Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Statement from Mayor Dwight C. Jones Concerning Council Budget Deliberations

Mayor Dwight C. Jones issued the following statement today:
“I want to thank Richmond City Council for working collaboratively with the City Administration through the budget deliberations process. Today’s actions represent progress.

“Based upon recent assessments, increases in projected taxable values, and recent notifications from the state, the Administration has been able to provide additional revenue projections for Council’s consideration. Council has acted to allocate those available funds with a solutions-oriented approach.

“I’m pleased that additional funds have not only been provided to schools, but also have been provided in other much needed areas like public works, police, fire, and finance. I’m also encouraged that our strategy of working to adequately staff the Finance Department is being embraced and that City Council voted to expand on that strategy and fully staff our finance operation. This action will position us to pursue available revenues to address the growing needs of the city.

“We all share similar priorities: meeting core commitments, protecting education, preserving fiscal integrity and ensuring a well-managed government. Today, we’ve demonstrated what can be accomplish when we work together for the greater good.

“I look forward to the next steps in this process as City Council moves toward final passage of the agreed-upon actions.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mayor Comments on Governor McAuliffe’s Order Restoring Voting Rights

Mayor Dwight C. Jones issued the following statement today regarding Governor Terry McAuliffe’s order to restore voting and civil rights:

“I applaud the Governor’s courageous act to restore the civil rights of more than 200,000 Virginians. Making sure those who have paid their debt to society get a second chance is the right thing to do. This action is especially welcomed as we recognize National Reentry Week. The restoration of voting and civil rights is a fundamental step toward breaking down barriers that many formerly incarcerated persons face.

“I strongly encourage all Richmonders who have been given this second chance to register and vote. Participation in our democracy makes our community and our city stronger. You can register online at, or contact the City’s Registrar’s office at City Hall at 900 E. Broad St, Suite 105, or call (804) 646-5950.”

Friday, April 15, 2016

Mayor Jones' Remarks on City's FY2017 Budget Deliberations

Mayor Dwight C. Jones - Prepared Remarks
Speech on City's FY2017 Budget Deliberations
April 15, 2016

Click here to view the full video of the press conference.

Good morning, everyone.

I would like to start by thanking City Council as they review my proposed changes to the FY17 budget.

Each year this process can be long and arduous, especially in a year when resources are limited and the needs are extensive.

Earlier this week, members of City Council proposed changes to the budget that I introduced last month. 

The deadline for their changes was Monday, before the regular Council meeting and the public hearing.  

Despite hearing about some Councilmember’s proposals through the news media, the week is now coming to an end and I still have not yet seen any of their proposals. 

With the current fiscal constraints, it is imperative that we work together to move the City forward.  

I’ve instructed my staff to request Council’s amendment proposals, and we were advised that they may be released some time next week.

In the interest of transparency, the City Council should release their budget amendments NOW, so Richmonders can know how the Council proposes to spend their money—and what they’ll cut to pay for any new spending.

The news media reported that several Council members want significant spending increases. But there was no mention of where the money would come from.

That’s the fundamental issue, because we all want schools to have more money.

In fact, year after year, we’ve devoted million more to RPS.

For the next fiscal year, I have proposed to once again allocate the $11.2 million in new money that City Council set aside last year for Richmond Public Schools, and to hold them harmless from cuts. 

If I had more money, I’d be willing to give it to them. But the money simply doesn’t exist. 

And to find it, would require taking it from other critical services. That’s the question when City Council proposes new spending.

Will these amendments allow for Departments like Police and Finance to address critical staffing needs?

Will these amendments allow us to provide for services that our residents demand, but that have already been reduced, such as leaf collection, street paving and bulk pick up?

Will these amendments protect the City’s financial integrity by allowing us to build upon our financial bond upgrades, so that Richmond can achieve Triple A status like other world-class communities?

While we do not yet know, I am hopeful that we can work together to balance ALL the needs of Virginia’s capital city.

Now, I know it’s an election year, and that means lots of promises. But the test of leadership is to show how you will actually accomplish your goals.

So while we await Council’s amendments, I want to reiterate the fundamental principles I laid out when I introduced the budget early last month.

Our starting point is this: We currently have a budget gap, because last year the City Council diverted $9 million from basic services. 

To close this gap, we are freezing hiring, limiting discretionary spending, and enhancing revenue collections.

Agency budgets are being reduced by 12% or more across the board—on top of the 3% reductions approved last year. Schools will not see its budget cut in FY 2017. 

While other agencies have seen reductions year after year, I have authorized schools to retain budget surpluses from previous years.

I have also proposed a 25% reduction in discretionary non-departmental funding, as well as higher fees that our residents will pay for service delivery. 

None of these are decisions are easy, but they are necessary to pay for City Council’s decision to divert funds away from basic services.

