September 22, 2016; Richmond Times Dispatch

Best known for investing in rundown, vacant properties with the goal of neighborhood revitalization and drawing investors, the Better Housing Coalition (BHC) in Richmond, Virginia is trying a new tactic. In “their largest investment to date,” the nonprofit recently acquired a former Quality Inn in the neighborhood called Scott’s Addition through a competitive bidding process, with plans of creating an entire block of mixed-income apartments.

Once a sleepy industrial space, the Scott’s Addition area has benefited from millions of dollars in private investments leading to the development of breweries, cafes, restaurants and apartments. Such areas typically are not in BHC’s purview; however, the investment makes perfect sense. Rather than invest in neighborhoods on the front-end and try to persuade private investors to join, BHC is flipping this process around. Their project brings affordable housing to an area that is already vibrant, growing, and experiencing rising rents. According to BHC spokeswoman Stacie Birchett, “Scott’s Addition is a high profile, rapidly developing neighborhood. Rents are rapidly rising out of reach for a lot of modest-income families.”

BHC’s new strategy is smart for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the investment is less risky for BHC than some of their other projects. They already know investors are interested in Scott’s Addition, so their work technically is done once their project is complete. Furthermore, many of the future residents could perceivably attain employment in the businesses that are popping up around Scott’s Addition. This enables families who have difficulty finding transportation to hold a steady job.

In terms of amenities for the future residents, the building is one block away from a Greater Richmond Transit Company rapid transit bus stop. The region feeds children into the highly ranked William Fox Elementary school, although the middle and high schools, Albert Hill and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, are not rated as highly. Future plans for the area include creating retail stores as well as green space for families.

In response to a request for comment regarding why BHC chose Scott’s Addition for their new project, Vice President of External Affairs Chris Hairston-White said, “The Better Housing Coalition is excited to offer a more affordable housing option in a choice location to citizens with modest means. We will create a high quality, affordable place people will call ‘home’ in close proximity to where they work and play. We take pride in our product and look forward to being a great neighbor.”—Sheela Nimishakavi