Feb 24, 2016
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Richmond’s battle against the blight created by troubled and abandoned properties is about to benefit from expert advice and strategies from an invitation-only national program.

Richmond was one of nine cities chosen to send representatives to the 2016 Community Progress Leadership Institute on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., from March 15-18.

The program, which comes at no cost to the city, will provide leadership, technical skills and strategies to address problem properties, Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said.

Representatives from Richmond attending the program include members of the city’s code enforcement unit, which is the city’s one-stop shop for blight abatement, as well as the mayor’s office, County Supervisor John Gioia’s office and Richmond Community Foundation, Lindsay said.

“The City of Richmond has been battling the vacant, foreclosed and zombie property crisis for over seven years,” Mayor Tom Butt said in a statement.

Butt noted the city has already launched multiple pioneering strategies to address blight issues, which is part of the reason it has been invited to the East Coast.

The city’s code enforcement unit landscapes empty lots, tries out new technology to prevent squatting, illegal activity and fires, and even goes as far as tearing down the city’s most dilapidated homes. There’s also a smartphone app available to residents where they can report blight to the city. Recently, a herd of goats was used to gobble up overgrowth in a North Richmond empty lot, aiming to make the property lot less attractive to illegal dumpers.

Last month, a sophisticated and innovative strategy officially started in the city to use social impact bonds to acquire, rehabilitate and resell blighted homes. The homes are expected to be sold at affordable prices to lower-income homeowners, who will meanwhile receive support services from financial advisers.

Joining Richmond at the Leadership Institute in March will be Oakland, Washington D.C., Fresno, Richmond, Va., and the Pennsylvania cities of Erie, York and Harrisburg. All cities range in population from 40,000 to 700,000 and have citywide housing vacancy rates ranging between 8 and 19-percent, according to a Mayor’s Office statement.

The program is sponsored by the nonprofit Center for Community Progress.

The photo above shows a Richmond property that was demolished by the city’s code enforcement unit because it was a problem home that attracted blight. The following photo is what the property looked like after the code enforcement unit’s work was done.

A blighted Richmond property was torn down as part of a plan to reduce neighborhood blight.


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.