(This is guest commentary from the Richmond Tenants Union, a “citywide network of organizations of renters and neighbors that assemble to discuss issues in their buildings or neighborhoods, and organize to collectively improve living conditions.”)

The Richmond 300 plan, the course charted for our city for the next
20 years, is yet another in a long line of urban redevelopment schemes
which privilege the profits of property owners, business interests,
those not struggling to pay bills, and white people at the expense of
those consistently left behind. As we’ve seen recently with the Navy
Hill proposal and numerous other instances in the history of the city,
this is nothing new. While pointing out many issues within the city of
Richmond, the 300 plan hollowly invokes words like “equity”  with no
proposed solutions to address the causes of the problems. Issues of
poverty and the housing crisis are of the utmost importance to the most
vulnerable populations in the city, but this plan does not address these
issues in any meaningful way. Instead, the plan both refuses to name
these problems and would perpetuate, if not exacerbate, the same race-
and class-based issues.

    By falling short even identifying the issues facing our city, the
Richmond 300 plan cannot possibly address these problems at their roots.
To get to the soul of the plan, we believe it is important to look at
the executive summary. We highly doubt that legislators, let alone your
average community members, are casually reading a 256 page document
about zoning and redevelopment. The executive summary mentions the
phrases “equity” and “equitable” ten times more than it mentions race.
The words “Black” and “African American” do not even appear once. The
word “eviction” does not appear once in the executive summary and
appears only three times in the full 256-page plan. While it is used
once to support rent relief, the other two uses refer to financial
training – as if systemic discrimination is the result of not being able
to balance a checkbook – or legal aid in the eviction process. Thus, in
proposing to deal with the city’s housing crisis, the authors did not
believe it necessary to mention that, as of 2016 according to the
Princeton Eviction Lab, Richmond had the second highest eviction rate in
the country, which primarily affects non-white and poverty-stricken
communities. In a city intensely segregated among class and racial
lines, how does the Richmond 300 plan propse to fix these issues
equitably when it does not acknowledge their underlying causes in the
first place? Instead of addressing the roots of these problems, the plan
instead proposes market-based solutions which would only worsen the
issues felt by already oppressed communities.

    It is the job of the city and the responsibility of all community
members to support the lives of those routinely denied and excluded
before the thought of new hotels and stadiums is ever uttered. The
Richmond 300 plan calls out the “persistently high” poverty levels of
our city, and claims to address them, yet it puts the onus on those most
affected for their correction. The plan proceeds to tout the same
discredited trickle-Down economics, which suggests that privileging
business owners and developers will somehow benefit those actually in
need, and is one of the greatest lies of the past 50 years. When listing
ways that regular residents can use the Master Plan, it is suggested
that they “Expand, start or relocate a business,” “Purchase real
estate,” “Renovate an existing building,” or “Attract a new business or
service to a neighborhood.” If entire sections of the city are mired in
persistently high poverty, we assure you it is not the place of those
suffering to spend what little money they have to appease businesses. We
are also unsure how those in persistently high poverty are expected to
start businesses or buy houses. Rather, it should be the city’s
responsibility to materially provide for the needs of the communities
within it. The Richmond 300 plan likewise falls short in trying to
address the eviction crises currently faced by Richmond residents.

    While there is a temporary moratorium on evictions, the Richmond 300
plan does nothing to address the causes and conditions which lead to
evictions or the crisis which will occur once the ban is lifted. The
current plan proposes to create 10,000 new units of affordable housing
but does nothing to keep people in their homes. Regardless of the number
of units being built, words like “affordable” mask the underlying
assumption that people do not have a right to live where they are.
“Affordable” means that people are only allowed to live where economic
forces outside of their control allow them to, separating families from
communities which have been intact for generations and separating
children from friends at a pivotal point in their development, entirely
based on housing value. The Richmond 300 plan uses “Market Value
Analysis,” which looks exclusively at housing costs and population, to
evaluate what is affordable, rather than measures such as income or
demographics. What is affordable is relative, and affordability is not
what people need. We do not demand affordable housing. People in poverty
cannot afford “affordable” housing. We instead demand the
decommodification of housing so people’s lives are not subjected to the
whims of market forces, as well as guaranteed housing that is safe and
dignified because housing is a human right.

    If one of the goals of the Richmond 300 plan is forming “Complete
Neighborhoods” and ensuring “Resilient & Healthy Communities,” the city
should put a stop to all evictions, now and forever, and guarantee
housing for all community members. The greatest way to maintain a
community is to stop landlords from trying to squeeze more money out of
it by destroying people’s lives through eviction. If Richmond wanted to
achieve housing equity, our city could instead build more public
housing, not more unafforable housing. Instead of refusing to fix issues
and letting roaches run rampant, or bulldozing all of it as the Richmond
300 plan suggests, the city could work to ensure public housing is a
safe and dignified places to live. The city could turn over all of the
vacant housing to our unhoused and underhoused population instead of
relegating them to substandard shelters for only a fraction of the year.
The Richmond Tenants Union sent a letter with these proposals and more
to the mayor’s office in December, after being solicited to do their job
for them, yet they have all gone unanswered in order to keep appeasing
landlords and business interests. You can read that letter here:

    Despite touting community involvement in the plan’s creation, it is
clear that Richmond 300 is only crafted for a small percentage of
Richmond residents. All in a city with one of the highest eviction rates
in the country. In a city whose mayor authorized the use of tear gas on
people demanding accountability over historic police violence. In a city
whose policies prioritize football training camps over public housing
and education. In a city that outright refuses to take care of its
public housing. In a city which now intends to destroy some of its only
actual affordable housing by bulldozing the housing projects. Do those
behind the Richmond 300 plan honestly think members of the community
can’t see the writing on the wall? We recognize that, as long as housing
is a commodity, no amount of public input or community participation
could change the results of this process. It has been abundantly clear
for some time that the city of Richmond does not care about us if we are
in poverty, and only slightly cares if we’re not white with money to
spend. If the Richmond 300 plan is any indication, “You can either
increase the tax base or you can get out” looks to be the city’s
official motto for the next 20 years.

Learn more about the Richmond Tenants Union

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