We must understand that funding for basic services and funding for schools is not a matter of ‘either/or.’ It’s about determining how to do both, given the limited resources available.

That’s why, in addition to the funding already included in the budget for Richmond Public Schools, I have put together a Multi-Year School Funding Project Evaluation Team.  

This group includes members of City Council, the School Board, City staff, the superintendent and his staff, as well as community leaders and stakeholders in the business community. 

Our goal is to develop a long-term, sustainable funding program to bring Richmond Public Schools the money needed for facilities and operations —and to do it in a way that preserves the city’s financial integrity.  

This Team is an example of the way we must work together to move this City forward.

As Mayor, I’ve had to write budgets with limited local revenue, declining state dollars, and rising needs. 

In fact, while our population has increased 10% over the past decade, the number of city personnel to serve that growing population has declined by 9%, and revenues are roughly the same as they were a decade ago.

This is partly because the City had decided to lower the real estate tax rate twice just prior to the recession. That action, together with the economic downturn, basically has us operating today, in 2016, at 2008 financial levels—even though the city has grown over that time. These are the facts.

Our dollars are limited, and any new ones have to come from somewhere. 

My approach is to live within our means as much as possible. I have proposed to fund services using existing resources and by raising some new ones. 

It’s a bad idea to raid our financial reserves, because that will threaten our credit rating, and we should reject any proposal to do so. 

A lower credit rating will make it harder and more expensive to borrow money in the future—and that means it will take longer and cost more money to build new schools and deliver the other services our residents and neighborhoods expect.

It’s also a bad idea to continue down the path that was taken last year—the path of cutting operations without regard for the consequences. Any additional cuts to basic services will inevitably cripple the city. 

The people don’t want that, and that’s why we don’t hear any calls for service reductions—like giving up leaf collection, cutting hours of operation at City Hall, reducing trash pickup, or cutting bulk trash services. 

In fact, I hear people saying they want the leaves picked up sooner and the streets paved faster. But that’s only going to get worse if the City Council cuts the budget further.

It’s time to let the public know what the Council is proposing and let’s work together to find the best solutions.

With that, I’d like to ask our CAO and our Deputy CAO for Finance to discuss some of the specific problems we’re facing now, and to project what further cuts would mean to the services that our residents expect.

# # #

Friday, March 4, 2016

Mayor Jones Presents FY2017 Biennial Fiscal Amendments

~ Proposes dedicated funding stream for city school facilities ~

On Mar. 4, Mayor Dwight C. Jones presented his Biennial Fiscal Plan for FY2017 and five-year Capital Improvement Plan for 2017 – 2021. Total General Fund revenues are projected at $709,152,771 for FY17, and Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) expenditures and revenues are projected at $68.71 million in FY17 and $155.7 million over 5 years.

Jones noted that commitments and obligations of the city are growing at a faster rate than revenue projections and he proposed a number of measures, including some significant reductions in agency funding, in order to hold schools harmless and maintain the increased funding provided to schools last year.

“This fiscal plan reflects the constraints of limited resources,” said Jones. “While we have charted a course to generate revenues to meet existing operations, additional revenue must be generated to meet all of our needs.”

The budget proposes targeted reductions in departmental discretionary operating budgets of 12%, reductions of 25% in most non-departmental categories, and fee increases for refuse collection to support the city’s leaf collection program. The reductions and fee adjustments are being proposed in order to support Richmond Public Schools maintaining the increase in local funding which was approved last year and funded with city agency operational dollars.

The budget continues to absorb the cost of health care premium increases for city workers and increases funding for Public Safety departments to assist in addressing minimum staffing requirements.

Jones is also proposing a multi-year school investment and funding plan to identify additional funding for schools that will capitalize on all new economic growth of the city, like growth projected to be realized from Bus Rapid Transit and other future developments.

“I will introduce legislation to set aside 20% of all incremental new real estate tax revenue to fund school construction and renovation,” explained Jones. “This means when new homes and commercial buildings go up in Richmond, the schools will be guaranteed to receive a major portion of the new money. When the city grows, so does school funding.”

Jones said residential and commercial expansion is the key to significant new funding for Richmond Public Schools. In explaining this approach, Mayor Jones talked about incremental growth the city expects as a result of developing Bus Rapid Transit, for example. Economic assumptions are significant for this project, suggesting rising real estate valuations along the Broad Street corridor as the project moves forward. “When major projects like this come on line, revenue to the city obviously increases. That is further enhanced by the normal course of residential and commercial growth across the city.”

Jones also plans to pursue a discussion about an advisory referendum he says is needed to gauge the direction the city should move in with respect to any tax increases and/or additional cuts to services.

