A few years ago Scott’s Addition was a largely forgotten industrial neighborhood only the savviest Richmonders knew to be good for lunch or a milkshake. Since then the countless breweries, lofts, and coworking spaces that have sprouted up transformed Scott’s Addition into the epicenter of the city, Richmond’s hip, forward-thinking vision for itself.
Richmond has seen a version of this story before with Tobacco Row and the Canal Walk; however, the city’s vast supply of vacant former industrial space is a thing of the past. Richmond’s most enticing empty spaces have been filled, and now gentrification is spilling over into affordable—and predominantly black—neighborhoods like Jackson Ward and North Church Hill.
Rising costs and stagnant wages combined with gentrification are fueling the American eviction crisis, an epidemic that has been keenly felt in Richmond and across the Commonwealth.
After a conversation with Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille over how to help combat the problem, Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Association of Realtors, founded the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, named after a local hero who was the first woman to charter a bank in the United States, in 2016.
The program enables prospective homeowners to buy property without paying for the land it sits on; the land remains in the hands of the trust in perpetuity. This means home buyers only need to finance the cost of the house, thus vastly reducing the size of the loan needed and creating access for buyers with less financial power.
Land trusts serve as the solution for one of two problems depending on the market they’re operating in: Gentrification or neighborhood destabilization. “In a few years the only affordable options in Church Hill and the East End may be land trust homes,” worries Nikki D’Adamo-Damery, coordinator for the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust. Along Chesterfield’s North Jeff Davis corridor a land trust could help people into vacant homes and tie them to those communities.
Recent legislation from City Council deemed the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust Richmond’s official “land bank,” giving it the further ability to receive and repurpose vacant, abandoned, and foreclosed properties. If the city were to forsake auctioning off such blighted properties to private developers and instead give them to the land trust, then Richmond’s newest tool in its affordability arsenal would have a lot more firepower.
The land trust sold their first house last November and is partnering with Habitat for Humanity on three experimental homes in the Randolph neighborhood that would go to families making less than 80% of our area’s average median income. When asked about the land trust’s future D’Adamo-Damery mused, “Whether we have 50 homes, 500 homes or 5,000 homes we can make affordable will depend on the support we have from the city, the public, and the private sector.”