Richmond City Council Meeting: Summary and Year Highlights

On Monday, February 27th, students from the University of Richmond took a shuttle to Richmond City Hall to learn more about the structure of local government and get insight into the political process. URGov and the Civic Engagement Center sponsored this trip to give students an interactive experience with the important governing institutions in Richmond. Here are some of the highlights of the event, and a recap of the City Council and the work they have done during the past year. 

After students took the shuttle downtown, they met with City Hall employees and went to a meeting room upstairs to have dinner and introduce themselves to one another. Kim Dean-Anderson, CCE Director of Community Relations, was in attendance to help lead introductions and brief students on the City Council and the work they do. Everyone attending then had the chance to talk about where they were from, and their experiences with local government in their hometowns. A variety of majors, graduating classes, and backgrounds were represented in the room. One common reason for students coming on the excursion was because they wanted to learn more about local governmental systems, which can often be overlooked in political discussions. Many students had never attended a city hall meeting before and hoped to see the deliberation involved in creating city-level public policy.

 After dinner and discussions, students went into the chamber. This meeting was particularly well attended, with the audience packed with nearly 150 members from Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities, or RISC (WRIC). During the open comment period of the meeting, many members from RISC spoke to the council about the City’s inability to address rising rental prices and build affordable housing. Many members from this group shared their experiences with out-of-control rents that took up a large percentage of their income, lack of repairs for mobile homes, and overall emphasized the worsening housing problem facing the city. RISC members chiefly criticized the City of Richmond for their inability to use money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to address these issues. According to local station ABC News 8, RISC is asking the City Council to release approximately $2.5 million from this fund for affordable housing projects. The group wants the city to also continue investing in these projects long-term, with millions of dollars more allocated in the coming years.

Many members of RISC noted that the Council must use this trust fund, created just a few years ago, for its intended purpose of alleviating the housing crisis. Not doing so would amount to a broken promise, which the RISC stressed was unacceptable. Along with RISC concerns, other community members in attendance spoke about issues ranging from additional landlord regulations to personal grievances for which they allege the city did not address. Those attending the excursion were able to hear these important grievances, which came from community members across the city. However, while many in the public spoke on issues close to them, council members were not permitted to directly respond to criticisms or concerns during the comment period because of legislative body rules.

The City of Richmond has faced a multitude of issues in recent years. Obviously, affordable housing has been a concern for many cities across the country, and Richmond is no exception. Nancy Kunkel, a member from RISC who spoke at the meeting in support of releasing money from the trust fund, noted that nearly 40,000 affordable housing units would be needed for low-income renters to adequately address the housing shortage (WRIC). Beyond affordable housing, issues surrounding urban sprawl, climate change, and the impact of COVID-19 on community health have also come to the attention of City Council members. Based on legislation already passed or proposed – which has been commented on in previous meeting minutes posted on URGov – the city council has attempted to address these issues. Funding for new bike lanes to address transportation and safety concerns, the creation of RVAgreen 2050 to mitigate greenhouse emissions and prepare the city for the impact of climate change, along with zoning changes to address the housing crisis are among the solutions the council has toiled with in looking to solve these problems. Whether this legislation can address these issues comprehensively is another question that the City Council will try and answer in the coming years.

Next semester, URGov and the CCE will continue sponsoring excursions to City Hall and the School Board so students can get insight into the local political process in Richmond City. These excursions will help students interact with and see public deliberation firsthand. Trips are always open to any major or class year and require no formal knowledge or exposure to these institutions. We hope you take advantage of these excursions, which will be posted on Spiderbytes and promoted on campus leading up to the specific event. Students who want to get more involved in public policy are encouraged to come to the CCE center to learn about the opportunities available to them.

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