Two proposals headed toward approval in the General Assembly – House Bill 1668 and Senate Bill 799 – would create a “community revitalization fund” that would allow renovators to apply for loans or grants when working in deteriorated residential areas.
Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, is sponsoring HB 1668. She said that most of the funding would go to nonprofit groups but that for-profit companies could apply as well.
“The city is trying to find new ways to combat blight and fix up derelict properties,” McClellan said. “We’ve got buildings up in Northside that have been boarded up for 40 years. So if somebody wants to come and buy it and fix it up, they can apply to the city for a grant or loan to do that.”
Under current state law, localities cannot give money to private entities without express permission from Virginia lawmakers. This is one of many statewide policies that make it harder for Richmond to fix up its neighborhoods, says Chris Hilbert, a member of the Richmond City Council.
“I hope that people can see that and give localities, particularly some of our older cities, these powers to effect change in our jurisdictions,” Hilbert said.
Hilbert, who helped create the legislation, said blighted areas are a haven for prostitution and drug dealing and tend to drag down neighborhoods. He showed little concern for property rights supporters who oppose government action targeting owners of blighted houses.
“I was taught early on that my right to swing my fist ended at my neighbor’s nose,” Hilbert said. “I feel like those owners of blighted properties are swinging indiscriminately at property owners around them.”
The proposed revitalization fund could be used in four ways:
- Loans or grants to organizations for the construction, renovation and demolition of residential structures
- Infrastructure improvements
- Acquisition of blighted properties
- Sustainability projects for residential structures
The legislation has met little opposition in the General Assembly.
HB 1668 passed the House, 99-0, on Feb. 8. On Friday, the Senate approved the bill, 36-3. (Three Republican senators voted against it: Stephen Martin of Chesterfield, Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg and Ralph Smith of Roanoke.)
The companion measure, SB 799, was introduced by Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond. In January, it cleared the Senate, 35-3 (with Martin, Obenshain and Smith dissenting). On Friday, the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns unanimously endorsed SB 799.
Supporters hope the proposed revitalization fund will build on the success of programs such as Neighborhoods in Bloom.
The City of Richmond created Neighborhoods in Bloom in 1999 to work with nonprofit groups to repair and sell vacant historic homes. The project involves meeting with community leaders and analyzing crime and poverty statistics to find areas most suitable for renovation.
On the Web:
To track or comment on House Bill 1668, go to www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/hb1668
To track or comment on Senate Bill 799, go to www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/sb799
Find more information about Neighborhoods in Bloom at www.richmondgov.com/neighborhoods