Michael Gray - 1st District City Council Candidate

https://grayforrva.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.  

 

The ongoing pandemic has resulted in thousands of Richmonders being out of work. It would be irresponsible to raise real estate and personal property taxes at this time. However, we have yet to exhaust opportunities to increase taxes on other sources such as cigarettes. The City of Richmond also needs to follow the recommendations outlined by the Office of the City Auditor. Over the past decade, the Auditor has found dozens of opportunities the City can reign in spending. Very few of these recommendations have been followed or implemented. Some estimates indicate that an additional $15-$25 million could go towards RPS annually if the City followed the Auditor’s recommendations.      

 

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?  

 

I do support the goal of cutting child poverty and moving households above the poverty line. As it relates to creating more job opportunities, we have to look at this from a regional perspective rather than just a City one. I’ve also proposed partnering with our neighboring localities and the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce to create Richmond Works - a centralized employment database and job training resource that will connect local employers and residents. We have the opportunity to give all residents the chance at starting or enhancing their career opportunities if we tackle this from a regional standpoint. 

 

I’ve also outlined an ambitious affordable housing strategy. To increase housing opportunities in the City of Richmond and create diversity of housing stock that is accessible to Richmonders at all income levels, we must follow the Partnership for Housing Affordability’s Regional Housing Framework recommendations that include: (1) Increase the amount of land available for multifamily housing development in commercial and residential zones; (2) Support and expand the community land trust homeownership model; (3) Reduce barriers to accessory dwelling units in residential districts; (4) Establish inclusionary zoning programs that incentivize affordable dwelling units; (5) Integrate affordable housing into transportation-rich corridors; and (6) Increase the number of residential zoning districts where manufactured homes are permitted. 

 

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?  

 

It should be redeveloped and done in a manner that reflects resident needs and desires. To do this effectively, it will take careful planning and coordination between RRHA and a new housing department that I have proposed as part of my platform. I believe that safe, affordable housing is a right so we must ensure that no one is displaced.  

 

Funding will need to come from state, federal, and private sources. I’ve seen this effectively done in places like Miami and Charlotte where mixed income communities provide a launching pad for wealth creation.    

 

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?  

 

Communication is key to proposing economic development projects. As part of my pledges to residents of the First District, I’ve committed to: 

 

• Civic Association Engagement: I pledge to actively engage and/or attend the Board meetings of allCivic Associations on a quarterly basis. As the former President of the Monument Avenue Park Civic Association, I know what an important role civic associations play in our community. 

 

• District Canvassing: I pledge to visit households in the First District each year I serve on Council to hear directly from constituents about their needs/concerns.  

 

• District Forums: I pledge to hold regular district forums where residents will have the opportunity to ask questions and make their voice heard. The timing and frequency of these forums will be determined by resident feedback but one recommendation I've heard a few times is to hold three forums (Westhampton area, Mary Munford area, and Museum District) twice a year.  

 

• Transparency and Feedback: I pledge to be transparent and solicit feedback BEFORE I vote on an issue. I will never rubber stamp something just because an Administration asks me to.  

 

• Collaboration with Council: I pledge to actively collaborate with fellow council members to find solutions to the challenges facing the City of Richmond and the First District. 

 

There is no substitute to actively engaging and being a part of the community an elected official serves.  

 

There are three main metrics I would use to judge any economic development proposal

 

• Job Creation/Development: Would such a project create new jobs and would those jobs provide a sustainable pipeline for further career growth/development? The Navy Hill project would have created a lot of jobs but most would have been service sector jobs with few opportunities for professional development and growth. I want projects that would provide a pipeline for career growth. Additionally, would the jobs be accessible to individuals who want and need new employment opportunities.   

 

• Public Infrastructure Improvements: Would a project/developer pay for public infrastructure improvements as part of the deal? Again, Navy Hill relied on the City of Richmond to pay for infrastructure improvements. The developer should be responsible if they are receiving public funds.  

 

• ROI: It is an age old concept but ROI is really one of the most effective ways to gauge whether or not a project will be successful. None of the economic development projects undertaken by the City of Richmond over the past 10 years have had a strong ROI (Washington Football camp, Navy Hill). 

 

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? 

 

We should be focusing more resources towards Richmond Public Schools which is why I’ve proposed that the City of Richmond allocate at least 25% of its annual revenues towards RPS funding for the next 20 years. This is a floor allocation percentage which can be higher based on revenues but by creating a baseline, we have a jumping off point for more productive conversations about funding.  

 

I also believe that City Council members have an individual responsibility to lead by example. They need to inspire Richmond residents to do everything they can to support RPS. That is why I’m pledging that if elected, I will donate 100% of my City Council salary towards the establishment and implementation of a new scholarship program for Thomas Jefferson High School students. This scholarship will be designed to help students gain access to the colleges, universities, community colleges, and technical schools of their choice. I will advocate that residents join me in this effort to provide RPS students with as many opportunities as possible. 

 

Finally, we have yet to exhaust opportunities to increase taxes on other sources such as cigarettes. 

Finally, the City of Richmond needs to follow the recommendations outlined by the Office of the City Auditor. Over the past decade, the Auditor has found dozens of opportunities the City can reign in spending. Very few of these recommendations have been followed or implemented. Some estimates indicate that an additional $15-$25 million could go towards RPS annually if the City followed the Auditor’s recommendations.   

 

Since the beginning of my campaign, I have proposed the process for funding and implementing a 0-5 daycare and preschool program in the City of Richmond. Research has shown that early childhood education coupled with strong mentor/mentee relationships provide better outcomes for learning.  

 

The Mayor recently announced his support for a 4-5 pre-K program but I don’t believe that goes far enough.     

 

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?  

 

We must lobby to end the Dillon Rule and to require the state pay taxes on state-owned properties.  

 

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.  

 

It has not. In fact, I believe that things have gotten worse. I will do everything in my power to ensure that residents in the First District have answers/solutions from City departments. 

Accountability/transparency continues to be a central concern. The only way a representative democracy truly works is if residents have access to the information they are entitled to. If elected, I will work with my colleagues on City Council and in the General Assembly to propose several City of Richmond Charter changes. They include adding a Conflict of Interest Administrator within the Office of the Auditor who could investigate City Administration, City Council, and City employee behavior. I would also advocate for council oversight provisions. City Council needs actionable tools if the Administration/Mayor acts outside of his/her defined duties. Those tools should include audit authority of the Administration and members of the Administration. 

 

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?  

 

Research shows that the best way to promote racial and economic equity is through housing. I will push for a comprehensive, affordable housing plan that provides a solid foundation for residents across all Council districts.  

 

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?  

 

One of the major initiatives that Chief Durham initiated was more community policing. This initiative helped foster greater cooperation and trust between residents and police. We need to begin implementing community policing back into the City of Richmond. I am a major advocate for community policing as a foundation for safer neighborhoods. This is the most effective way to reduce 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?  

 

I believe that the Civilian Review Board is a strong next step.  

 

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?  

 

I have proposed consolidating the Department of Economic & Community Development with theEconomic Development Authority. This consolidation would eliminate red tape in providing businesses, especially Black and Latinx-owned businesses, with grants and other financial resources.  

 

For small business owners, I have proposed lowering the BPOL and personal property tax rates for all businesses in the City of Richmond with a combined annual revenue of less than $5 million. The new rate should be in-line with our neighboring localities. 

 

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?  

 

From the start, health efforts related to COVID-19 were focused on white Richmonders. Testing lagged in the Black and Latinx communities. We need to ensure that this never happens again by creating a system that treats all residents on an equal footing.