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Government

VIDEO: Three contenders vie for 5th District City Council seat

Richmonders will decide Tuesday among three candidates for the 5th District City Council seat.

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By Libby Dozier

Tuesday marks the last day for Richmonders to cast their vote in the upcoming election, including the 5th District City Council seat.

The candidates include incumbent Stephanie Lynch, who was elected in last year’s special election; Jer’Mykeal McCoy, a business development manager; and Mamie Taylor, a former School Board member. Taylor Maloney, VCU’s student body president, announced plans to run as a write-in candidate at the end of September. Nicholas Da Silva, a fourth candidate who also ran for the seat last year, dropped out of the race in September though he remains on the ballot.

Each candidate has priorities they wish to address should they win the election.

Lynch and McCoy want to improve city schools. Lynch said she’s pushing to modernize schools and have adequate pay for teachers. McCoy also wants to create a summer jobs program to partner young people with local businesses and provide them with increased opportunities.

McCoy said he intends to address Richmond’s high eviction numbers. The city had the second-highest eviction rates in the country in 2016, according to an analysis by Princeton University.

“This crisis is bigger than our city, but it’s disproportionately going to hurt our city,” McCoy said. “So we have to make sure we have the resources in place to help folks weather this economic storm.”

Lynch said years of systemic racism in zoning and education policies have contributed to Richmond’s nearly 25% poverty rate.

“It is up to us to try and fix the years’ worth of systemic and institutional oppression that was intentionally placed on certain community members,” Lynch said.

Lynch and McCoy also intend to prioritize affordable housing development in Richmond. Both have endorsed Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed $10 million commitment to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Lynch co-patroned a resolution approved recently by council that calls on the mayor to find a dedicated source of funding for the fund.

Lynch and McCoy agreed with the need to decentralize where new affordable housing developments are placed.

“I think historically, we have seen that when you pack portions of our city with low income, black and brown communities,” McCoy said. “The economic disparities are exacerbated in terms of access to jobs, housing and transportation. And, so I think we have to right the wrongs of the past and get it right.”

Lynch and McCoy have different approaches to handling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lynch wants to create an emergency relief fund for citizens struggling with the financial challenges of the pandemic. She proposed earlier this year to use $5 million of surplus funds in the city budget to create such a relief fund. Richmond City Council ultimately voted to allocate the money elsewhere.

“When there’s extra food on the table, let everybody eat is how I feel and that $5 million belongs to the people,” Lynch said. “We could give it right back directly to people that are struggling the most. Instead, my colleagues chose to put it into a retirement fund to fund police pensions.”

McCoy said he would focus on increasing citizen and small business access to resources. McCoy said he would also ensure that the public is properly informed about Centers for Disease Control safety guidelines and encourage cooperation with surrounding counties.

“I think that was one of the major challenges early on is that the guidance was at a place Richmond would have it’s own set of guidelines, Henrico would have theirs, Chesterfield has theirs,” McCoy said. “But we only share like a border.”

When asked about police reform Lynch and McCoy had similar sentiments. Both support the creation of a civilian review board to oversee cases of police misconduct and the creation of additional emergency response services. Lynch supports an emergency response system staffed by qualified mental health professionals. City Council approved a resolution to create a plan for such a system that pairs police with mental health professionals to deescalate situations involving individuals facing a mental health crisis.

Lynch has raised a little more than $77,000 since January and McCoy raised almost $40,000 since late April, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Da Silva raised just under $3,000 this year and no totals were listed for Taylor.

Taylor and Maloney did not respond to requests for an interview.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

Government

Early voting opens in Virginia; same-day registration new this year

Virginia voters can cast their ballots for the November election starting Friday, Sept. 23. Legislators have passed in recent years voting reform measures that expand access to the polls, including a new law that allows same-day voter registration.

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By Natalie Barr

Virginia voters can cast their ballots for the November election starting Friday, Sept. 23.

Voters can submit absentee ballots by mail or in person at their local registrar’s office, commonly referred to as early voting. No application or reason is necessary to vote early. Some jurisdictions may have additional satellite locations, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Early in-person voting will also be held the two Saturdays preceding Election Day. In-person early voting ends on Nov. 5, the Saturday before the election.

New this year is the ability to register to vote up to and on Election Day. Any voters who register after the Oct. 17 deadline will be given a provisional ballot. Legislators have passed voting reform measures in recent years that expand access to the polls.

VCU Votes, a student-led coalition at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, educates students on the importance of voting, according to the organization’s mission statement. The coalition recently held a student voter registration event on National Voter Registration Day.

Cameron Hart, director of partnerships for VCU Votes, said the group also promotes the importance of elections. Students need the space to educate themselves and develop their own thoughts and make their own decisions, Hart said.

“It’s very important to vote and use your voice and exercise that civic duty,” Hart said.

Many students who came to the event were already registered to vote, Hart said. Hart wants people to view voting as important for all elections, not just presidential races.

“I feel like it’s important to vote in any election, but also stressing the importance of voting locally,” Hart said. “This election is directly affecting us. If you feel a certain way about a law, voting can help express your voice in order to maybe reverse that law.”

The upcoming election will be the first time voting for physical therapy student Nikolett Kormos. Kormos, a freshman, said she registered to vote at the event.

“I think it’s super important to vote, and for young people to vote,” Kormos said. “It keeps us educated.”

