City Council Questionnaire Amy Wentz (8th District), (https://www.amyinthe8th.com/)
1.The City of Richmond has a 25% poverty rate, citizens and neighborhoods with enormous unmet needs, as well as public infrastructure such as roads and school buildings that are aging or sub-standard. The City also has the highest local property tax rate in the region. What strategies should Richmond employ to generate the resources needed to better meet the City’s needs? If these strategies don’t suffice to generate the revenue needed to meet community needs, would you be willing to consider revenue increases, and if so, in what areas? Be as comprehensive as possible in your answer.
Beginning October 1, 2020, Central Virginia will have an additional regional sales tax. The sales tax rate will increase to 6% in the City of Richmond and the Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan. The sales tax increase brings the rate in Richmond up to the rate of most surrounding cities, counties, and states. This increase is less than 1% but will provide more revenue for the city. Raising city taxes several years in a row is generally poorly received. Waiting to see the revenue gained from the increase in sales tax and the meals tax allocations may be wise. I have also been following the disposable bag tax in the General Assembly. I am most favorable of this particular tax, because it also incentivizes environmentally friendly options for those that can’t afford the tax, so the burden can be avoided. I would also propose that on Day 1, a comprehensive audit be done department wide to identify areas of fraud, waste and abuse.
2. Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, which helped 600 residents obtain employment in 2018-19, has established a goal of cutting child poverty (now at nearly 40% citywide) in half over the next ten years. It has set a further goal of moving 1,000 additional households a year above the poverty line through living-wage, full-time employment. Do you support these goals? What steps should the City take to encourage employers to train and hire under-employed residents into pathways leading to living wage employment and successful careers? What other specific actions will you support to achieve the goals of fighting poverty and building community wealth?
In addition to the recommendations from the OCWB that I generally agree with like collaborating with business solutions teams, economic development, and area businesses to develop a consistent process to deem individuals “ready for work”, developing pipelines to employment for individuals living in poverty, and creating a comprehensive strategy and pipeline to employment for individuals living in poverty to obtain employment with the city of Richmond, I also believe that if we transition our Economic Development structure into a more Community Development structure we will see it add to the overall community wealth building strategy. I believe that community development is when existing residents reap the benefits of rising home values and increased opportunities for education; when new small businesses are created by or explicitly for existing residents; when public and private investments and new developments are guided by existing residents before, during and after development. Community development reduces the risk of displacement including physical, cultural, and social services and ultimately empowers residents by supporting a shared neighborhood vision. Community development values culture, health, and positive human development not just increased economic activity.
3. Should aging public housing communities be re-developed in the next ten years? If so, how can this be done with genuine community input and support? How can such a process assure the availability of affordable housing does not shrink and that all current public housing residents obtain replacement housing? What funding sources should Richmond seek?
Absolutely. The US has shown that we CAN get public housing done right. I know firsthand because I lived in public housing as a soldier in the US Army. We have just prioritized the housing on our forts and bases and not for our residents earning lower incomes. Residents of Public Housing should know when and how decisions are being made that impact them, and they should have a say in those outcomes. I recommend additional board seats for residents of Public Housing and engagement around subcommittees.
4. In the past decade, two major efforts brought forth by mayors to promote downtown area development have been rejected by City Council and most of the public. Yet the city remains in need of economic development, a stronger tax base, and more quality employment opportunities for residents. What processes do you believe the city should adopt to promote community-supported economic development? How would you define successful economic development, in Richmond’s context?
We should be identifying and understanding the area around the development’s demographic and cultural influences. Planners need to take a community’s race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic mix into account in order to engage in a successful collaboration. Planning for future development should reflect local history, culture, and traditions. Involve residents, businesses, civic groups, and institutions early on. Belief comes after behavior. When people feel that they have had a vital role in collaborative planning, they are more likely to have confidence in the process and voice support for the endeavor. Establish trust and treat people with respect. Trust is an important foundation for a successful collaborative planning effort. Planners can achieve it by listening with sincerity and showing that they take neighborhood input seriously. Being listened to enhances a neighborhood’s pride and self-esteem. I am also a supporter of Community Benefits Agreements that would be an added layer to all development in the City.
5. What is the role of the Mayor and City Council in supporting Richmond Public Schools and RPS students and families? How can funding needs for the RPS Strategic Plan be met while also assuring accountability for use of funds and for outcomes? What does the City need to do further to meet the need of children outside of the RPS school day?
Unlike many states, Richmond City’s School Board does not have the power to levy taxes or increase funding on its own and is fiscally reliant on the City Council and its members to approve and fund its budget in order to increase the quality of the education system in the city.
I am a supporter of the Education Compact. As a community member that served on the Children’s Cabinet, we were able to focus on birth to Pre-K initiatives but compacts only work when there is 100% participation. I was disappointed in the amount of Council leadership that would miss these meetings and opportunities to rally around our children.
A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement lead to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Community schools offer a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends. In a District like the 8th, which lacks economic support, Community Schools are a great economic aid to our neighborhoods. I feel like Richmond has been trying to implement this, like at Bellmeade Oak-Grove, but the participatory piece is what is missing. All organizations involved must work together and not in silos to really create the desired impact. I would not mind funding this once an engagement plan is in place and our 8th District residents can provide input.
