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Lower-Income Housing Options Are Headed for Richmond Neighborhoods

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Affordable housing seems to be coming to Union Hill and Church Hill — whether residents like it or not.

The Citadel of Hope development moved forward last week after a city review board asked the Better Housing Coalition to make some cosmetic adjustments. Concerns about the height of the buildings weren’t enough to stop the project.

The development will bring 52 apartments in five new buildings and an existing structure to be renovated on a 2.1-acre, L-shaped site bound by Venable, Carrington and Jessamine streets. Residents must earn between $25,000 and $45,000 a year to live there.

The project would bring quality housing choices to a neighborhood that’s rapidly becoming unaffordable, said Greta Harris, president of the Better Housing Coalition.

Commission member David Cooley said he agreed with the goal, “but that unit number, 52, caught you in a wringer,” suggesting it was too many to fit on the lot.

Harris said the organization needed to build that many apartments to get low-income housing tax credits. Other than the tax break, she noted, the project is privately funded.

Mary Field spoke in opposition to the proposed structures, calling them overwhelming and concerned that, like other nearby developments, they would “suck the air out of that street.”

Union Hill resident Nancy Lampert was also opposed to the project. “Better Housing Coalition was a blip on the radar when we moved in,” she said, “and now suddenly they know what’s best for the area.”

But Mary White Thompson, who said she’s lived in the area for 60 years, called the organization a good partner.

“The Better Housing Coalition never tried to thrust anything upon us,” Thompson said. “The question was, ‘What do you want?’ And as we gave them our dreams and our desires, so they built. The projects are quality. I am hoping we can put this to bed. It would be beautiful in that particular area.”

Several residents of other apartments run by the nonprofit spoke in support of its management.

Three commission members who voted against the proposal, Cooley, Bryan Clark Green and James Klaus, cited concerns about the buildings’ height.

Longtime Church Hill resident Jean McDaniel said opposition was unwarranted. “Church Hill Association is against it and they wanted Union Hill Association to be against it,” she said.

“It’s such an elitist, not-in-my-backyard organization,” McDaniel said. “They cloak it as this aesthetic thing, but they just don’t want these low-income projects.”

The president of the Church Hill Association, John Sieg refutes that, saying the Association has never taken a position on the Citadel of Hope project and had done nothing to influence the Union Hill Association on the project.

Thompson, who spoke in favor of the Citadel project, helped found New Visions Civic League of East End, which claims a small neighborhood north of Union Hill.

“I’m getting older and I want to see some things in my community before my time is up,” Thompson said. “Maybe some who’re just moving into the community, they can’t see all I can see.”

Last week’s packed meeting was the last chance for the public to weigh in on the Citadel project. But on the other side of the neighborhood, a battle is just beginning over the Glenwood Ridge Apartments and a plan to demolish a trolley barn there.

Robert Gordon, chairman of the Church Hill Association’s historic preservation and land use committee, expressed the association’s opposition to the project, at 3801 Glenwood Ave., during last week’s City Council meeting.

The developer of Glenwood Ridge, South Carolina-based nonprofit the Humanities Foundation, proposes 82 units of affordable housing and must go through several steps and commissions for approval.

But Gordon suggested that the apartments were a “foregone conclusion.”

Gordon referred to Mayor Levar Stoney’s speech about poverty made earlier in the evening, but said the development would result in furthering a concentration of poverty “in an area of town that does not need that to happen.”

“We’re still dealing with the issue of mass transit,” Gordon said.

A meeting about it is scheduled for March 30 at the Powhatan Recreation Center. S

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misquoted a portion of Nancy Lampert's statement. Also, since the print edition has appeared, we have added a statement from the Church Hill Association that refutes a characterization by a resident of its stand on the Citadel of Hope project and clarifies that the association has taken no official stand. Style regrets the error.

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