The full text of Mayor Jones’ budget message can be found at

Mayor's Budget Message for FY2017 Biennial Fiscal Plan and Five-year Capital Improvement Plan for 2017-2021

Click here to view the Proposed Amendments to the Biennial Fiscal Plan 2017 and the Proposed Capital Improvement Program 2017-2021.

Honorable Mayor Dwight C. Jones
FY 2017 Proposed Budget Amendments
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

Madam President, members of City Council, my fellow Richmonders, good afternoon. Since we met in this room one year ago, our city has only grown more exciting and more vibrant. Hardly a day goes by without Richmond joining another list of cool places to visit, to eat, to live. People around the world are looking to us like never before.

Make no mistake, we owe much of it to last fall’s bike races and the international spotlight. It was our greatest party, and a lot more.

Look all over town, and you’ll see that the Richmond resurgence continues. Stone Brewing has opened in Fulton, bringing new jobs to a neighborhood that had been left behind. Triple Crossing brewing will soon follow a half-mile away—all because Stone is there. Our investment is paying off in a big way.

In Southside, we’ve launched our 40-year partnership to integrate the Richmond Marine Terminal into the Port of Virginia’s global network. This year, our port has received $17 million in new upgrades—paid for by someone else—including a new 350-ton harbor crane. As a result, we’ve grown from six international shipping carriers to ten. In just a few months, we’re at a whole new level.

And right outside our front door, we should all be proud that together we gave the final go-ahead to Bus Rapid Transit. If we continue this momentum, then BRT can be the first step toward a real regional transit system that Virginia’s capital region deserves.

Make no mistake, over the past seven years, together we have worked our way through difficult times. Still, we have attracted new businesses, improved the City’s bond ratings, built new schools and facilities, ignited riverfront development, turned our population numbers around, begun targeting poverty, created an environment for new jobs, built new infrastructure, helped expand businesses, heightened our arts and cultural scene and our tourism draw, and put the city on a global stage.

In short, we have improved the quality of life in Richmond.

Richmond’s future has never looked brighter, but we have some serious decisions to make as a community. And that’s what I want to talk about today, as I present these budget proposals. So let’s turn to the budget.

FY2016 Adjustments

Before we discuss proposals for the new fiscal year that starts in four months, it’s important to understand where we are in the current fiscal year. In short, we have a deficit. It results directly from removing roughly $9 million from the operating budget last year.

It’s important to understand that the budget I introduced last year included funding to cover all city expenses, using the same format and fiscal mechanisms that have been in every budget I’ve proposed, and you have approved, over the past seven years. But last year’s deliberations revealed the need for greater clarity in our budgeting, including the need to specifically delineate certain key line items, such as leaf collection and snow removal. For this reason, I have directed staff to reflect all funding details of these costs and our contractual commitments, in this and every budget moving forward, to ensure a more detailed view of city service requirements to our public.

While previous budgets covered the costs of these services, it was done through operating savings that would typically be re-allocated among agencies in the third quarter of each year. This is how the city has covered numerous costs that can vary from year to year, including overtime for public safety officers and costs related to weather events. The practice had become routine, and for each of the past seven years, you approved these third-quarter re-allocation papers unanimously.

This changed in last year’s budget deliberations, when $9 million was removed from this account and transferred to the Richmond Public Schools. While that action was good for our schools, it has created real operational problems for other agencies, and we are left with a projected deficit in the current fiscal year.

For these reasons, we are taking four immediate actions to reduce expenses across the city government in the current year.

  1. We are instituting an immediate hiring freeze—restricting all non-critical positions through the end of the fiscal year.

    I have directed the Administrative staff to review all vacated positions moving forward and reinstate only critical vacancies in support of public safety and our financial service requirements so as to sustain the core service needs of our residents.
  2. We are limiting discretionary spending. These changes will be felt by all City agencies and service partners.

    They will require uncomfortable but necessary adjustments to prioritize the service and funding commitments of our City.
  3. We are enhancing revenue collections.
  4. I am proposing a one-time transfer of $3 million from our excess fund balance to cover the costs of last month’s extreme weather.

    I need to be clear about two facts:

    This is a one-time transfer to cover the costs of a rare storm that brought blizzard-like conditions.

    I am moving ONLY excess money above the fund balance limits that we’ve all agreed upon. This money exists ONLY because we are projected to end FY 2015 with a budget surplus and ONLY because we have worked within our means.

By taking these actions, we hope to be able to end Fiscal Year 2016 with a balanced budget and avoid a deficit.

FY2017 Plans

But fiscal year 2017 will bring a similar problem. Our interim strategies are not a long-term solution. A growing, thriving city cannot freeze hiring for a year, restrict necessary spending, or assume that a new surplus will emerge.

