based on funding for FY22, there should be about $2.4 million in that reserve meant to go toward the trust fund, but the money is not there. They also have questions about a dedicated stream of money meant to go toward that fund to attract and retain developers that will build more affordable housing units.

“The ordinance was passed because the trust fund is effective only if it has a dedicated stream, because that’s what developers need to know, that there’s not just going to be money this year, but when I’m three years into this project, that I’m just now bidding on, that the money is going to be there to complete the project,” Redwine said.

“I think the biggest question that we at RISC have is, why isn’t the city council doing everything they can to make sure they passed is followed? That the money is put into the trust fund, not just the money that’s overdue, but every year, the way the ordinance lays it out?”

WTVR CBS 6 spoke with Councilmember Anne-Frances Lambert about where the money is and how it’s being used.

“That’s one of the questions we’re going through this budget session, is how much of that surplus is left over, how much has been spent. We do have the Affordable Housing Equity Fund, that’s supposed to be a $10 million allocation for that,” Lambert said. “So we’re trying to make sure the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds that we’ve allocated will be going towards those funds to help people in need, but right now, we’re going through this budget process to figure out where is the money and how much money can we allocate to those in need?”

Lambert said it boils down to budgeting.

“We all have to come to the table and really figure out how much we’re talking about, and how much money we can really set aside to help those in need,” she said.

Redwine asking this question: “I think the most urgent question is, why not do what you’ve already committed to doing? What’s the hold up?”

See original story here.