Richmond mayor told residents Monday that he would focus on racial equity in a second term. But activists point to his track record.
RICHMOND- Yesterday, Levar Stoney began his second term as the mayor of Richmond. And while many have celebrated, racial justice advocates are not optimistic. Since May, protests against racial injustice have broken out across the city. And since then, Stoney and protesters have clashed.
However, despite his track record, Stoney promised to make good on his past mistakes, by focusing on racial equity. Organizers look at his speech from Monday, however. They’re worried that there’s not much to be excited about.
“At this point, it’s almost laughable to hear the empty promises of what he is saying he’s going to bring,” said Kalia Harris, a Movement Vote organizer, co-executive director and organizer for VSPN. From May to December, Mayor Levar Stoney, alongside other Virginia political leaders, has legislatively intervened on protesters.
But, during his swearing in ceremony, Stoney said that he’s willing to reach across the table and listen.
“I’m willing to compromise to get something done for the greater good of this community. But also that means everyone has to at least consider compromise,” said Stoney.
Words and Actions Don’t Line Up
However, the mayor’s actions and his words aren’t always lining up. During his speech, Stoney made it clear that one of his priorities is tackling the city’s housing crisis.
However, the city has plans to demolish affordable housing currently in the area. Last Oct., The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners endorsed demolishing the Creighton Court public housing complex. This raised concerns as it was during a major eviction crisis. So far, the city of Richmond alone has the most upcoming eviction hearings, with 796 scheduled in the next month.
“He’s going to focus on increasing black and Brown homeownership and focusing on leading with his heart and following justice,” said Harris. “And that’s not what we need. People are being told to stay at home wear masks, and if you don’t have the ability to actually have a home, that’s a real problem”
Housing Crisis in Richmond
Right now, Richmond is in the midst of a housing crisis. Even before the pandemic, housing insecurity in the city was a major issue. Now, the pandemic has only made it worse. Evictions are at an all-time high, while the public housing waiting list is longer than ever. Now the RRHA wants to demolish nearly 200 complexes of affordable housing to create a “mixed income neighborhood.”
To Harris, focusing on home ownership doesn’t attack the root of the problem.
“He’s basically saying: I want to focus on building public housing as the city is saying that they’re going to demolish neighborhoods with no one-to-one replacement on units,” said Harris. “And then we also have the fact that there are people just on the streets during this pandemic. And so he needs to really be taking seriously the issue of housing enrichment and also ability to have access to it.”
Right now, the RRHA still needs federal approval from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But, if the proposal goes through, there’s no guarantee that the new housing will go towards current Creighton Court residents. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the company Armstrong Renaissance will build 260 homes for people of varying economic backgrounds. The RRHA is seeking to relocate Creighton Court residents by next spring.
Will Richmond Defund the Police?
Since May, there have been calls to defund the police all across the country, including Richmond. Not many RVA legislators have answered that call. Last year, lawmakers made great strides when it came to reforming police procedures. But in terms of defunding them, not much progress was made. In fact, just the opposite.
In Nov. of 2020, Gov. Northam released a plan that revealed over half of Virginia’s $9 million budget to legalize marijuana would go to law enforcement. According to advocates, if Stoney really wanted make strides, defunding is where to start.
“I think that Stoney really does need to start to be a leader on public safety in a way that is not giving police more power and more money,” said Harris. ” The community is still demanding that the police are defunded in Richmond. And so taking a step to actually start to defund the police is something I would love to see during Stoney’s time here.”
Failure with the Navy Hill Project
One the biggest issues with Stoney’s first term was the Navy Hill Project. Introduced in 2017, Stoney had a plan to build a colosseum in downtown Richmond. Working alongside Dominion Energy and Altria, Stoney was accused of prioritizing corporate interests over what was best for residents.
“It’s ridiculous to think that money is going directly from Dominion into Stoney’s pockets while Richmonders are struggling, waiting for our stimulus check bill so that we can pay dominion to keep electricity on and keep ourselves out of debt,” said Harris. ” It’s infuriating to think that he is still in Dominion’s pockets. Whether it’s an arena now, or some project later down the road, we can anticipate that he will be working on behalf of these corporations.”
The City Council shut down the project last February, for numerous reasons including the hefty $1.5 billion price tag.
“If we had given all that money to construct this huge arena when we’re a year into a pandemic where we have to socially distance and we can’t be in enclosed spaces together would have been a real waste,” said Harris. “And so I think it’s incredibly important that we have public input into these processes. “
During his speech, Stoney vowed to involve the community more in city decisions. However, he hasn’t released any information yet on how he plans to do so.
In terms of Navy Hill, while the City Council shut down the proposal, but Stoney’s hasn’t tossed the plan out entirely. While he did not share any plans for Navy Hill, he did talk about improving his relationship with the City Council.
“I think you’re going to see me lean into more of the relationship building this time around,” Stoney said. “So I’m in the business of making more friends, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do over the next few months because I think there’s some big projects and opportunities ahead for the city, and we’re going to need them involved in the process as well.”
Upcoming Casino Project
While Navy Hill is on hiatus, Stoney says he’s trying to make good on his promise for more community involvement. Right now, Stoney is working building developers to build a casino in Henrico. While nothing has been set in stone just yet, city officials have already reached out to Richmonders to see what they’d want from this casino.
“A competitive selection process will allow us to assess the best opportunity for Richmond,” Stoney said in a statement. “This survey is your opportunity to make sure the development proposals reflect your priorities, such as living-wage jobs, sustainable building practices and investment in the community.”
According to a story from VPM, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe did announce their plans to open casino with the mayor’s help. The city, along with an outside consulting firm, plans to evaluate the proposals and select a casino operator sometime between February and June this year. This November, Richmond voters will be able to decide whether or not to approve the casino in a ballot referendum.
If you’d like to reach out to Stoney’s office, you can send him a message through his website or email his office at firstname.lastname@example.org.. You can also reach out to your district’s city council member through their website.
Arianna Coghill is a content producer with Dogwood. You can reach her at email@example.com.