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VIDEO: Mayor Stoney delivers third State of the City Address at VMHC

In his annual State of the City address, Mayor Stoney highlighted three years of progress, laying out his vision in the coming year for what he calls investments and initiatives to make Richmond “the most inclusive, equitable and competitive city in the nation.”

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In his annual State of the City address, Mayor Stoney highlighted three years of progress, laying out his vision in the coming year for what he calls investments and initiatives to make Richmond “the most inclusive, equitable and competitive city in the nation.”

“The state of our city is stronger and more competitive than it’s been in years,” the mayor said. “This is our time, our chance, our opportunity to realize our potential to work together to empower others,” he said.

The mayor shared his upbringing as the son of a returning citizen who struggled to make ends meet for his family and a student who grew up on free and reduced lunch, saying he feels a duty as mayor to be a voice for the voiceless.

“A compassionate government must be in the business of lifting people up, not writing them off,” the mayor said during remarks at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture on Thursday.

“I want everyone to feel that sense of community and support here in the city of Richmond. Each and every day, we are taking positive steps to be the city we want to be.”

The mayor highlighted some of the many accomplishments of his administration in 2019 and over the past three years. He charted Richmond’s progress in doing the “blocking and tackling” of city services.

Since 2017, the city has filled 84,000 potholes, paved over 355 lane miles, repaired 4,700 alleys and placed 30 miles of sidewalks. The Department of Public Works has filled 34,000 potholes in 2019 alone and has paved 188 lane miles since July 2019.

Before 2017, the city frequently filed its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) late. Since 2017, the mayor’s administration has completed every CAFR on time, and the tax collection rate has increased to 97 percent, the highest in 25 years.

The City of Richmond Eviction Diversion Program has prevented 76 individuals and families from losing their homes since October and is on track to meet the goal of diverting between 300 and 500 evictions within a fiscal year. After highlighting the success of the program, the mayor recognized the members of the Eviction Task Force, which is tasked with addressing the root causes of and solutions to Richmond’s housing crisis.

The mayor also noted the city’s plans to continue building One Richmond through initiatives in housing, investments in transportation, and steps to ensure a quality education and workforce empowerment.

City on track to surpass the goal of 1,500 housing units under construction by the end of 2020

In 2018, Mayor Stoney and his administration set a goal of increasing the number of housing units that are affordable by 1,500 by the year 2023. The lofty goal was a response to the increasing demand for housing in a growing city as well as a dearth of housing suitable for vulnerable groups, namely low-income families, veterans, people living with disabilities, the elderly and teens and children living in foster care.

In the speech, the mayor announced that the city is on track to exceed its goal of 1,500 units, with 1,628 units completed or under construction by the end of 2020. Those units will range in area median income from 30 percent to 80 percent, ensuring a variety of affordability levels from below the poverty line to city workforce housing.

In the coming weeks, the city will release its Affordable and Equitable Housing Strategy. The plan will create housing opportunities for renters, homeowners, and those seeking to become homeowners through tools such as tax abatement and zoning reform, tax deferral programs for very low- and low-income homeowners and housing rehabilitation programs.

Ten pieces of city land to be turned into parks and recreational space to address greenspace inequity

Parks and green space play a central role in the quality of life and livability of cities, providing recreational space, exposure to nature and protection from the heat. However, Richmond currently only uses six percent of its land for parks and recreation, compared to the national average of 15 percent. As a result, 51,000 residents of Richmond live further than a 10-minute walk to a park.

To address this disparity, Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, the Mayor’s Office and community partners will join forces with the ultimate goal of identifying 10 pieces of city-owned land to be converted into green spaces. In phase one of this project, the mayor’s “Green Team” will identify and design five potential parcels of land.

The city will partner with leading area experts such as Jeremy Hoffman, Chief Scientist at the Virginia Science Museum, to focus on areas that have proven to be disproportionately vulnerable to climate change while also applying an equity lens, prioritizing areas that have been historically overlooked.

“We will also work closely with these communities to ensure that the green space is designed in a way that meets their needs. This will be a community effort.”

2020 will see the formation of the city’s first Office of Children and Families

Stoney announced that, in 2020, the city will launch Richmond’s first-ever Office of Children and Families, designed to establish citywide goals and evaluate and improve the services provided to children and those who care for them in the City of Richmond. The office will work in partnership with other city agencies and Richmond Public Schools to reduce redundancies and ensure that Richmond is the very best place to grow up and raise a family.

“My administration believes that thriving children are the product of thriving families. The Office of Children and Families will be our north star, setting the direction for the entire city so that we collectively support our families and together lead our children to one destination: a happy, healthy adulthood, no matter their neighborhood or background,” said Mayor Stoney.

