The Better Housing Coalition (BHC) has received a transformative $3 million grant from Altria Group to help address social and racial equity disparities within the Greater Richmond region by accelerating its production of affordable housing. The grant will help underwrite the development and preservation of at least 1,000 units of quality, affordable, and service-enriched housing for modest-income families in the Richmond region over the next three years. Through these units, BHC expects to serve a minimum of 2,000 low-to-moderate income residents, the majority of which will be people of color. The gift is the largest single corporate gift to BHC in its 33-year history.
BHC plans to leverage this remarkable investment by raising a capital pool of at least $10 million to provide critical gap financing for affordable housing, underwrite support services for BHC residents and enhance BHC’s organizational capacity building for greater sustainability and impact. When complete, the initiative should catalyze an estimated total economic investment of more than $150 million in our region, and generate significant new property tax revenues for local government.
The Richmond region has a long and complicated history of racially discriminatory housing policies and practices that were implicitly upheld by private industry. As examples, the methodical redlining of neighborhoods drove disinvestment in majority Black communities; restrictive deed covenants kept Black families from purchasing homes in popular neighborhoods; and predatory lending practices allowed financial institutions to charge higher interest rates to people of color. While illegal now, the after-effects of these intentional policies still linger in the form of racially segregated neighborhoods, underperforming schools, low homeownership rates and widening wealth gaps for families of color.
“Housing alone does not solve systemic racism, but it offers a foundation for families to experience security, stability and hope for a brighter future,” said Greta J. Harris, BHC’s President and CEO. “This is a significant undertaking and we are most grateful for Altria’s investment in our work and commitment to transforming our region.”
BHC’s strategic approach is informed by a 2019 report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies which found that 1) nearly half of all renter households pay 30% or more of their annual income on rent, with lower income households hit hardest; 2) low-income housing is disappearing; and 3) home ownership is out of reach for many due to flat wages. The country’s affordable housing crisis and growing income disparities are on full display in the Richmond region, and these inequities have been exacerbated by the current global health pandemic.
“Safe, secure and affordable housing is foundational in creating a pathway to economic mobility for families in the Richmond region,” said Jennifer Hunter, Altria’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Citizenship. “Investing in Better Housing Coalition and its community partners reflects Altria’s commitment to help address racial and economic inequities leading to a more inclusive and equitable community.”
In tandem with ramping up the supply of affordable rental units over the next three years, BHC also plans to create wealth-building home ownership opportunities for a minimum of 50 households; and scale up its resident support service offerings so that more residents may experience greater health, academic and economic outcomes. As one example, BHC will provide telehealth services to at least 200 very low-income senior residents, allowing them to more safely and proactively manage their health and age in place.
Altria contributed $1.75 million in late 2020 and will provide the remaining balance in 2021 and 2022.