Category Archives: Poverty & income gap

Plundering the Middle Class

by James A. Bacon

To get a handle on how progressive (to be clear, I use “progressive” as a synonym for “leftist”) Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed two-year budget is, consider the following.

If Northam’s agenda is adopted, Virginia’s middle class will pay higher gas taxes, higher cigarette taxes, higher income taxes, and higher electric rates. That doesn’t include higher charges resulting from a new hospital tax last year, nor does it include higher college tuition, any of the proposals (such as an inheritance tax) proposed by emboldened Democrats in the legislature, higher who-knows-what-else is squirreled away in the budget, or ideas just hanging fire like the Transportation Climate Initiative.

What will the middle class get in return? Virtually nothing, unless you count expenditures on programs meant to benefit the public at large such as the environment, rural broadband, education, and workforce development. The majority of spending programs are targeted to help lower-income Virginians — and various Democratic Party constituencies who mask their self-serving agendas as benefiting the poor.

Going down the list of initiatives listed in Northam’s State of the Commonwealth address, we find: 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

How to Fix Virginia Schools: Mo’ Money vs. the Bristol Model

by James A. Bacon

In thinking about what ails Virginia’s K-12 public schools, perhaps we should give some consideration to the state’s schools of education and what Virginian teachers are taught. To get a sense of the quality of scholarship and thought that comes out of our teaching academies, we might consider an op-ed penned nine days ago for the Washington Post by Robert C. Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Development.

Here is the thesis of his piece: “The perception that education is in crisis has contributed a fundamentally distorted view of the system that ignores the biggest problem plaguing U.S. public schools: a lack of resources.”

Sadly for Mr. Pianta, the op-ed now bears a correction at the top, which reads as follows: “An earlier version of this piece stated that, adjusting for constant dollars, public funding for schools had decreased since the late 1980s. This is not the case. In fact, funding at the federal, state and local levels has increased between the 1980s and 2019.” Continue reading

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

Northam Proposes Another $145 Million Giveaway

by James A, Bacon

The spending avalanche keeps building. Governor Ralph Northam now is proposing to spend $145 million in the next two-year budget to make tuition-free community college available to “low- and middle-income” students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields.

The Governor’s “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) program would cover tuition, fees and books.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to get a good education and a good job, no matter who you are or how much money you have,” Northam said in a statement. “This is an investment in equity and our economy — by helping Virginians get the skills they need, we’re building a world-class workforce while ensuring all Virginians can support themselves, their families, and their communities.”

There is so much sloppy thinking in this proposal that it’s hard to know where to begin. But I’ll try…. Continue reading

Two Medicaid Updates: Work Requirement, PBMs

By Steve Haner

Medicaid Work – Training Requirement Dead

Disappointing many, thrilling many, and surprising nobody, the Governor of Virginia has openly broken his 2018 promise to couple expanded Medicaid coverage with a work or job training requirement for able-bodied recipients. Moving people out of poverty is no longer the goal.

Governor Ralph Northam was quoted in posted story by the Richmond Times-Dispatch saying:

“Virginians made clear they want more access to health care, not less. Given the changed makeup of the General Assembly and based on conversations with new leadership, it is unlikely Virginia will move forward with funding a program that could cause tens of thousands of Virginians to lose health care coverage.”

To which outgoing Speaker Kirk Cox responded:

“The Governor and I made personal commitments to each other on this long-term public policy agreement. There wasn’t an asterisk that said, “unless my party wins the next election.” It’s a sad reflection on the value of integrity in modern politics.”

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

A War-on-Poverty Success Story

by James A. Bacon

Homelessness in the Richmond metro area has dropped by more than half since 2007, from about 1,158 homeless people to less than 500 this year. It is one of the great anti-poverty success stories — one of the few anti-poverty success stories — of our time. This dramatic improvement results from a dramatic shift in homeless policy from a model that sheltered families for as long as two years to a “rapid rehousing” model that gets them out of shelters and into permanent housing as quickly as possible.

As a national movement, rapid rehousing began in earnest with a Housing and Urban Development demonstration project in 2008. It has contributed to significant gains in communities across the country, but few have embraced the new paradigm with the enthusiasm of the Richmond region. To see the philosophy in action, I visited the Hilliard House shelter, in eastern Henrico County, operated by Housing Families First.

The Hilliard House is a solid brick housing complex with private rooms, a communal dining room, shared living space, and a cloistered courtyard. It is a clean, safe place where homeless families can regroup. Thanks to generous community support, when families leave, they are given linens, kitchen implements and cleaning supplies to help them set up house. Continue reading

The Issue of Guardianship and the Contribution of a Newspaper

Ora Lomax with a picture of her husband, William, who was committed to a nursing home against her wishes. Photo credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

On Sunday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a remarkable article. It was remarkable both in the amount of space the newspaper dedicated to it, 5½ whole pages, and its subject, guardianship, a subject about which little is known by the public, but that could affect anyone.

