Needed: A better deal
10/12/2023, 6 p.m.
Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration hoped to expand a program that helps city employees to buy homes in the city.
City Council members blocked that plan.
Because members of the governing body wanted more emergency funding that aids desperate lower-income families to stave off eviction or to pay unexpected bills that could wipe out paychecks.
So a deal was cut.
The administration agreed to provide an additional $800,000 in city tax dollars for the emergency fund that the Presbyterian-affiliated nonprofit HumanKind administers for the city. The ordinance authorizing that expenditure is expected to be approved at the next council meeting on Monday, Nov. 13.
In response, the council voted Monday to allow the administration to use $1.3 million in federal American Rescue Plan money to expand the home purchasing to all qualifying employees. The program previously was open only to police officers, firefighters and teachers.
The program provides up to $25,000 per purchaser and is designed to serve those employees below management ranks.
We think the council sold out cheap. Instead of $800,000, council should have sought double the amount that the administration plans to use for the expanded homebuyer assistance program.
The need for emergency help far exceeds the number of city employees who need help buying homes. At most, the expanded program could only serve 52 employees, if each gained $25,000. And with the average price of Richmond area homes hovering around $350,000, $25,000 does not stretch very far.
The emergency fund already has helped more than 500 families and is continuing to add to that number. Initially $1 million in federal funds started the program last year. The council then insisted another $1 million be included in the current budget that started July 1.
The initial $1 million is spent, and that rate of spending means the second $1 million will run out in December. If that level of payout continues as anticipated, the fresh $800,000 would run out in May.
If this fund is a priority for City Council, and we think it should be, its members need to be serious about providing sufficient money now and in the future to keep it viable.
During Monday’s council meeting, 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch, the leading advocate for the emergency aid, said the vision is for the fund to have enough money to meet urgent needs and also help struggling homeowners pay their property tax bills.
That isn’t going to happen if council takes the easy way out and shortchanges the fund in exchange for allowing the administration to proceed with a worthy, but essentially small proposal that will aid a relatively small number of individuals.
Mayor Stoney has been a supporter of direct aid. An example is The Richmond Resilience Project he started in 2020 with a grant from the Robins Foundation that allowed 18 low-income families to each receive a $500 a month stipend with no strings attached for two years. Fresh grants expanded the grants in 2022, enrolling 37 families for two years.
Yet, as he approaches his final year in office, Mayor Stoney has not made this family crisis fund a top priority for his administration. In our view, the council must insist that he does.