The office will be housed within the Human Services portfolio, and its director will report to the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Human Services, Reggie Gordon. Its creation is part of a broader effort to reorganize Human Services to be more person-centered and responsive to community needs.

Contractors and property owners now have the option of contracting with a third-party for permitting in the city

Construction investment in the city has doubled in the past three years to approximately $1 billion in 2019.  And while that is a good thing for growth, the result has been that some have had difficulty in obtaining plan reviews, building permits, and inspections.

By the end of February, the city’s Bureau of Permits and Inspections will initiate a Third-Party Plan Review and Inspections Program that will give developers and property owners the ability to contract directly with qualified, third-party inspection agencies to perform building plan reviews and building inspections in a timely manner.

The program allows contractors and property owners to rely on qualified, registered third-party professionals to perform building plan reviews and building inspections in a timely manner. This will alleviate lengthy wait times, benefitting both residents and the efficiency of the department.

“The important thing is that when we encounter a bump in the road, we don’t let it knock us off our course. We focus on the fix,” said the mayor. “We commit ourselves to the work of problem solving, not problem seeking.”

Third-party program services will include plan reviews, special inspections, limited 48-hour inspections, and unlimited general inspections.

A copy of the Mayor’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found here.

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Bills advance to expand in-state tuition regardless of citizenship status

The state Senate and the House have advanced bills to make students living in the U.S. without documentation eligible for in-state tuition.

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The state Senate and the House have advanced bills to make students living in the U.S. without documentation eligible for in-state tuition.

SB 935, introduced by Democratic Sens. Jennifer Boysko and Ghazala Hashmi, would require a student to provide proof of filed taxes to be eligible for in-state tuition. A student also must have attended high school in Virginia for at least two years, been homeschooled in the state or have passed a high school equivalency exam prior to enrolling in a college. The bill reported out of the House appropriations committee Wednesday and heads to the floor for a vote.

Submitting income tax returns would be a challenge for students straight out of high school who have not worked or filed taxes before, according to Jorge Figueredo, executive director of Edu-Futuro, a nonprofit that seeks to empower immigrant youth and their families.

HB 1547, introduced by Del. Alfonso Lopez, applies the same provisions as SB 935, except the requirement to file proof of filed taxes. The bill is currently in the Senate Health and Education committee.

Immigrant rights advocates have openly supported these two bills. Figueredo said he is “thrilled” to see the bill advance.

“This is something that makes a lot of sense. It’s something where we don’t want to have a group of people to get to a point that they cannot reach their highest potential,” Figueredo said.

Attorney General Mark Herring announced in 2014 that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students would be eligible for in-state tuition. He said Maryland saw an increase in graduation rates after allowing students without documentation to access in-state tuition rates. Maryland officials believe this led less students to drop out of high school because they saw realistic options for continuing education, according to Herring.

There is uncertainty about the future of the DACA program. A study by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis stated that uncertainty creates a risk for students enrolled in Virginia colleges and universities, who fear they could lose DACA status and access to in-state tuition rates. The institute, which studies issues affecting low-to-moderate income residents, recommended that lawmakers could mitigate the potential impact of that loss by expanding in-state tuition access to Virginia residents regardless of immigration status. The institute said that by doing so the state would also provide more affordable access to colleges for residents whose immigration status does not otherwise fall into the categories currently required for in-state tuition.

Figueredo said that allowing these students to apply for in-state tuition would create more opportunities for undocumented students to become professionals, something that would benefit all of Virginia.

High school graduates in Virginia earn about $35,000 on average compared to people with a bachelor’s degree who earn about $65,000 a year, according to The Commonwealth Institute.

“A person that has a higher level of education in comparison to a person that has only a high school diploma, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars that are not captured in the form of taxes, so that’s a direct benefit right there,” Figueredo said.

Katherine Amaya is a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College. Her family emigrated from El Salvador when she was 8 years old. Amaya said she pays out-of-state tuition rates as an undocumented student, about $6,000 per semester, compared to classmates who pay about $2,000 for in-state tuition per semester.

Amaya said she was on the honor roll throughout high school and her first semester in college. She said she was able to apply for scholarships for undocumented students but it was a competitive process. She was awarded a few scholarships and said she was able to use that money for her first semester of college but is afraid she won’t get as much help in the future.

Amaya said she had many friends in high school that were also having a hard time paying for college or university because they were also undocumented and did not qualify for in-state tuition.

“A lot of them, they couldn’t even afford going to community college, so they just dropped out and started working,” Amaya said. “It’s sad, you know, that they don’t have the money or the help to keep going to school.”

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Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard holds town hall in Richmond

Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard greeted an audience of hundreds Tuesday at the Hofheimer Building on West Broad Street with her signature “aloha” before a brief speech and an audience question and answer session.

