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An Open Letter Re: Chesterfield's General Distress

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Dear Chesterfield County,

We all realize the county is suffering from an economic recession, perhaps disproportionately so from the aftershocks of the subprime mortgage meltdown, what with gobs of unsold subdivision plots and people buried under $350,000 pressboard-and-glue McMansions.

But is the entire county truly suffering from significant poverty and unemployment? Is all of Chesterfield under siege from home foreclosures? Your political leadership obviously thinks so. Recount the resolution passed Dec. 2: “The Board has determined that the entire County is in an area having significant poverty, unemployment, rate of home foreclosures and/or general distress.”

Sure, it's just a formality. You needed to declare as much in order to qualify for President Obama's much-touted Recovery Zone federal stimulus program, for which localities can float bonds to rebuild poverty-stricken communities and receive stimulus checks to cover a portion of the interest — as much as 45 percent.

Richmond did this too. But the city actually suffers from significant poverty (thanks in part to your refusal to share in the responsibility to provide public housing to those who are unemployed and living in “general distress”). Overall, the city had an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent in 2009, according to the Virginia Unemployment Commission. There are sections of the city where nearly 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. In Chesterfield, the unemployment rate for the year checked in at 6.8 percent, about the state average.

Henrico County, which registered 7 percent unemployment in 2009, designated only a couple of communities as recovery zones — the areas around Lakeside, Monument Avenue (OK, perhaps a stretch) and Highland Springs.

Chesterfield may have its pockets of low-income residents, and even those living below the poverty line (think of Jeff Davis Highway), but the county's economic development team certainly doesn't ascribe to the notion that the entire county is suffering from “significant poverty.”

It certainly isn't how the Chesterfield Economic Development Department describes the county on its Web site, which boasts that “Business Starts Here.” It describes the county as “a thriving, affluent, suburban community located in the Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area. Chesterfield is recognized for its prime mid-Atlantic location and a robust economy.”

Especially if you're in a recovery zone.

— Scott Bass

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