The publishing of this series of articles illustrates the continuing value of newspapers. The RTD invested a lot of resources into this story. It was a year-long investigation in which staff combed through the records of hundreds of guardianship cases originating in the Richmond circuit courts. They examined all the public documents related to those cases. They created a database with all the relevant data from those cases. They also looked at some guardianship cases filed in Henrico and Norfolk circuit courts to see how such cases were handled in different jurisdictions. They interviewed dozens of people and attended guardianship hearings. No other media for the general public could, or would, dedicate this amount of resources to a single topic. Continue reading

RRHA Freezes Enforcement of Rent Collection


by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) has announced an agency-wide freeze on the enforcing rent payments through the end of the year. No public housing family will be removed from their home for debt owed to RRHA during that period.

“During this time,” the authority said, “RRHA will undertake an agency-wide evaluation of our public housing families’ rental accounts and give tenants that are in arrears the opportunity to come current. By utilizing a combination of repayment agreements, debt forgiveness, philanthropic contributions, and other eviction diversion methods, RHHA will endeavor to bring every RRHA family with a delinquent rental account as close to good standing as possible.”

The action comes in response to pressure from “tenant advocates,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, praised the move. “We’re very encouraged and we see it as a few steps in the right direction,” he said.

Now, nobody wants to see poor people needlessly evicted from their homes… Continue reading

Richmond’s Food Desert a Tough Nut to Crack

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

It is part of the liberal/progressive catechism that inner city neighborhoods across the United States, including Virginia, are afflicted by “food deserts” — large swaths of territory lacking access to stores selling fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods. This deprivation is typically seen as a failure of the free-market system that requires remedy.

Seeking to do some good, Richmond philanthropist Steve Markel financed construction of a grocery store in the heart of the city’s East End — The Market @ 25th — and launched it to great fanfare a half year ago. The store served multiple laudable ends. It anchored a mixed-use development including 42 apartments, retail space, and office space in a depressed part of the city. It opened with 98 jobs, creating employment opportunities for the East End’s poor. And, most notably, it provided a source of fruit, vegetables, and healthy food.

Now we hear from the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the noble endeavor is encountering difficulties. The independent grocer has suffered millions of dollars in operational losses. Through layoffs and attrition, the staff has shrunk by a quarter since opening. Perhaps most discouraging of all, many of the store’s hoped-for poor African-American customers say the prices are too high and see the story as the spear-head of gentrification. Continue reading

How to Help Economically Disadvantaged Students

Click image to enlarge.

by James A. Bacon

Over the past several days I have been highlighting how public schools in Southwest Virginia have bucked the statewide trend of declining standardized test scores. While the Northam administration has implemented a top-down “social justice” approach, a consortium of rural Southwest Virginia schools has embraced a totally different  strategy: (1) identifying the most successful teachers across the region; (2) sharing their instructional materials and other best practices; (3)  measuring results and incorporating feedback, and (4) raising expectations.

John Butcher, the author of Cranky’s Blog, has done some follow-up numbers crunching to show just how effective Southwest Virginia’s Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP) has been at lifting the Standards of Learning pass rates of economically disadvantaged students — the very same demographic the social-justice crowd wants, but has failed, to help.

The first two graphs (above) show how the reading and math SOL scores, which were at rough parity with statewide averages in 2014, have zoomed ahead of the pack. Continue reading

Republicans Must Find a New Way Forward

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is a blue state now. Not only do Democrats occupy all statewide elected positions — two U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general — with yesterday’s election, they control both houses of the General Assembly.

Republicans got their booties  kicked. And the butt-stomping is not likely to subside. The Dems will control the next redistricting, which will cement their dominance of the legislature. Auguring well for the blue team in the future, the fastest-growing region of the state, Northern Virginia, now is pure blue with bits  of purple on the exurban fringe. By contrast, Republican strongholds in rural Virginia have shrinking or stagnant populations. Also favoring Democrats in the long run is the increasing percentage of racial/ethnic minorities in the state and the declining percentage of whites.

Republicans need to re-define who they are and what they stand for, or they will become a permanent minority. News reports say that dislike of Donald Trump drove Democratic voter turnout, but the Blue Tide is much broader and deeper than voter animus of one man. Take Trump out of the equation after the 2020 election, and Virginia Republicans still have a huge problem.

Can the Republicans re-calibrate? I certainly hope so, because I’m terrified of the Democratic Party agenda of $15 minimum wage, spiking the right-to-work law, a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead rush to a 100% renewable electric grid, spending and taxing, taxing and spending, and injecting its grievance-and-victimhood agenda into the consideration of every issue. But Republican priorities on culture war issues — guns, abortion, transgenders — are not winning issues statewide. As long as Republicans remain captive to its rural/small-town base, I don’t see how it can reinvent itself.

What does a rejuvenated Republican Party look like? (Or, if the GOP is incapable of reinventing itself, what does a successor party look like?) Continue reading