For the new fiscal year that begins on July 1, I am proposing to hold Richmond Public Schools harmless and once again allocate the $11.2 million that you set aside last year for them.

In addition, I am proposing to allow RPS to keep $1.5 million that they have not spent from the money you approved last year. Over this two-year budget, this represents more than $22 million in new operating funds for Richmond Public Schools.

In addition, we have turned over another $18 million in capital funding to begin planning and design of school buildings. Together with more than $17 million in annual debt payments on the four new schools we’ve built over the past seven years, public education remains the largest single investment we make in Richmond.

In fact, schools are the only agency that will not see its budget cut in FY 2017.

In order to hold our schools harmless from cuts, I am proposing three actions.

  1. Other departments will have to help. I am proposing to cut discretionary budgets for all other agencies by 12% or more across the board, excluding debt payments and Risk Management. This is on top of the 3% reductions approved last year, and it will force all agencies to embrace a new commitment to efficiency.
  2. Our community partners will have to help. Therefore, I am proposing a 25% reduction in all discretionary non-departmental funding, excluding key strategic partners.
  3. Our residents will have to help by paying higher fees for service delivery. These include changing parking rates downtown by 50 cents; the refuse fee from $17.50 to $20; the Police Department’s “false alarm” fee; turning the Sheriff’s “dollar a day” fee to run the justice center into the “two dollars a day” fee; creating new fees on vehicle licenses and street vendors; and creating new fees for delinquent taxes.

All of these changes are necessary to maintain the policy decision made last year to re-direct $9 million from operations to the Richmond Public Schools.

I am proposing to maintain this level of funding for Richmond Public Schools, and to hold our schools harmless from the cuts other agencies are receiving—but that decision comes with a cost.

Finding New Money for Schools

Like all of us, I have heard loud and clear the calls for dramatic levels of new funding for Richmond Public Schools, and I agree that our schools need additional investment, even above what has been allocated over the past two years.

We all know that the main state education funding formula disadvantages the capital city. In addition, during the recession, the state revised school funding downward to give even less money to localities. In short, the state stopped funding thousands of support positions and student services, leaving cities and counties to pick up the tab.

So as Mayor, I’ve had to write budgets with limited local revenue, declining state dollars, and rising needs. Our dollars are limited, and any new ones have to come from somewhere.

My approach is to live within our means as much as possible. And I have proposed to fund RPS and all other services using existing resources and by raising some new ones. But when the call comes for even more new investments in a range of services, there are limited ways to generate it.

In preparing this budget, I chose NOT to raise the meals tax, furlough employees, or lay anyone off.  To generate the revenue necessary to fund the schools’ operating request, it could mean 26 days of furloughs for city workers, or laying off 400 employees. I chose not to take these actions because they are bad ideas.

It’s also a bad idea to continue down the path that was taken last year—the path of cutting operations without regard for the consequences. Any additional cuts beyond the carefully targeted measures I am proposing today, will inevitably cripple the city.

New Multi-year School Investment and Funding Plan

Against that backdrop, I want everyone to know that I recognize the need to upgrade school facilities.

The School Board has rightly brought to the community’s attention the effect that years of deferred maintenance have had on our school buildings. This is a problem across all city departments, but it is acute in our public schools. The problem did not occur overnight, nor will it be solved overnight.

I am proposing a new, multi-year School Investment and Funding plan to begin implementing long-term renovation and construction plans for public school buildings, and it could infuse new operating funds as well.

Like all capital projects, it’s important to remember that this investment plan will be funded by borrowed money. It’s also important to remember that this debt has to be paid back by annual payments that come from the City’s general fund. It’s just like your credit card. You can borrow $5,000, but you still have to pay back a little each month.

In the same way, it’s easier to pay back your credit card if you have money specifically set aside for the bill.

I will introduce legislation to set aside 20% of all incremental new real estate tax revenue to fund school construction and renovation.

This means when new homes and commercial buildings go up in Richmond, the schools will be guaranteed to receive a major portion of the new money. When the city grows, so does school funding.

Here’s an example of what it could mean.

You recently approved Bus Rapid Transit plans that include economic assumptions of significantly rising real estate valuations along the Broad Street corridor as the project moves forward. When major projects like this come on line, revenue to the city obviously increases. That is further enhanced by the normal course of residential and commercial growth across the city.

This growth of residential and commercial expansion is the key to significant new funding for Richmond Public Schools. In fact, under the legislation that I propose, it could mean up to $7 million in new revenue for schools—which could then be used to back approximately $100 million in new borrowing. Along with the anticipated opening of the city’s bonding capacity, this could fully fund the construction plan proposed by the School Board over time.

Basically, this proposal means that when our city expands, so does funding for the capital needs of our public school system.

