Elaine Summerfield - 3rd District City Council Candidate

https://www.elainesummerfield.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.  

 

In our current economic picture, raising taxes will make it even more difficult for struggling Richmonders. We must look beyond property taxes to address our public needs and create additional revenue in Richmond. Economic development is a key driver for increasing our tax base and generating revenue to support our priorities.  

 

We can also review opportunities to produce revenue with the City’s unused properties and see where they can be repurposed for community benefits. Another approach is to revisit the Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements with the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since state properties are exempt from property taxes, we need to reexamine the PILOT agreements to ensure the state is providing appropriate support for its tax-exempt status.  

 

The General Assembly recently provided Richmond the authority to assess a land value tax. This is a potential step to generating more revenues for Richmond. I will partner with colleagues to lobby the General Assembly to provide more progressive taxation vehicles. I support exploring this progressive tax reform as a possible way to tax property in a way to assist homeowners with low to moderate or fixed incomes. 

 

Though the question points to revenue generation, at this time of COVID-19, we must also address how available resources should be prioritized. I have committed to constituents that I will prioritize funding for city services, public schools, and housing affordability. In times of revenue decline, we must focus on the city services that are our constituents’ highest priorities and provide the highest value for residents. 

 

Budget decisions must be considered with an equity lens that acknowledges the impact of racially biased policies of the past and intentionally works to address the resulting inequities. I would recommend ensuring that no essential services are cut from our City government. A priority will be to alleviate suffering caused by the economic fallout of COVID-19 as much as possible, which will mean maintaining support for many non-departmental partners in the nonprofit sector that provide essential services for our residents.  

 

In order to create the Richmond that we all seek, we need to restore faith in our city institutions. We must be intentional and diligent to engage members of our community and be transparent with information and decisions. 

 

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 livingwage, 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?  

 

Yes, I am supportive of the goal to move people to living-wage employment and I support the work done by the Office of Community Wealth Building. OCWB provides the City of Richmond with a lens to view all Human Services from an asset-based, wealth-building approach. I believe OCWB can play a stronger role in improving the system by breaking down silos between workforce development, social services, health, and education. This “no wrong door” approach would ensure people are provided with available resources in an efficient manner. It would be a more respectful and people-centered way to serve the public, as well as save time and resources for the City. Our City services should function in a way that reflects the value of placing people at the center of our work.  

 

In preparing workers, we must acknowledge the multiple barriers to successful completion of employment training or an apprenticeship program, such as transportation and soft skills. By developing a stronger pipeline with a built-in coaching component, we can ensure our local residents are prepared to succeed in trade careers that provide family-sustaining income and opportunities to change the trajectory of one’s life. 

 

The work of Parks and Recreation to operate a workforce development program at the Annie E Giles facility is an example of City government collaboration to provide an important service. With Parks & Recreation providing the hands-on job training and OCWB providing referrals and wrap-around coaching services, the City will provide entree to successful employment, with the potential for trainees to be employed by PRCF, DPW, or in another area of the City. 

 

I’ve spent my career creating partnerships across communities. While serving on City Council, I will encourage continued collaboration between workforce development organizations to strengthen the pipeline of prepared, skilled workers. This would include strengthening coordination efforts of the City’s Office of Community Wealth Building, the Community College Workforce Alliance, Resource Workforce Center, apprenticeship programs, Goodwill, unions, and others. We want to ensure that we are preparing workers with training that aligns with in-demand career fields.  

 

In addition to combating poverty through workforce development, we can also focus on homeownership as a tool for family wealth building. I support continued partnership with the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, HOME, and SCDHC as they provide education, down payment assistance, and other resources to build wealth through homeownership. 

 

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?  

 

Yes, I believe Richmond should redevelop public housing in a way to ensure no resident is displaced in the process. Gilpin Court is Richmond’s largest, oldest public housing community and it is located within the 3rd District. In recent years, RRHA’s redevelopment plans for Gilpin Court have been repeatedly rejected by HUD due to lack of community participation, not providing enough consideration in its plan for the housing needs of public housing applicants and tenants, and missing information.  

 

Richmond public housing residents deserve safe communities to live in, which requires updating our aging public housing infrastructure, but before we get to redevelopment we have a lot of work to do. There is widespread distrust of City government and RRHA due to historical examples of African American residents being marginalized through redlining and highway construction.  

