Richmond City Council declares homeless emergency

- The Richmond City Council has declared a homeless emergency in the city and authorized a minimum of $300,000 in funding for transitional housing for the homeless.

The council voted unanimously June 19 to declare an emergency, and voted 6-1 to use money collected as so-called "in lieu" fees from developers to build transitional housing. Mayor Tom Butt was the lone "no" vote on the latter measure.

The council declared a homeless emergency in response to a report from the city's homeless task force. Council members Jael Myrick and Melvin Willis recommended appropriating at least $300,000 for transitional housing.

There are approximately 721 homeless people in Richmond, according to a count by the county.

"A lot of homeless folks can't afford housing even if they have a monthly income" such as SSI and SDI checks, said Willis.

Added Myrick, "Other cities have done this. I think it's clear we are in a state of emergency and taking this action shows we are serious about this."

Initially, the task force suggested the phrase "a public health crisis," but Butt said he had learned that using the phrase "emergency" might eventually help qualify the city for state monies, and the wording was added.

The council also redirected $25,000 in unspent homeless outreach funds to the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, a Richmond homeless advocacy group, and voted to allocate at least $300,000 in in-lieu fees to transitional housing.

Developers pay "in lieu" fees as a way of satisfying affordable housing requirements. In lieu of offering below-market housing at an apartment complex, a developer pays a fee that goes into a housing trust fund used to finance affordable housing.

In an interview, Butt said he voted against the measure because there isn't any money in the in-lieu fund.

"The fund is at a deficit right now, but assuming something comes in next year, we can always vote to allocate money then," Butt said.

The mayor, who has been on the City Council since 1995, said the city doesn't have the money to mitigate the homeless problem.

"The county health department has substantial staff and funding. Most of it comes through various Housing and Urban Development programs addressing homelessness. They are the designated local agency to deal with homelessness and they have resources," Butt said.

"Richmond has none and I've always advocated for us to work closely with the county and make sure we get our share of the resources they have," the mayor added.

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