To move this forward, I will immediately establish an implementation team to lay out these plans and make sure that they are fiscally responsible and sustainable. The working group will include leaders from City Council, the School Board, our financial advisors, and other stakeholders.

The group will be charged with examining our debt capacity, determining whether our debt policy needs any changes, assessing how we project revenues for new projects, and determining whether any additional City Council action is required to move forward on meeting the facilities needs of our schools. I want them to report back by September.

This new School Investment funding will allow the city to move forward on the school construction that RPS is currently planning, funded by the $18 million in planning money that you set aside last year—and that’s a good thing for our community.

The Path Forward: A Community Conversation

We all know that Richmond has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Our population has increased 10% since 2005, and we celebrate the city’s return to growth. But at the same time, the number of city personnel to serve that growing population has declined by 9%, and revenues are roughly the same as they were a decade ago.

This is partly because the City had also decided to lower the real estate tax rate twice just prior to the recession. That action, together with the economic downturn, basically has us operating today, in 2016, at 2008 financial levels. These are the facts.

When I say we’ve done more with less, I really mean it!

Overall, this has led to the funding problem that we’re now experiencing across all city departments, including Richmond Public Schools. At the same time, we also know that school funding is further affected by state policies that hurt Virginia’s capital city. In Virginia, public schools are funded with a mix of state money and local money. The state sets the rules, and the rules hurt Richmond, primarily because they fail to account for our high poverty rate.

Then, during the recession, the state changed the school funding formula to give even less money to localities. In short, the state stopped funding thousands of support positions and student services, leaving cities to pick up the tab. In the meantime, we still have a problem in Richmond, and residents are demanding action. But the costs are high, and our current budget is not sized to meet the needs of our city.

The only way forward is to bring in new revenue, likely in the form of a tax increase.

This is a serious decision that should not be made exclusively in the Mayor’s office or in Council Chambers alone. The public needs to be involved in a major decision like this.
Therefore, I propose that during these budget deliberations, we explore together the idea of an advisory referendum on the November ballot to determine whether the public wishes to raise its taxes, and by how much.

And we have to consider that while public schools are critical, Richmond has many priorities, so I believe we should also include questions on the ballot about other critical infrastructure needs. That way, the city will know what our residents expect.  And residents will be clear about the impact on other services as a result of spending decisions made.

If it is the will of the people to significantly raise taxes, then they will have a chance to directly indicate that. If the people prefer to drastically cut services – give up any leaf collection, cut City Hall hours of operation, reduce trash pickup, bulk trash services, etc.; then we’ll know that too.

With this approach, together, we’ll determine exactly what course Richmonders would like to take to address our future needs.

That way, future Mayors and City Councils will have a clear consensus from the community about the course we should take—expand services, or restrict them?

This is a fundamental question for any city. A city in decline would make one decision. I hope that a growing, thriving, resurgent city would make a different decision. As leaders, our job is to position the city to provide the greatest impact for our citizens. And it is my hope that we’ll make the right decisions together.  We need to hear every voice and not back down from making hard choices.

As for me and my Administration, together with all of you, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together. Our work has been good. We’ve set a clear course for an even brighter future. But we know that much work lies ahead, including difficult budget deliberations.

The choices we make will shape the future of this city. I’ll be working to keep our city on the right course for the future, and I know you will be too.

Thank you.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Celebrate Jackson Ward Festival to be Held May 20-22

Joined by First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, Charles Samueles, Richmond City Council, 2nd District, Marilyn West, Chair of the Black History Museum, Dr. Levy Armwood, Jr., Pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Steven Smith, Music Director of the Richmond Symphony, Mayor Dwight Jones announced on Thursday, Feb. 25 a special festival celebrating the people, places and history of Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward.  Celebrate Jackson Ward: Past Present and Future, to be held on May 20-22 in Abner Clay Park, will showcase the unique history of Jackson Ward. The festival will be anchored by the Richmond Symphony and will host performances from various individuals and organizations under the new “Big Tent”.

"I am pleased that we will again partner with the Richmond Symphony to highlight another part of our great city. The Jackson Ward Festival also provides the opportunity for more of the city’s musical and cultural groups to experience performing under the Big Tent, while the event itself will leave a lasting impression on future generations," says Mayor Dwight C. Jones. "Jackson Ward has had such a tremendous impact in the shaping of the Richmond region, and I’m happy the City can be a partner in a festival that will celebrate this historic neighborhood."

Celebrate Jackson Ward will kick off Friday, May 20 with ART 180's spring program celebration, The Really BIG Show. This celebration will spotlight artwork created by young people at a dozen ART 180 program sites this spring. Saturday, May 21 will feature a variety of performances including: a children’s performance from Virginia Repertory Theatre, the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra, various local performing arts groups and storytellers, and will be anchored by a performance of the Richmond Symphony with Virginia Repertory Theatre and Elegba Folklore Society.  The festival will conclude on Sunday, May 22 with performances by local church choirs, liturgical dancers, and a mass ecumenical service representing several of Jackson Ward’s churches.