 

Affordable housing and empowering our public housing communities are both issues that I hold very close. For just over two years (ending December 2019), I served as Executive Director for Richmond Opportunities, Inc. Their mission is to support community transformation by creating pathways to self-sufficiency for people residing in Richmond’s public housing communities, ensuring individuals and families thrive in safe, healthy housing. I entered this role to assist with organizational start-up, knowing that it is critical to have a people-centered approach when it comes to public housing redevelopment. Through this role, I partnered with RRHA, City Council members, City administration, nonprofit providers, and funders to ensure ongoing commitment for people facing housing insecurity or other challenges due to the redevelopment process.  

 

While at ROI, I supported the Family Transition Coach program – raising funds and developing evaluation tools. The Family Transition Coaches work with Creighton Court residents to forge relationships and provide resources related to jobs, housing options, health care, and other avenues to thriving. These wrap-around services are vital to ensure people can meet their individual and family goals during their housing transition. I worked to address the day-to-day challenges of people dealing with RRHA and regularly advocated on residents’ behalf. 

 

However, that’s not how it should be - it should not require an outside party to advocate for residents. Residents themselves should be heard and respected by RRHA. Some ways we can hold RRHA more accountable and transparent include: 

 

● Revitalize the RTO (Richmond Tenant Organization) to take on the role of holding RRHA accountable

 

● Enforce the Resident Bill of Rights for Redevelopment and demand meaningful participation in decision-making by residents and one-for-one replacement of affordable housing units

 

 

● Work in collaboration with legal justice groups (LAJC, VPLC) to ensure tenants know their rights and are empowered to exercise them 

 

● Create a vehicle for regular dialogue between Council and RRHA Board of 

Commissioners to ensure accountability and build alignment between the City’s housing goals and the objectives of RRHA 

 

● Ensure provision of a robust people-centered network of support for residents, especially those facing redevelopment, to be successful through housing transformation

 

It will require multiple partners to finance redevelopment of Richmond’s public housing. Critical partners will of course be HUD and VHDA. We can also explore innovative financing such as impact investing or a social justice bond to attract capital. 

 

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 have an opportunity for economic growth and community engagement with the Small Area Plan that is underway. Unfortunately, I have not seen a strong effort on the part of the City to engage residents in the current process. If I were serving on Council, I would widely announce opportunities for people to share input and ideas and proactively ask for people to join in the conversation. This could be done via virtual channels such as Facebook Live, town halls, electronic surveys, office hours, or socially-distant door-to-door conversations. Community tax dollars should be allocated towards infrastructure and community improvements that are actually desired by Richmonders. As we saw with the downfall of the Navy Hill plan, there was no community consensus. We need to be a united front when it comes to developing the downtown area.  

 

Any future large development plans should include a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to ensure the developer(s) provides equitable contributions to the City and its residents. Within CBAs, we can outline specific commitments such as mandatory minimum units of affordable housing, community-targeted hiring for businesses developed in the area, project labor agreements, inclusion of minority contractors, green infrastructure standards, minimum wage requirements, and more. These commitments would be determined by community members through a process of intentional engagement. Additionally, I would support creating Community 

Advisory Committees, made up of community members, that oversee the implementation of the CBA, monitor successes, ensure compliance terms, and produce an annual public report. I believe that the terms outlined in the CBA, combined with the implementation of CACs, would create transparency, show where taxpayer dollars are being used, and ensure benefit to the greater community.  

 

To me, success would include: expansion of affordable housing, including housing for people at/below 30% AMI; more locally owned businesses; new employment opportunities and revenue generating properties; urban design that includes walkability and complete streets; and an increased tax-base for 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?  

 

While the Mayor makes budget recommendations and City Council approves the budget, RPS’s priorities and determining how to allocate resources to the best uses ultimately rests with the School Board. I believe that Richmond City Council should respect the role of the School Board in making decisions regarding Richmond Public School policy. Collaboration is one of my core leadership values and I would use my position on Richmond City Council to support our School Board and the parents, students, administrators, and staff within RPS.  

 

Behind each priority and action step of the Dreams4RPS Strategic Plan are measurable objectives that can be used as guidelines for budget accountability. However, we must recognize that virtual teaching will impact ability to reach objectives and we should work in partnership with School Board and RPS administration to determine reasonable expectations that consider our current challenges.  

 

One silver lining of the pandemic has been community members jumping in to support RPS students through this unprecedented time. From providing funds for technology to volunteering for food pickup, the community commitment to Richmond Public Schools has been remarkable. We should nurture an environment that welcomes partners who seek to work in collaboration with our schools. 

