Category Archives: Housing

Evictions as the New “Monuments to White Supremacy”

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The City of Richmond took down the statue of Stonewall Jackson yesterday in the hope, in Mayor Levar Stoney’s words, of protecting the public and starting the healing process. But across town enraged demonstrators were one step ahead of the Mayor, having switched the focus of their wrath from Civil War memorials to housing evictions.

Marchers downtown chanted, “Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!” and “Eviction is violence.” Apparently, the demonstrators got disorderly, although the Richmond Times-Dispatch account is unclear. Deputies deployed pepper spray, a window was smashed, and two people were arrested. One is left to deduce from the photograph accompanying the story (shown above) that violence occurred, or was threatened, at the John Marshall Courts Building.

What is clear is that the mob has moved on. It has found a new cause.

“I find this incredibly insidious,” said organizer Naomi Isaac. “Especially when our elected officials are congratulating themselves for taking down monuments to white supremacy on Monument Avenue while replicating those same monuments to white supremacy at the courthouse against people who are fighting against [evictions] and fighting against the way that’s affected Black people for generations.” Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. Continue reading

Statement of the Virginia Apartment Management Association on Supreme Court Order Suspending Evictions and Access to Courts

by James C. Sherlock

I sought and received from the Virginia Apartment Management Association a statement on Monday’s Virginia’s Supreme Court order IN RE: FIFTH ORDER MODIFYING AND EXTENDING DECLARATION OF JUDICIAL EMERGENCY IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 EMERGENCY.

It took only an hour for Patrick McCloud, the CEO of VAMA, to generate the response quoted below. It is published with his permission.  He could have done the same thing for the Governor or the Supreme Court, had they asked.  Neither did.

Please note this is not a legal brief, but neither was the Governor’s letter.  If asked for a legal brief, the association’s lawyers would inevitably raised the issues that have been discussed on this blog.

Continue reading

“Systemic Racism?” Damned Right!

By Peter Galuszka

There has been much debate on this blog regarding whether there is “systemic racism” in Virginia and the rest of the country.

It’s a crucial question in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed African American who was killed on video by a white Minneapolis police officer two weeks ago. The killing sparked nationwide demonstrations, some rioting and a big rethink of race relations.

Regarding is “system racism,” my answer in a resounding “yes” although I agree there has been significant progress in race relations since the since the 1960s.

A few examples:

  • Virginia was the embarkation point for American’s first slaves.
  • Slavery was a key social, economic and political institution for several hundred years.
  • The Civil War was fought over slavery. Most battles were in Virginia.
  • The state embraced Jim Crow laws and kept them for years. These made it crimes for people of different races to go to school together, go on public transit together, sit together in restaurants, get married and so on.
  • There were plenty of lynchings in Virginia. Many went unpunished.

Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another COVID-19 Symptom: Incivility

by Kerry Dougherty

It’s not just the lockdowns that are getting to some of us. The closed gyms, restaurants and beaches.

It’s the incivility.

It’s the venom and hostility directed at anyone who dares to question the state shutdowns or suggest they’ve gone too far or gone on long enough. Or – God forbid – wonders if they were wise at all.

The retorts are mean, ugly and untrue. They leave no room for debate.

You want people to die.

You don’t care about the elderly.

You’re selfish.

You care more about getting your nails done than people’s lives.

You’re willing to die for the Dow .

That last accusation was hurled at me when unemployment hit 24 million and I pointed out on Twitter that the number was catastrophic. Continue reading

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading

More Mobile Homes, Please

Smitty’s Mobile Home Park in Norfolk

by James A. Bacon

The good news is that the poverty lobby has recognized that mobile home parks provide a valuable source of affordable housing in Virginia. The bad news is that… the poverty lobby wants to help.

There are about 600 mobile home parks in Virginia. The average sales price for a single-width mobile home is about $53,000 (not including lots), a fraction of the $280,000 median price for a single-family house. These parks provide affordable housing for tens of thousands of Virginians — more than 11,400 in Central Virginia alone.

One way to approach mobile homes in Virginia is to say, “Fantastic! A source of affordable housing. How can we open up more land for development of mobile home parks? How can we increase the supply and give poor people more options for where to live and whom to rent or buy land from?”

