A development that’s set to add dozens of new apartments for lower-income renters is moving forward in Jackson Ward, after clearing a deed restriction hurdle that revealed some neighborhood opposition to the project.
The 67-unit apartment building planned by local nonprofit Better Housing Coalition can now fill the entire city block that’s bordered by Cameo, Jackson, Price and Duval streets, following a vote Monday by the Richmond City Council releasing a lien on one of the parcels that make up the 1.5-acre site.
The lien was tied to a development agreement between the city and the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority, which previously owned the land, that called for a single-family dwelling to be built on the parcel at 30 W. Jackson St.
The RRHA later sold the land to developers Robin Miller and Ron Stallings, who are now under contract to sell it to BHC, but the deed restriction wasn’t cleared up when the site was rezoned for a multifamily development that never materialized.
The deed issue was introduced at a council meeting in December, around the time that BHC was set to close on the property. But a decision was deferred twice since January, in light of opposition to the project from neighbors who argued that Jackson Ward has become too apartment-heavy.
“Enough is enough when it comes to rental apartments,” said Vicki Mollenauer, a nearby resident who spoke in a hearing at Monday’s meeting.
Noting other apartment buildings that have risen along Jackson Street, Mollenauer said, “So many of us who live here in historic Jackson Ward are passionately opposed to this project, not because we don’t want affordable housing in our backyard, but because we also want to provide the opportunity of affordable homeownership for those who have lived in and love the neighborhood they grew up in. This project does not afford that option.”
Councilmember Katherine Jordan, whose Second District includes Jackson Ward, said opponents were not looking to prevent BHC’s project, but rather to have it include some homeownership options such as those envisioned with Miller and Stallings’ proposal, which called for more than 100 homes with a mix of rental and for-sale units.
“They’re not trying to kill the whole plan,” Jordan said, referring to BHC’s proposal. “They just want a portion of the plan they helped create to rebuild homeownership in Jackson Ward.”
With Miller and Stalling’s prior plan calling for more units, Jordan maintained that there was enough allowable density for BHC to add or work in some for-sale units with its 87 apartments. But she said she was told that doing so would be too expensive or otherwise impossible.
“They could do this,” Jordan said of BHC. “At every juncture when the community asked if they could adjust some of the programming … the answer was no.”
Earlier in the meeting, Lynn McAteer, a vice president with BHC, said the nonprofit had engaged the community for over a year about its proposal, which she described as meeting the density sought when the land was rezoned.
“Better Housing Coalition has worked diligently to put forth a high-quality affordable housing development,” McAteer said. “We have respected the architecture of Jackson Ward, and we have met consistently with the community since last February.
“While I appreciate their objections to more rental housing,” she said, “it is allowed by right, and this little title issue should’ve been cleared up by the city in 2007 when that rezoning occurred.”
Housing advocates and other speakers voiced support for the project, which also was well-received by a majority of councilmembers, who stressed a need for more housing options in the city and to meet that demand across all of its districts.
“There is clearly an urgent and pressing need for quality affordable housing in our city, and that’s been articulated as a priority for residents, for the administration and certainly for this council,” President Cynthia Newbille said.
“It is critical that we look across the city footprint — not just a particular district but citywide — at this opportunity and responsibility to provide quality affordable housing, both home rental as well as home ownership,” Newbille said. “In this instance, we have an opportunity to provide quality affordable home rentals.”
Kristen Larson of the Fourth District joined Jordan in opposing the vote, which clears a path for BHC to move forward with the $11 million project, which is scheduled to start in early summer and last 15 months.
The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments would range in monthly rents from $650 to $1,150. The bulk of the units will be restricted to households earning between $21,000 and $51,800 a year, or between 40 and 60 percent of the area median income. Twelve units will be reserved as subsidized housing for tenants who would pay no more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
Baskervill is designing the building, and Timmons is handling engineering. BHC has selected UrbanCore Construction as the contractor.
The development involves funding commitments from the city, Virginia Housing, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, and other sources. RRHA would provide rental assistance.
Jordan maintained that the apartments are a missed opportunity to provide a mix of housing options in Jackson Ward, a neighborhood once known as Black Wall Street that lost much of its housing stock when what’s now Interstate 95 was constructed through the middle of it in the late 1950s.
Citing a survey that showed fewer than 20 percent of homes in Jackson Ward are owner-occupied, Jordan said, “This community is not against affordable housing. It’s against the continual chipping away at the foundations of what enabled Jackson Ward to be a nationally recognized incubator for Black wealth building and economic stability.
“Boosting our affordable housing stock to address our housing shortage, and creating opportunities for generational wealth building, are not mutually exclusive,” she said.