 

Through the budget, City Council should continue to ensure funding is available to support out-of-school time programs such as those supported by NextUp, Parks & Recreation, the YMCA, and Peter Paul. Ensuring every child has access to after-school enrichment and a safe environment improves school attendance and academic achievement - indicators of a path to graduation with a plan for the future.  

 

 

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 is the political epicenter of the Commonwealth. Our central location combined with our rich history and historic assets make us unlike any other city in the state. Richmond also has unique resources such as the James River and our extensive park system, a vibrant arts community, and a renowned restaurant scene. With the reinterpretation of spaces once occupied by monuments, along with the memorial park in Shockoe, Richmond will be a national model for racial reconciliation and healing. To better leverage our status as the capital of the Commonwealth, we should capitalize on these incredible assets and be a model for the rest of Virginia. As our state government continues to see our city excel in these areas, we could continue to see increased financial capital to invest in more community improvements to make our city even better.   

 

This past year, the General Assembly made progress to increase support for schools, such as funding for teachers, counselors, and an at-risk add-on. While on City Council, I would advocate for increasing equity in support for RPS through review and adjusting the components of the composite index calculation. I would also ensure PILOT reflects the increasing development of state and VCU properties; and seek support to ensure Richmond can meet obligations to update the Combined Sewer Overflow system, which would improve the health of the James River, other areas of the Commonwealth, and the Chesapeake Bay. These policy concerns have all been voiced to me directly by residents of the 3rd District and I want to focus on their needs. 

 

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.  

 

We have seen some improvements in city services, such as road repaving and responsiveness regarding COVID-19, however there are many improvements that are needed to ensure our city services adequately meet the needs of all Richmond residents.  

 

In the March audit conducted by the City Auditor, it was discovered that irresponsible bookkeeping led to $3 million in revenue being stored in inaccessible fund accounts instead of being deployed to address critical needs. As long as these errors continue to take place, Richmond government is not reaching its full potential in regards to both efficiency and effectiveness.  

 

To improve confidence in City government, we should revisit the Performance Review that was conducted in 2017 and update its findings. On City Council, I would propose we invest in a lead point person in the Office of Budget and Strategy to see through the ideas of performance management and lead the implementation of performance-based approaches to the budget. 

 

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? 

 

When looking at a map of Richmond that highlights challenges related to wealth, education, health conditions, and other factors, we can see the continuing impact of redlining and Jim Crow laws. COVID-19 has magnified these racial inequities. Structural racism is undeniable. Identifying current policies that perpetuate this dynamic requires intentional and authentic engagement of the communities who are most directly impacted. When I serve on City Council I will: 

● Consider the impact of any policy decision on communities of color and determine if the decision will have a positive effect on achieving racial equity 

 

● Advocate for development of a community-driven Equity Agenda as a guiding document for the City’s progress, and funding for a city staff member to be the lead on racial equity and inclusion to ensure all city services and policies support our Equity Agenda 

 

 

● Support use of an Equitable Development Scorecard to assess development projects or policy changes to ensure they support our Equity Agenda 

 

We have begun to dismantle symbols of white supremacy through removal of statues along Monument Avenue, but this is only one piece of a large puzzle of inequity and marginalization, unemployment, mass incarceration, poverty and racial segregation. Using the Equity Agenda as our guiding document, I believe investing in education and focusing on criminal justice reform will bring us closer to true economic and racial equity within Richmond.  

 

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?  

 

The Richmond City Health Department’s Youth Violence Prevention Program’s Inspire Workgroup identifies strategies and programs that can be used by youth in Richmond to reduce youth violence. The group works with partners like Communities in Schools of Richmond, Peter Paul, YWCA, Greater Richmond SCAN, and Richmond Public Schools to implement evidence-based practices. By creating cross-organizational partnerships and a collective impact approach to community challenges, we can begin to tackle and better address root causes of violent crime in Richmond. Within the 3rd District, the Office of the Attorney General has partnered with the Project Safe Neighborhoods program and has focused their efforts in Gilpin Court. Their model incorporates both the community and law enforcement to strengthen communication and trust.  

 

We also have opportunities to reduce gun violence through Richmond City Council. The Virginia General Assembly repealed Virginia’s preemption law that had prevented local governments from enacting many of their own gun violence-related reforms with the passage of S.B. 35. An example of this already being implemented would be with Mayor Stoney’s ordinance to ban firearms at permitted public events, which was passed by City Council in early September.  

