Levar Stoney

 Mayor Questionnaire: Levar Stoney (https://www.stoneyforrva.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.

 

I have been unafraid to make tough decisions to ensure our essential city services, especially education, are funded at levels our residents deserve. My administration has done everything we can before ever making the decision to raise taxes, such as increasing our tax collection rate from 94.4% to 97.4%, moving blighted properties back on the tax rolls, and growing our tax base through economic development. However, Richmond deserves the best and I will not take any tool off the table to get the job done. Tax increases should continue to be the last resort. 

 

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? 

 

The Office of Community Wealth Building (OCWB) has created a strong vision for the economic mobility of Richmond's residents, including: Systems Transformation, Quality of Service Delivery, Community Centric, Two-Generation Approach, and Wealth Building. Since its launch, the OCWB has had a positive impact on the Richmond community, connecting many to jobs or job training opportunities. Moreover, the new wages and benefits of OCWB participants in 2019 magnified the return on investments for Richmond. For every $1 invested in OCWB by the City of Richmond, $7.45 went back out into the community through the earnings of newly employed participants. As mayor, I have overseen the Office of Community Wealth Building and supported its mission and goals. For example, we have recently let our community ambassador program take on a larger role working with the public. During the pandemic, our ambassadors have worked in communities to distribute COVID-19 resources, free desks so RPS students have the ability to focus on their studies, and survey parents about their childhood needs. To read more about the efforts and successes of this office under my administration, please check out their annual report.  

 

During my next term, I plan to tackle the growing disparity between Black vs. white homeownership here in the city. Since 2000, Richmond has seen a more than 30% decrease in Black homeownership, while white homeownership has increased by over 150%. I will make increasing Black homeownership a top priority in my second term. We will do this by creatinggreater density through zoning reform and a shift to building more mixed-income communities within the city, while also focusing on creating progressive tax abatement and deferral programs. I also plan on transforming and redeveloping our dilapidated stock of public housing units in the city.  

 

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? 

 

We need to reimagine public housing and guarantee every resident who lives in public housing today has a home in the city tomorrow. Next term, I will work with stakeholders to build new housing in mixed-income communities, ensuring current community members do not face displacement. That starts with seeding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund with my proposed dedicated revenue stream. We also need to promote mixed income development projects that have units priced at deeper affordability levels, well below market-rate so that we can put an end to concentrated poverty. We can only accomplish that by reworking city zoning laws as outlined by the Richmond 300 Plan so that we have greater density. My track record has been one of promises-made, promises-kept. From expanding after-school programs to getting our city’s finances in order, I have kept my word to Richmond. My goal for public housing will be no different.

 

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? 

 

Navy Hill was the kind of development that would revitalize Richmond’s downtown core and bring new, permanent jobs and additional housing to a community in need of investment. More generally, redevelopment in downtown Richmond would bring much needed jobs that would lift thousands of residents out of poverty, particularly in light of the current pandemic. As stated in my previous answer, moving forward, I will use the same process as the Richmond 300 masterplan to engage the community and foster active dialogue and conversation with the public about future project plans. As with the Navy Hill plan design, successful economic development should include guaranteed, new, affordable housing units, prevent displacement of communities already present, and bring Black businesses and contractors to the forefront of development. 

 

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? 

 

Richmond Public Schools has been my number one priority throughout my tenure. I have fully funded the Dreams 4 RPS strategic plan the last two years, all while building three new schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods and expanding after-school programs to all elementary and middle school students. I will continue to fight for fully funded schools and directing monies into desperately needed school infrastructure improvements. While I have been a partner with RPS and the superintendent, I will not be afraid to criticize their work or hold them accountable should I see the need to do so. 

 

Beyond RPS’s current role, we need to guarantee universal pre-K for every Richmond student. My plan would create a universal pre-K option for children starting at age three that would be available to all who need it. This follows the recommendations made by the Richmond Children’s Cabinet, whose top priority was expanding access to quality preschool by dedicating local resources to supplement state and federal funds. My plan makes that recommendation a reality. 

 

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? 

 

I have worked collaboratively with the General Assembly to allocate more funding for the City of Richmond, particularly our public schools and transit infrastructure. This past year, we were able to create the Central Virginia Transportation Authority, which has already brought tens of millions of dollars to the city for much needed infrastructure improvements. I have also called for sweeping changes to our criminal justice system during the most recent special session. I’ll continue using relationships at the state level to lobby the GA and governor for priorities important to Richmonders, especially as it relates to public education and funding for my proposed universal pre-K program.  