Another way to approach mobile homes is to look at the negatives. It turns out that many are in disrepair. Figure that — homes owned by poor people are in disrepair. Not only that, Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, tells Virginia Public Media (VPM), many trailer parks have less than desirable surroundings. “They didn’t have street lights, they didn’t have paved roads, they didn’t have up-to-date electricity or sewer systems.” Continue reading

Another Tool in the Search for Affordable Housing

Jeff Bourne

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

This is going to be an interesting session; probably a nightmare for Republicans. Much of the public attention has been on gun legislation, but there are other areas in which Democratic initiatives have been bottled up in the past and now will have a much better chance of being enacted.

One of these areas is housing. In an earlier blog today, Jim has highlighted one proposed piece of legislation dealing with “middle” housing. There is another bill that I had heard about earlier, which I think also addresses a housing issue that we have discussed on this blog. That is HB 6, introduced by Del. Jeff Bourne. D-Richmond. The bill would forbid someone from refusing to rent or sell a dwelling on the basis of the source of income or payment by the person seeking to rent or buy. In effect, it would prohibit landlords or property sellers from refusing to accept housing vouchers.

Bourne introduced this legislation in the 2019 session. It died in a House committee, without even being given the consideration of being referred to a subcommittee to be heard. Continue reading

Samirah Bill Inspires Debate Over Residential Zoning

Ibrahim Samirah

by James A. Bacon

Suburban Virginians were the key swing voters who gave Democrats majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. It will be interesting to see if Democrats now manage to alienate them.

Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Herndon, has submitted a bill, HB 152, that would require zoning ordinances in localities across the state to allow “middle housing” — duplexes, townhouses, cottages and other structures — in neighborhoods zoned for single-family dwellings.

Samirah characterizes the mandate as an “affordable housing” initiative.  He quite accurately says that residential zoning restrictions restrict the supply of new housing construction by limiting housing units to one per lot. But rhetorically he goes off the rails. Describing suburbs as “mostly white and wealthy,” he implies that people wishing to live in safe, peaceful neighborhoods are guilty of racial discrimination.

“Because middle housing is what’s most affordable for low-income people and people of color, banning that housing in well-off neighborhoods chalks up to modern-day redlining, locking folks out of areas with better access to schools, jobs, transit, and other services and amenities,” he wrote on Facebook (as quoted by the Daily Caller, a conservative web publication). Continue reading

At Last: Zoning Restrictions on “Middle Housing” Are Coming Under Scrutiny

A neighborhood of detached single-family dwellings in Arlington.

by James A. Bacon

Arlington County plans to study the “missing middle” in its housing market: homes that fall between apartment-sized units and single-family dwellings — in its housing market.

Ninety percent of the county’s residential land is zoned for detached, single-family houses. The median housing price in the county falls between $530,000 and $640,000, and the arrival of Amazon is likely to drive prices even higher. A big part of the problem, says Richard Tucker, acting coordinator of Housing Arlington, is restrictive zoning. WAMU summarizes his thinking:

Too much single-family zoning is leading to a proliferation of teardowns, Tucker says. In neighborhoods throughout the county, property owners are bulldozing smaller single-family homes to make way for mansions that swallow up entire lots. Teardowns are common in neighborhoods where zoning is restricted to single-family construction, Tucker says, but they’re expensive to build and own, so they don’t contribute affordable housing to the county. They also take up a lot of land that could be used more efficiently, he says.

If owners had the option to build duplexes and triplexes instead of McMansions, Tucker says, maybe they would. “What we hope to do is identify other options for these property owners,” the planner says.

Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Guns, Tolls, Evictions

You’ll have to pry my gun from… More than 90 governing bodies in Virginia have voted to declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, reports WDBJ. Ninety! Unbelievable. Thousands of citizens have appeared at board meetings across the state to demonstrate their support for the resolutions. Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave said the sanctuary movement is unlike anything he has seen in his years of advocacy. “It’s like the difference between driving a car and being in a rocket ship.” Sigh. I personally don’t have a problem with these resolutions. But if only rural Virginians cared as much about pocketbook issues.

More transportation cross subsidies in the works. Virginia officials and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission are negotiating a proposal to dedicate a portion of toll revenues on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway to construction of new Metro facilities near Rosslyn and construction of a second freight/commuter rail span between Virginia and Washington, D.C. The toll revenues would back the issuance of bonds to pay for construction of the rail projects, reports WTOP. Virginia drifts further and further away from a user-pays transportation funding system. This idea can be justified only on the grounds that mass transit can provide more mobility than a comparable investment in other road projects. I wonder what light VDOT’s Smart Scale ranking system could shed on this.