 

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?

 

I support accountability in all areas of public service, including our police. A strong civilian review board with subpoena power will assist with rebuilding trust and mutual respect between the community and RPD. Civilian oversight will provide objective review of individual infractions to ensure our civil liberties are upheld, and make it possible to have transparent review of complaints and determine if there are patterns of police misconduct or use of force that need specific interventions such as disciplinary actions or changes in policy. Building knowledge through data collected by an independent civilian review board will develop a more clear picture of the type of force used and provide more clear definitions of police actions that include use of force. The ability to review policy related to law enforcement will hold our department accountable to the people they serve.  

 

Transparent data will also help to hold leaders accountable for ensuring fair and equitable services. For example, according to the Richmond Transparency & Accountability Project’s Policing in Richmond report, when data is available for analysis, we can see that an overwhelming number of people who come into contact with the Richmond Police Department are Black, though African Americans make up 45% of the overall population of the City.  

 

I also believe our police departments should not be supplied with or use military-grade equipment. This type of militarization can escalate situations and lead to acts of police-led violence against civilians.  

 

Lastly, I recognize the need for police within our communities but I also support investing portions of our budget allocated for law enforcement into other community areas like mental health, education, minority-owned business development, and employment. Reallocating resources towards community-based models of safety, support, and crime prevention is the type of police reform our communities need.  

 

Our city is fortunate to have several nonprofit organizations that are providing services for people returning from incarceration, such as Nolef Turns, OAR, REAL Life, and others. City Council should encourage coordination between the Sheriff’s office and community providers to ensure people are connected with appropriate resources upon release.  

 

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?  

 

Economic recovery from COVID-19 will not occur overnight. Projections from the Federal Reserve predict a downturn through 2021 with a return to economic growth in 2022 and 2023 - but even those projections are based on assumptions. Our communities can’t wait for relief and we need to be strategic in providing resources to our residents that need it most.  

 

While deploying CARES Act funds, City Council should ensure funds are used to support residents’ basic needs and the resources to get back to work. This includes support for the Eviction Diversion program, continued free GRTC rides to increase availability of transportation, supplying PPE, and a much more coordinated and robust response to the incredible need for child care.  

 

Richmond’s small businesses are the backbone of our city economy, employing thousands of residents and generating millions of dollars in revenue each year. The City should support programs such as RVA Small Business Relief Fund and We Care RVA Rebuild Project that target minority-owned businesses and those affected by the unprecedented events of 2020. Support to assist businesses should include crisis resources, bill support, business coaching, and professional counseling. Partnering with groups like Metropolitan Business League will extend financial and technical assistance resources. The City can also make it easier for businesses by ensuring services such as permits, tax billing and collection, and licenses are running as efficiently as possible. 

 

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?  

 

The City of Richmond’s response to COVID-19 has been strong considering the unprecedented circumstances we are all collectively facing. Our response to COVID-19 is being guided by medical experts and data under the leadership of Dr. Danny Avula. RVAStrong is a good example of how we can compile resources and information to be accessible for people seeking support. Through deployment of CARES Act funds and leveraging those resources with private funds where possible, Richmonders are able to access critical support ranging from food security to small business loans and emergency financial assistance.  

 

Richmond is fortunate to have several partners in the health care safety net that provide services in communities where people face multiple barriers to care. For example, the Richmond City Health District operates health resources centers in the six large public housing communities as well as at Southwood Apartments (primarily Latinx families) and the Bellemeade Community Center. RCHD employs Community Health Workers, also known as lay health promoters, who are from the community and work out in the community going door-to-door to connect people with resources to address the social determinants of health. Each center also has one clinic day per week staffed by medical professionals. This is an example of how we can use multiple approaches to address health outside the clinic walls, as we work to increase access to care from doctors or nurse practitioners. Employing Community Health Workers can also provide much needed data to inform systems as to issues that the community faces to devise people-centered responses. 

 

On City Council, I will ensure support for RCHD as it continues to address mandated public health services and also go beyond that by using a lens of the social determinants of health. RCHD’s leadership in coordinating community partners to focus on critical issues provides a great benefit to Richmond. By providing backbone and administrative support for Northside Strong, Complete Streets, Inspire, Richmond Promise Neighborhood, and other efforts, RCHD is ensuring that our public and nonprofit partners are aligning resources to achieve shared goals to improve the health and wellness of Richmond.