 

7. Do you believe the City of Richmond’s internal functioning has improved over the last four years? Why or why not? Do you believe the delivery of basic services in the City has improved over the last four 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. 

 

When I became mayor, I ordered a full performance audit and review to better understand the deficiencies within City Hall. We immediately got to work reforming outdated systems, improving morale, and updating and streamlining services to make city government more efficient for our residents. Over the last four years, we have doubled our capacity to service building and permit requests, implemented a user friendly city 311 system, provided pay raises for all city employees to attract and keep talent, gotten the city’s financial house in order, and brought in new leadership in critical roles within city government. While we still have a lot to accomplish, I can confidently say that city hall has improved under my leadership, and I will continue to make progress during my second term.  

 

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? 

 

While my administration has made great strides in promoting racial equity in city hall, from undertaking a racial equity study to instructing my cabinet to identify city policies that need greater equity, I pledge bold action on our schools, on housing and Black homeownership, and policing. Moreover; I pledge to transform and redevelop the true monuments to racial inequity: our public housing communities. I will champion universal pre-K, create a dedicated revenue stream for the AHTF, increase Black homeownership and promote Black wealth-building, and continue reforming public safety. 

 

 

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? 

 

While crime in the city of Richmond is down overall, that provides little comfort to those in neighborhoods dealing with the decades-old epidemic of gun violence. We have invested more resources into areas of concern, however, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We must wrap our human services portfolio around our young adults, helping connect them with jobs and training programs to ensure they have an alternative to gun violence.

 

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? 

 

Thanks to my task force to reimagine public safety, we will focus on routing calls for service to more appropriate agencies and bringing more community members into our public safety apparatus. We will also continue our work on the “Marcus Alert” and creating an independent civilian review board with subpoena power. We must fund the change we want to see in our police department, and I have full confidence in Chief Smith to implement these reforms. 

 

Before serving as Richmond Mayor, I was honored to serve as Secretary of the Commonwealth under Governor Terry McAuliffe. As Secretary, I helped restore voting and civil rights to over 150,000 former offenders. I strongly believe in second chances and redemption; my father, after making a mistake early in his life, worked and supported our family in what ways he could. It’s helping folks like my father re-enter that has guided my administration’s priorities in the Office of Community Wealth Building and other initiatives to support returning citizens. 

 

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? 

 

My top priority has been keeping our residents safe while supporting the local economy. I will continue to listen to scientists and experts, centering their recommendations at the heart of our response. We have taken important steps to support Richmonders, from allocating $14.5 million for eviction diversion and rental assistance, to helping restaurants expand outdoors, to working with organizations like the YMCA to provide childcare for essential workers. Recently, as part of our $13.75 million budget surplus, I’ve proposed that $1.4 million be set aside for improving benefits for retired city employees, a racial equity study on the effects of COVID-19 on Black and Brown residents, and an initiative to tackle racial disparities in health care. 

 

 

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 informfuture public health strategies? What specifically will you do to support stronger public health (including mental and behavioral health) during your term in office? 

 

Protecting public health has been my top priority during the pandemic. We were one of the first cities to immediately focus on testing, tracing infections, and isolating those who tested positive,even providing hotel rooms for those who couldn’t easily quarantine. When the data indicated Richmond should mandate masks and delay Phase 1 of Virginia’s reopening plan, I asked Governor Northam for both, and he said yes. I provided safety gear to low-income communities, authorized $14.5 million in funding to assist with rent payments and hold off evictions, offered interest-free small business disaster loans and grants to local businesses, partnered with the YMCA to provide childcare to essential workers, and worked with restaurants to develop expanded outdoor seating and meals for first responders. Additionally, I secured a $250,000 grant from the Open Society Foundation to provide rent and mortgage assistance to immigrant families, requested Governor Northam allow restaurants to serve cocktails to-go, created RVAStrong.org to be a resource hub for residents to request and offer assistance, requested federal support on behalf of restaurant owners to get the Paycheck Protection Plan fixed to allow more flexibility, worked with the Robins Family Foundation to create the Family Crisis Fund which gives families in need $500 reloadable gift cards to help with essential items, and had the local health district change the reporting structure for COVID-19 data -- breaking down cases by race to understand the effects of the pandemic on our communities of color.  

 

Our work has highlighted just how deep the pre-existing economic and health disparities run in the city. This is why my administration is undertaking a racial equity study to understand the effects of COVID-19 on our minority populations. We have also set aside half a million dollars to help correct health disparities in the city. COVID-19 has shined a light on Richmond and illuminated the inequities that persist in our city. It is incumbent upon my office to make sure that we right these wrongs and help all our residents weather this storm.