Evictions down. Since a New York Times article highlighted the high rate of evictions in Virginia cities, state and local officials have been allocating resources to reduce the number. Through September of this year, the incidence of evictions has dropped about 19% in the City of Richmond, where it was the worst, and 14% across Virginia, according to a Capital News Service analysis of court data. This is encouraging news… as long as it doesn’t have the unintended consequence of dampening the supply of low-income rentals.

— JAB

Another Brain-Dead Housing Initiative

Foreclosed house on the market in Richmond for $103,587 — 1,434 square feet of living space. Source: Zillow.

by James A. Bacon

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to create a supply of affordable housing in Virginia. One is to loosen zoning restrictions so developers and home builders can build more houses and apartments, thus relieving scarcity and putting a downward pressure on prices across the board. The other is for the government to arrange for the construction of lower-income housing. Governor Ralph Northam is doubling down on the latter strategy.

Yesterday the Governor announced that his proposed budget will include $92 million in new funding to address housing affordability, eviction rates, and housing for the disabled. Of that sum, $63 million will go to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which provides financing for affordable housing.

Here’s the irony. In the Richmond region, the cost for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to build new “affordable housing” units runs as high as $250,000 per unit. The median home value — half of the houses on the market are more expensive, half less expensive — in the Richmond market is $223,400, according to Zillow. In other words, it costs government more to build a unit of low-income housing than for the private sector to provide middle-income housing. Continue reading

The Inherent Flaw in “Opportunity Zones”

Map credit: Econ Focus

by James A. Bacon

The City of Norfolk is gearing up to take full advantage of tax breaks contained in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. City Council has designated the St. Paul area, home to three 50s-era housing projects, as an “opportunity zone.” Plans call for demolishing the three projects and replacing them with mixed-income development. The city will receive $30 million in Housing and Urban Development funds to jump-start redevelopment, but the bulk of investment is expected to come from the private sector.

More than 8,700 such opportunity zones have been designated across the country; about 10% are located within the 5th Federal Reserve Bank district, which includes Virginia. Through a mix of incentives, investors in opportunity zones can defer, reduce or in some cases eliminate capital gains taxes in the zones.

While the tax breaks may prove effective at channeling investment capital into the designated zones, it is an open question if it will actually help the poor people living there, writes Jessie Romero in the current issue of Fed Focus, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

The size of the potential tax break is what could lure new investment, but it depends on how profitable the investment is — which depends in part on rising property values and rents. So some observers fear that in many places, the opportunity zone designation will create or hasten a process of gentrification to the detriment of lower-income residents who don’t own their homes and instead are forced out by rising rents.

This strikes me as a legitimate concern. Indeed, the criticism goes to the heart of almost every government-subsidized redevelopment project. The more successful a project is commercially, the more likely it is to displace the very people it is meant to help. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Hemp, Housing and Solar

NIMBYs against hemp. Farmers across Southside Virginia have turned to growing hemp (the THC-free version used in industrial applications) as a replacement crop for tobacco. But at least one Dinwiddie County neighborhood has risen in revolt. A hemp farm near the Lake Jordan neighborhood emits an offensive odor. The smell is so bad that it’s getting into peoples’ houses and permeating their clothing, reports the Progress-Index. “We’re worried that they’re going to continue planting around, which would basically mean [that] people will have to leave or just tolerate unbelievable skunk-like odors,” said Jarrod Reisweber, a director of the homeowners association. Daniel Lee, vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors held out the hope that, if solutions could be found to control the odor of hog farms, a remedy could be found for hemp as well.

Amazon offers $20 million toward affordable housing. Amazon is offering $20 million to the Arlington County Affordable Housing Investment Fund in exchange for permission to build a bigger headquarters complex than county zoning allows. The sum would amount to the greatest single infusion of money into the fund, reports the Washington Post. Amazon wants to increase the size of its proposed 22-story office towers from 1.56 million square feet to about 2.15 million square feet, reduce the number of parking spaces, and increase penthouse height. If we assume an average of $50 per square foot for office space in Arlington, Amazon’s concessions are worth about $30 million. That’s gross value. Once construction costs are excluded, Amazon would net significantly less. By that comparison, the $20 million offer seems pretty generous.

Virginia Schools turn to solar. An increasing number of public and private schools in Virginia are utilizing solar power. The number of schools with solar has nearly tripled since 2014 — from 20 to 86, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A niche industry has evolved in which entrepreneurs package solar Public Purchase Agreements (PPAs) in which schools put no cash down and start generating positive cash flow from the first year. Pete Gretz with the Middlesex County school system says that ground-mounted solar saved just under $50,000 at its elementary school site. “There’s no drawback to this,” he said. “It’s completely a win-win.” Continue reading