The festival is intended to attract thousands of people from throughout the region over the course of the weekend.  Local restaurants, craft beer, vendors, businesses and non-profits will also be featured.  Festival admittance is free and open to the public.

In addition to festival performances and activities, the event is designed to create a lasting and positive benefit in the Jackson Ward Neighborhood.  To that end, proceeds from the festival will benefit the Friends Association for Children, The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and G.W. Carver Elementary School. 

Sponsor, business partnership and individual support opportunities are also available.  For more information, please visit or call 804-788-4717.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mayor Jones Presentation to City Council on the Office of Community Wealth Building

On February 22, Mayor Dwight Jones addressed City Council, City staff, and others in attendance regarding the Office of Community Wealth Building. The following are his prepared remarks, and a link to the presentation Dr. Thad Willamson, Director of the Office of Community Wealth Building, made following the Mayor's remarks.

Good evening President Mosby, Vice-President Hilbert, members of City Council, and my fellow Richmonders.

This evening marks a watershed moment as we enshrine the Mayor’s responsibility for reporting on our City’s progress in fighting and overcoming poverty. Richmond is a resurgent city with many positive developments we can and should be proud of.  

But while we are a resurgent City, we are not yet a City in which everyone is thriving. One quarter of us live in poverty, and that includes two out of every five children. We all need to understand that this is no accident—it’s the result of policy decisions made generations ago to cement in place the patterns of segregation that have defined our City’s history for so long.

No one would create a capital region like this today. If we could start from scratch today, people would be horrified at the idea of creating a region where people are separated by race and class. No one today would create a region in which almost all the public housing is packed into one part of one jurisdiction. No one today would create a region in which jobs are spread out, but the bus lines barely stretch beyond the capital city. 

I’d like to think that no one today would create a region with so many economic and social cards in the deck stacked against the capital city. But that’s Richmond. And that is the challenge that I face as Mayor and that every future Richmond elected official will face: how to tackle these basic structural problems that have extended severe poverty in our capital city, generation after generation. 

The problem is so immense that most would shrink from it. But Richmond embraces our problems. We’ve been deliberate and realistic. We understand that simply throwing money at programs won’t work. So when I created the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission in my first term, I challenged our citizen volunteers to do more than simply come up with a few recommendations for a handful of new initiatives. 

Instead, I charged them with developing a comprehensive strategy to begin overcoming the structural barriers to prosperity in Virginia’s capital city, piece by piece. 

It quickly became clear that it just doesn’t work to talk about one aspect of the problem in the absence of the whole picture. It is about employment, it is about education, it is about better housing, but it’s not about any ONE of those things alone. It’s about everything, together.

We also realized that we could no longer simply wait for help from somewhere else to start changing the situation—we had to start with making changes ourselves. We may not always like the policies that come down from the federal government, or that have come down from the General Assembly going back generations, and we may wish we had more money and help from them. But we’re banking on something else. OUR strategy is to figure out how we do better with what we have—both as a local government, and as a capital city. 

Moreover, we’ve also learned that the more we work to be smarter with what we already have, and the more collaboration we build to tackle complex problems, the more support we’ll earn.
Along the way, we also discovered that it’s not quite good enough just to be against poverty. We have to be FOR something. And we’re FOR building wealth in the community--in a way that empowers people, that encourages responsibility and initiative, and that leads to truly inclusive economic development. That’s what we mean by community wealth building. We also understand that we need only look to our own history, to the example set by Maggie L. Walker, to remind ourselves that a remarkable Richmonder has already shown us the way.

Finally, we realized that building wealth and reducing poverty is a long-term proposition. So what’s most important is to create a structure and platform for sustainable change, and to build support from every corner of the City, among people who are rich, poor, and middle class alike.
That’s just one reason why I’m grateful to the City Council for voting in 2014 to create a Maggie L. Walker Citizens Advisory Board—one that places representatives of low-income neighborhoods always in the majority. And I’m proud that the community has embraced this work, with partners from our universities, our hospital systems, our foundations, and our business community who are lending support to this effort. 

You can’t undo 400 years of history overnight. So we created an Office of Community Wealth Building, and you voted to make it a permanent part of city government. We needed a team to lead a coordinated approach tackling employment, housing, and education at the same time. We needed a team that could promote effective collaboration inside the government and with our partners in the Public School system, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and many more. We needed a team that could drive positive community change, engaging both grassroots leaders in our neighborhoods and institutional leaders who can make things happen. 

We also needed to set big goals for change and an accountability system to measure progress. That’s why I’m here tonight. 