Absentee ballots will be mailed starting Sept. 23 to military and overseas voters, and to anyone who has applied to receive one, according to a state Department of Elections press release.

Voters can request a mail-in absentee ballot through the Department of Elections site until Oct. 28. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 and received by the registrar no later than noon on the third day following the election, according to the Department of Elections. Mailed ballots also require a witness signature. Ballots can be dropped off at the registrar’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Voters can direct questions to their general registrar’s office or the Department of Elections, where they can also see what types of identification are accepted.

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Crime

New VCU study directly connects derelict properties to risk of violence in Richmond neighborhoods

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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By Brian McNeill, VCU News

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Negligent landlords contribute significantly to violence in Richmond neighborhoods via the environment,” said lead author Samuel West, Ph.D., an alum of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia State University. “This impact was above and beyond the impact of those who live in these neighborhoods in terms of the state of their respective properties.”

West and other researchers at VCU collected data on violence events, tax delinquency of company-owned properties (such as rental homes and apartments), tax delinquency of personal properties, population density, race, income, food stamps and alcohol outlets for each of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

Tax delinquency of company-owned properties was the only variable that predicted violence in all but four of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

The researchers replicated the analysis using violence data for a different time period and found the same result.

“The key finding here was that the company delinquency was a stronger or more important correlate of violence than personal delinquency,” said West, who initiated the project while serving as a postdoctoral researcher with the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health.

The study, “Comparing Forms of Neighborhood Instability as Predictors of Violence in Richmond, VA,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

In addition to West, the study was authored by Diane L. Bishop, an instructor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in the School of Medicine; Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health and an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health; and Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., director of research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center.

The findings are consistent with previous research that suggests “slumlord buyout programs” are tied to reduced violence in cities, West said. For example, a program in Philadelphia purchased neglected properties in the East Liberty neighborhood and provided them to community residents to renovate and rehabilitate. It led to a decline in violence over a sustained period of time, West said.

“Although we acknowledge this would be a massive effort, the data do support the use of such programs to curb violence among other social difficulties,” West said. “I believe that Richmond is a perfect place to attempt a program like this at a larger scale than was done in Philadelphia (i.e., a single neighborhood).”

There are no laws in Virginia protecting tenants from eviction if their landlord loses their rental property to state property auction, West said. In Richmond, along with most medium to large cities, delinquent properties are seized and auctioned off to recoup costs, he said.

“When this happens, the winners of the auction are typically given carte blanche to decide what to do with the tenants as they no longer have a valid contractual agreement,” he said. “This aspect greatly endangers the residential stability of our neighborhoods.”

West was inspired to explore this topic through his observation of dilapidated buildings next to new construction in Richmond.

“Given the preponderance of real estate development and the aggressive housing market in Richmond, it seemed important to better understand how these seemingly inane facets of our society may impact some of our deepest problems,” he said.

The researchers hope their findings will contribute to a growing perspective by scholars that research should break away from the traditional view that members of a community hold the majority of the blame for violence that occurs there.

“Our work, along with other recent research, emphasizes that we need to be examining and addressing the impacts of forces from outside high-violence communities that carry such major consequences,” West said.

He added, however, that individual autonomy might also be considered a key factor.

“Social psychologists place a major emphasis on autonomy as a psychological need. In the case of a negligent landlord, the tenant(s) may live in a constant state of highly salient violations of their own autonomy which may further undermine attempts to improve the conditions of their own communities,” he said. “As evinced by the East Liberty project from Philadelphia, when this autonomy is restored, it is used in a productive fashion such that it improves the quality of life and safety of all in their communities through restoring their collective efficacy.”

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Downtown

New tool allows you to find out whether you’ll receive a $250 tax rebate from the Commonwealth

Over the last few days, the Virginia Department of Taxation began the process of sending out roughly 3.2 million tax rebate payments of up to $250 per person.

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By Graham Moomaw

Over the last few days, the Virginia Department of Taxation began the process of sending out roughly 3.2 million tax rebate payments of up to $250 per person.

But not everybody is getting one. Eligibility for the one-time rebates, a result of huge revenue surpluses filling up state coffers, depends on how much a filer owed in state taxes for 2021.

To help people find out if they’ve got money coming their way in the next few weeks, tax officials published an online tool Monday that lets Virginians check their eligibility.

The website, which can be found here, allows taxpayers to type in their Social Security number/tax identification number and zip code, and then shows them how much money they can expect to receive.

The rebates, most of which will go out via check or direct deposit by Oct. 10, were part of the bipartisan budget deal the General Assembly approved in June. The exact timing of the payments depends on when a taxpayer filed their return, but officials have said all rebates should be completed by the end of the year.

At a budget meeting last week, tax officials said they expect to send out about 1.9 million checks and 1.3 million direct deposit payments at a rate of roughly 250,000 rebates per day.

Some taxpayers will have their rebates sent somewhere else to help settle an outstanding debt, but tax officials have said they are planning to explain where the money went in those cases.

The state has also boosted its call-center resources in anticipation of an influx of calls from taxpayers asking about the rebates. During a similar rebate initative in 2019 that involved smaller payments, the state received roughly 60,000 phone calls, according to Virginia Tax Commissioner Craig M. Burns.

“I expect we’ll receive probably north of that again this time,” Burns told the House Appropriations Committee last week.

“You might get 60,000 calls,” joked Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. “If they’re not there on Nov. 1, we’re going to get 60,000 also.”

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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