6. How can Richmond better leverage its status as the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia to gain further support from state government? What priorities for funding and policy would you set?
Richmond should be receiving a higher payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) from the state. When 30% of your real estate assets are not taxable, this puts a deep burden on our general fund. I would support adding this to our annual lobbying agenda at the General Assembly.
7. Do you believe the City of Richmond’s internal functioning has improved over the last 4 years? Why or why not? Do you believe the delivery of basic services in the City has improved over the last 4 years? Why or why not? What steps would you promote or support to improve the City’s internal operations and improve citizen confidence in City Hall? Be as specific as possible in your answer.
I have witnessed some improvements like the new utility and city service payment system, the bulk trash pickup process and the incorporation of social media outlets to communicate with citizens. We are still experiencing challenges in our license and permits office and the interfaces between 311 and internal systems. I am excited about the new City website that has been long overdue. I have worked in software development for almost 2 decades and the City has an issue with old technology and the burden is felt by residents. I would support improving our data structure and customer service support to a Chic Fil A standard. (I know it’s corny but its what we need!)
8. What tangible steps do you envision Richmond as having taken by 2024 to promote racial and economic equity and to tackle systemic racism? How will you use your office to advance these steps, and how will you act to build the public support needed for sustained action?
First, I believe in people powered advocacy. Our experts are the people that have suffered under these systems and they have solutions at the ready. I would support empowering these experts and implementing what they have outlined.
Some examples are our continuous hiring of out of town experts to consult us when we have experts right here in our City. We should build up our community brain trust.
I recommend disparity studies and an equity lens over all development deals and programs we create and ensuring the studies themselves are integral.
Also, areas that are facing the largest disparities should receive an equitable share of our funding. Funding should be connected to the challenge. For example, our District is struggling in health disparities and low health index scores. We know that walkable and bikeable neighborhoods help remedy this, yet you must scroll through 2 pages of sidewalk fixes in other districts before you get to our first one in the 8th. That is not equitable, nor does it make sense. Also, we must stop neglecting facilities and grounds just enough to not advocate for their existence any longer. Also, look to create an office within the City that focuses on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, changing harmful policy, and working with organizations that have already identified areas of improvement.
9. What more should the City of Richmond being doing to reduce gun violence in our communities? What does Richmond need to do to better address the root causes of violent crime?
Support Gun owner licensing, domestic violence gun laws, large capacity magazine ban, purchase waiting periods, strong concealed carry laws, open carry regulations, bulk firearm purchase restrictions and ammunition sale regulations.
Richmond can do better at providing a pipeline from RPS, to the City of Richmond workforceand various development contracts that support our communities. Much of the construction and growth we are experiencing is at the hands of out of town workers. Richmond opportunities should first go to Richmond residents. Also in an earlier question we talked about Community Development and that strategy also requires a broad range of companion investments including social services, job development and training, employment programs, education and afterschool programs, childcare, healthcare, legal aid, and public transit to name just a few. Bottom line, access to opportunities and quality of life enhancement will decrease the crime in this City. We can’t continue to be reactionary and police our way out.
10. What changes in policing, criminal justice, and public safety are needed in Richmond, and what is the role of the Mayor and City Council in bringing them about? What more needs to be done to support successful re-entry of returning citizens?
City support for state-wide policy in 2021 GA session: Right to Vote; Reinstate Discretionary Parole; Expanded Expungement Bill, etc.
11. What should city government do to assure that economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession takes place on an equitable basis that includes residents hit hardest by job loss during the spring 2020 downturn? What specific steps can be taken to support Black and Latinx-owned local businesses?
12. What have been the strong and weak points of the City of Richmond’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, from a public health perspective? What has the crisis revealed about long-term disparities in health outcomes that should inform future public health strategies? What specifically will you do to support stronger public health (including mental and behavioral health) during your term in office?
Strength: Developing a site dedicated to matching resources with the community, and opportunities for the community to support our neighbors in need.
Weakness: Early on, COVID19 information was not being offered in Spanish. In a district with a large Latinx population, we should always be intentional on ensuring all residents receive pertinent correspondence from the City.
Much of the early stages of building equity into a holistic view of health comes on the heels of investment in infrastructure and effectively planning the land-use around the needs of the community served. Increased funding for public spaces, pedestrian infrastructure, and extant facilities address many of the suggestions from health equity organizations as outlined below.
We should support the development of facilities in underserved communities: Many healthcare organizations plan their development based on a desire to capture market share, increasingly building new hospitals in very affluent areas. Incentivizing the development in the 8th can positively impact health inequity by making healthcare available to underserved patient populations. We should require a diverse pool of contractors and suppliers for new development:Supplier diversity efforts can positively improve the economic health of communities by providing minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, and small businesses the opportunity to participate in contracting and subcontracting activities. We need to invest in infrastructure to revitalize, maintain, and increase the number of community spaces in the 8th (e.g., parks, walkable trails, etc.) and mandate collection and annual analysis of healthcare equity data.