In December, you unanimously authorized creation of an Office of Community Wealth Building. This requires the Mayor , every year, to report on the City’s progress in building community wealth and fighting poverty. At the same time, the Mayor is required to submit an annual written report detailing that progress, using a set of consistent metrics from year to year. 

Tonight is the first such report. Tonight, I want to convey four things. First, our goals. Second, our strategy. Third, our progress. And fourth, why all this matters for our City. Then I will ask Dr. Thad Williamson to spend a few minutes talking through with you the metrics that the City will track in the years to come.

First our goals. I have set forth a path to reduce poverty by 40% by the year 2030, including a 50% reduction in child poverty.  That means going from about 43,000 people in poverty to about 26,000, and reducing the number of children in poverty in half, from 15,000 to 7,500. 

That is hugely ambitious. We can’t afford not to be. 

Let’s imagine what that Richmond of 2030 could look like if we achieved our goals. 

Richmond would become a city in which schools have greater economic diversity and kids come to school less stressed and better rested because parents are working and their home is stable. A city in which every kid of modest means grows up not only being told there’s an American Dream out there somewhere, but they can see it and touch it by living in neighborhoods where people are working and there are examples of success, and can also know that it’s for him or her too because the community has established a scholarship fund to help all Richmond graduates attend to college. It’s a Richmond where you can find a job—and get there on the bus. And it’s a Richmond where if you can’t find a job on your own, you can find the support services to help you find one, or get the skills you need to find one. And it’s a Richmond where more people are working and earning, so more revenue is coming in, and we have more room to meet all our needs, from education to infrastructure. 

Yes, it still would be a Richmond with its share of problems and challenges and arguments. It wouldn’t be Richmond without that! But these would be far more manageable.
That’s what this work is about—laying the structure for long-term sustainable change that helps us create a truly more inclusive city, not just in word but in deed.

Here is our strategy:  work with one family at a time, meeting the entire needs of that family. First, the family needs income, so one or more adults need to have steady, full-time work at a decent wage. If there are young children, then they probably need child care or preschool. People need a way to get around, and a safe place to live. People with health issues and special needs need help. 

If you haven’t been poor, you probably can’t imagine how much smarts and planning and doggedness it takes to actually change that situation, to move from being on the edge to stability and thriving. So what’s bold about Richmond’s plan is not just that we want to make a big dent in the statistics. It’s that we’re talking about actually changing families’ situation for the better, permanently, and doing it in a way that promotes empowerment and independence, not dependence and vulnerability.

You can see this in our program BLISS. It stands for Building Lives to Independence and Self-Sufficiency. We are working with families in public housing who have set a goal of getting out, and helping them set a realistic plan to meet that goal, addressing every piece of the puzzle, every barrier—starting with getting and keeping a job. Right now 18 families are working toward this goal, and we expect to double that number this year, even without growing staff. 

These numbers are modest, to be sure, but it’s hugely significant in first, learning what it will actually take to move Richmond families out of poverty, and second, showing that is in fact possible. The newspaper recently featured one of the participants, a young woman, a mother of two, who lives in Fairfield Court. The most important piece of that story was the fact that she had gained hope and motivation through the program. And my hope as Mayor is that we as a community can put our arms around a family like this, and communicate to them that we are on your side, and that we will do everything we can to support a mother or father who is doing everything they know how to get ahead and create a better future for their children. 

Because frankly, we know there are people in society who would simply look down on a mother in public housing or play the old, tired game of blaming the poor and finding a reason to find fault rather than a way to lend a hand. That’s not what this community needs to be about.  I truly believe that our City has gotten to the point where we all can be, and will be, on the side of this young woman.

So that’s our base: getting people jobs, and supporting the whole family. The next challenge is taking those efforts to scale, to go from reaching 150 to 300 to 1000 with our Center for Workforce Innovation, to go from 35 families in BLISS to hundreds. But we also have to look at the other legs of the stool. In the long term, yes, education is a powerful anti-poverty tool, and better education can help our young people get prepared for a good job or go on to college. But to really improve education in a City like ours, you have to address poverty—not in the far-off distant future, but the here and now poverty of so many parents of Richmond Public Schools students. We may not always agree, but certainly I agree with our school leaders when they say to improve a school like Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, you have to look not only at the school itself but the entire neighborhood environment and the home environment and circumstances of children. I’m tremendously proud of the strong working relationship the Office of Community Wealth Building has forged with Richmond Public Schools in early childhood, out-of-school time for adolescents, and our RVA Future program, which is getting hundreds of kids in all five of our comprehensive high schools to develop a concrete plan for life after high school, long before graduation day.