Capital News Service

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By Zach Armstrong

Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard greeted an audience of hundreds Tuesday at the Hofheimer Building on West Broad Street with her signature “aloha” before a brief speech and an audience question and answer session.

“The clock is running out as we are heading very quickly toward Super Tuesday,” Gabbard said. “There’s nothing I love more than to be here in rooms like this with people like you because this is why I fight.”

Gabbard is the first female combat veteran to run for U.S. president. She also is the first Hindu and one of two female combat veterans to serve in Congress. Elected to the U.S. House in 2012, Gabbard has served on the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.

Gabbard is campaigning on policies that include a green economy based on renewable energy, a single-payer health care system and ending American warfare where foreign regimes are removed by force.

Audience members asked the candidate questions about school choice, the Second Amendment and term limits, among others. In response to Hanover County resident Dalton Luffey’s question about her top priorities, Gabbard said she believes nuclear war is the biggest threat to the world. Gabbard, who said she joined the Army National Guard after 9/11, campaigns on ending the arms race.

“I like Tulsi because she’s willing to have civil discourse and reach across the aisle,” said Whittney Hooks, a middle school teacher from Montross. “A lot of Democrats want a candidate who reflects the country but most of the frontrunners are old white men.”

Gabbard is seen as a divisive figure within the Democratic Party. After Hillary Clinton allegedly suggested that Gabbard is a “favorite of the Russians,” the Hawaii congresswoman filed a lawsuit against Clinton for defamation. Gabbard resigned as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee so that she could endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for president.

Gabbard’s campaign hasn’t fared well in the early Democratic primaries. The candidate received less than 1% of total votes in the Iowa caucuses while she received 3.3% of total votes in the New Hampshire primary. Gabbard has not received any delegates.

Richmond resident Tim Gabbard, who supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, said he attended the town hall after becoming aware of Tulsi Gabbard’s podcasts.

“I love her service to the country. She’s honorable; she fights; she doesn’t back down and she didn’t give into the DNC,” said Tim Gabbard. “She reminds me of Trump, although I wish Trump would speak as eloquently as she does, but at the end of the day they both put our country first.”

Before Virginia Democrats cast their ballot on March 3 to help determine Trump’s opponent in the 2020 general election, the Nevada caucus will be held on Feb. 22 and the South Carolina primary will take place Feb. 29.

During the town hall, Tulsi Gabbard asked by a show of hands how many audience members were Democrats, Republicans or neither with a seemingly even amount of respondents for each choice.

“Look around,” said Tulsi Gabbard. “This is the representation of America.”

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Planning officials unveil conceptual renderings of a future, higher-density Scott’s Addition

Richmond planning officials unveiled a preliminary vision for the Greater Scott’s Addition neighborhood Tuesday evening at Diversity Richmond. The meeting was the third of four held by the Richmond 300 commission studying ways to encourage smart growth, best and highest use cases for future development and redevelopment, and create recommendations for zoning and planning policies that foster cohesiveness neighborhood-wide.

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Richmond planning officials unveiled a preliminary vision for the Greater Scott’s Addition neighborhood Tuesday evening at Diversity Richmond. The meeting was the third of four held by the Richmond 300 commission studying ways to encourage smart growth, best and highest use cases for future development and redevelopment, and create recommendations for zoning and planning policies that foster cohesiveness neighborhood-wide.

While the committees are studying areas around the city, the Scott’s Addition neighborhood is unique in its areas of opportunity, including nearly 30 acres of largely vacant land around The Diamond. Using input from over 1,000 respondents to a survey asking residents and other stakeholders what characteristics future development in the neighborhood should have, planning officials unveiled high-level renderings and cordoned the neighborhood off into six distinct districts. For the purposes of this study, Scott’s Addition encompasses approximately 800 acres and stretches from I-195 on the western bound to Lombardy Street on the east; I-95 on the north to West Broad Street on the south.

The largest and most dense, the Gateway District, would see the encouragement of cohesive, high-density development along Arthur Ashe Boulevard near the Diamond site. Other areas including the “core” of the Scott’s Addition Historic District would remain mixed-use industrial to allow for a variety of uses from single story warehouses to six-to-twelve-story buildings as is currently the case.

The plan emphasizes tenets including open space, affordable housing, walkability, density, and access to transit. De-emphasized are lower density uses like single-story buildings and parking lots, which are no longer allowed as “by right” developments per code.

The renderings were presented on printed boards, charette-style, for attendees to reflect on and leave feedback via sticky notes. Planning officials including Director of Planning Mark Olinger were on hand to answer questions and give clarification. Mayor Levar Stoney opened the meeting with his thoughts on cohesive development, and Second District Councilmember Kim Gray was on hand as well.

After gathering additional feedback from stakeholders, planning staff will create draft recommendations that will guide future growth and development and present a final plan in May.

See the full presentation (PDF) here.

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