The Model Housing Block Development in North Church Hill: Building Partnerships for Success
A unique neighborhood-revitalization collaborative consisting of business partners from Greater Richmond’s public and private sectors proves that lasting, positive change in urban neighborhoods is possible with the right mix of vision, leadership, and sweat equity. Ten years in the making, an initiative undertaken by these partners to revitalize The Model Housing Block Development in North Church Hill is coming to fruition.
Over the past several years, much planning and work has been done to help address vacant properties and blighted homes in Church Hill. In 2004, the City of Richmond Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), in partnership with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, began a large scale acquisition of vacant and blighted properties. Some of the properties were purchased from absentee owners. Others were purchased from estates or through delinquent tax sales.
More recently, In 2011, the City of Richmond planning staff brought together Project:HOMES, the Better Housing Coalition, Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation, and Housing Opportunities Made Equal to initiate a strategic approach toward transforming these blighted and vacant homes into livable and affordable housing. Together, the City and the non-profit housing organizations devised a master plan to revitalize the 1300 blocks of North 26th and North 27th streets. This master plan became known as the Model Housing Block development. At the time, these blocks were a collection of fifty three parcels, which contained thirty severely blighted structures, coupled with vacant, overgrown, and empty lots.
Under the leadership of City of Richmond planners from the Department of Economic and Community Development, these four non-profit organizations agreed to work collaboratively to develop affordable housing on these blocks. Each organization committed to build batches of two to three homes in close proximity to one another. This collective approach minimized overall risk to each organization and provided a greater neighborhood impact. As construction began on the first set of homes, excitement for the joint project grew quickly. In 2012, new homeowners occupied the first homes completed in the project. Since then, five more homes have been built and sold to individuals and families with young children. Some of the buyers are new to the neighborhood, and a few of the buyers have multi-generational ties to Church Hill.
In 2013, three of these original four housing organizations submitted a first-ever, combined grant application to the City of Richmond Department of Economic and Community Development to develop homes on most of the remaining lots on these blocks. Better Housing Coalition, Project:Homes, and Housing Opportunities Made Equal comprised the grant-making group. The combined application was awarded earlier this year. When completed, the Model Housing Block development will consist of twenty-six new and four rehabilitated homes of varying styles and sizes to support the diverse housing needs of the neighborhood.
If you take a walk through these blocks today, you will see a lot of construction activity. When you couple this work with that of Project:Homes and Bon Secours Richmond Health System along the 1300 block 28th Street, you will notice a lot of revitalization that will bring new opportunities for affordable housing to the neighborhood.
To support environmental sustainability, plans are also being finalized for a “green alley” that will run behind the 1300 block of North 26th and North 27th Street between T and S streets. In addition to providing off-street parking, the green alley will feature a surface that will serve as a storm water retention device to slow the release of runoff into the city sewer system and to help improve the water quality of the James River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. A competitive grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will help fund the green alley that will help reduce stormwater management fees to Model Housing Block residents.