And then we also have to look at truly the most challenging piece of the equation, figuring out how to transform neighborhoods that have been stigmatized by concentrated poverty. How we can transform them into thriving mixed-income communities, and to do it in a way that respects and empowers people instead of just displacing people. We are working very closely with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority on plans for Creighton Court—one of the most ambitious undertakings our City has ever taken on. What the entire community must understand is this is not just about housing redevelopment. It’s about people and neighborhoods and housing. We are attempting to do what has never been done before—act concretely to reverse the legacy of segregation, and show that we don’t have to accept for another generation a model of housing that has created second-class citizens within our own City. 

It’s wrong, and we have to change it. If we don’t, our community wealth building efforts won’t fully succeed either—we may succeed in moving more people out of poverty, but as they move out of poverty they will move out of town too. We want people to be able to prosper in place, and that means creating neighborhoods that are no longer defined by the legacy of segregation.

We certainly have a long way to go in this work, but the Office of Community Wealth Building is off to a strong start. The accompanying written report provides many details but here are just a few highlights:

In term of jobs:

•    We have invested in workforce development and have helped more than 160 people move in 2015 into jobs, while also creating the BLISS program I just described, and launching several innovative partnerships.
•    We have landed a major employer, Stone Brewing, that is working with our Center for Workforce Innovation to make sure residents can learn about job opportunities coming open in the coming weeks.
•    We have opened the door to major investments in the Richmond Marine Terminal, a major untapped asset, with the long-term deal with the Port of Virginia which we can expect to lead to hundreds of good-paying jobs as we’ve seen at ports up and down the East Coast.
•    We are working with major employers such as universities and hospitals to see how the buying power of our large institutions might be better harnessed to support up and coming social enterprises in our most challenged communities.
•    And I’m especially proud that just two weeks ago, this body gave final approval to the most significant public transportation investment in our city in generations, the Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit line, which carries the potential to evolve into a genuinely regional system.

In terms of education:

•    We have launched new collaborations in early childhood education to better map out needs, establish quality standards, and develop a strategy to meet those needs so more of our children, especially those in poor families, come to Kindergarten ready to learn. Our collaborative approach has garnered significant support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. We aren’t just working at the policy level either—we are reaching kids directly through the RVA Reads program in our pre-K classrooms that is now distributing more than 1,000 books a month, and will be touching families directly with our Gilpin Court Family Engagement Pilot launching this spring.
•    We have become major supporter of NextUp RVA, a public-private partnership which is bringing high quality out of school time activities to our middle schools, starting at Henderson and Thomas Boushall Middle Schools.
•    We have started the RVA Future initiative in all five of our high schools in collaboration with the public school system, which is already making an impact and broadening the horizons of how are students are thinking about life after high school. We hope to go on to add a Promise Scholarship component in years to come.

In terms of housing:

•    The Affordable Housing Trust Fund in 2015 supported projects expected to lead to building or rehabbing nearly 200 units of affordable housing, and leveraging more than $23 million in housing investment.
•    We have established the Good Neighbors Initiative in partnership with Richmond City Health District, which employs community members within public housing to connect neighbors to resources and become advocates on behalf of community well-being.
•    We are working diligently in the East End and we are moving forward on the first new housing units on the old Armstrong High School site, with construction slated to begin in 2017. Funding has been secured for a Family Transition Coach to work with the first group of families moving from Creighton into Armstrong. And we are working with RRHA to seek major federal funding for the complete transformation of Creighton into a mixed-income community, while providing one-for-one replacement of all housing units.

I’m proud of how much has been accomplished together. And while we are all nearing the end of our terms in office, this should only be the beginning of our effort as a community to overcome poverty. The fact that we now have a dedicated Office to fighting poverty is important, and the fact that we have committed to clear goals and established measures of progress is also significant. But we also need the help, support, engagement and yes resources of the entire community.

Now, I know that lots of people in this room are running for Mayor, and lots more are running for the City Council. Whatever your next steps, as a City we need to keep our eyes on this ball, to keep in mind the vision of the Richmond that could and should be, and make sure the City and its partners are investing the resources and follow through needed to sustain real change.

Second, regardless of what you do for a living, don’t just sit on the sidelines, but become part of the change yourself. There is something everybody in this room can do to night to help someone in need. You can be an employer, a mentor, a coach, a volunteer reader, a role model, and so much more.

Above all, we have to make the commitment that we can and will get this work done. We have to get out of the habit of saying “no we can’t do this” and create a Richmond where we know and believe we can. It’s easy to be a naysayer, to play the skeptic in this town. What’s harder is actually making real change and solving real problems. That’s what we have started to do with respect to overcoming poverty and building community wealth. When this City and this community unify behind this effort, we can heal our city in the process. And in the 40 years since I came to Richmond to go to college, I’ve never been more hopeful about Richmond’s future.