East End eyesore slated for residential revival

A nonprofit recently purchased two historic buildings in Union Hill. Photos by Katie Demeria.

A nonprofit recently purchased two historic buildings in Union Hill. Photos by Katie Demeria.

A local nonprofit wants to restore a dilapidated stretch of the East End.

The Better Housing Coalition has plans to renovate the 7,500-square-foot Citadel of Hope building at 2230 Venable St. and construct a new apartment building next to it on Jessamine Street. The total project is estimated at $6.8 million and will add 48 mixed-income units to Union Hill.

Lynn McAteer, Better Housing’s vice president of planning and evaluation, said the group has had its eye on that block for a number of years.

“It’s a very visible block and it’s been a blighting influence on the neighborhood for years,” she said.

Founded in 1988, Better Housing Coalition aims to create high-quality, affordable housing throughout the city. The group has been involved in Union Hill since at least the early 2000s, when it developed several single-family homes north of Venable Street.

The group has been working to acquire the 2.1-acre Citadel of Hope property, along with another vacant historic gas station at Tulip and Venable streets, for at least two to three years, McAteer said. Both were built in the 1920s.

Better Housing finally purchased the Citadel of Hope about a year ago for $380,000 from the Temple of Judah Ministries, city records show. It has since purchased an additional three parcels along Venable Street and is in the process of purchasing the final 0.03-acre piece from the city’s Department of Public Works. The $5,000 sale was recently approved by the Planning Commission and is set to go before City Council Monday.

When that last piece is finally in place, Better Housing will have secured six adjoining parcels along Venable and Jessamine streets that form an L shape around the block for a total cost of $600,000.

The run-down Citadel of Hope building will require a major overhaul.

The run-down Citadel of Hope building will require a major overhaul.

“Location is key, and this location is very prominent,” McAteer said.

The plans have not yet been finalized but will involve new construction of a 36-unit apartment building along Jessamine Street. The Citadel of Hope will eventually have 12 apartments once renovation is complete, which could be an arduous task, McAteer said.

“The existing building is in really bad shape,” she said. “There were fires in it, and you can’t even walk around the whole building because some of the floor is really dangerous.”

That may change plans slightly, but for now the project is expected to cost $6.8 million, and the coalition will apply for low-income housing tax credits to finance the project.

The tax credit application is due in March, and if everything is approved, McAteer said construction should begin by the spring of 2017.

The group is still considering plans for the land along Venable Street on the other side of the Citadel of Hope. McAteer said the coalition will not tear the gas station building down and is open to suggestions from the community as to how it may be developed.

Walter Parks Architects is designing the project, but a general contractor has not been selected.

The buildings are expected to include one-, two- and three-bedroom units, which will be split up to ensure a mixed-income community.

“Our region and our city is in dire need of quality, affordable housing,” McAteer said. “We’re thrilled that there’s been so much development in the East End and Shockoe Bottom and Manchester, but very little of it is affordable.”

The Better Housing project will be split three ways, with a third of the apartments renting at the market rate, one-third reserved for residents with incomes at 60 percent of the area median income, and the final third reserved for those at 50 percent of the area median income.

Mixed-income developments, the purpose of which is to encourage diverse neighborhoods and prevent creating areas of concentrated poverty, have seen some momentum in Richmond lately. The largest such project is The Community Builders’ plan for a massive mixed-income development in its Church Hill North Revitalization project.

Better Housing gets its revenue from rental income, grants and donations. Rental properties served as its largest source of funding, drawing in more than $11 million in 2013, according to the group’s most recent annual report. Its total revenue for that year was $12.8 million, and its expenses totaled about $11.6 million, most of which was spent on rental property upkeep.

The organization’s other projects include Jefferson Mews, a neighborhood of townhomes and single-family homes, and the Beckstoffer’s Mill Loft Apartments, both of which are on North 28th Street in Church Hill. It also has communities in north Richmond and in Chesterfield County.

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Here is a link to some before images of the block when it was filled with rowhouses housing.http://chpn.net/news/2015/03/02/venable-street-2002_40742/