Stephanie Lynch - 5th District City Council Candidate (incumbent)

https://www.electstephanielynch.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. 

 

For starters, I think we need to be more judicious in terms of the incentives (tax abatements, etc) that we offer up for private commercial projects in the city. We can’t afford to further leverage our financial position when we already are navigating the reality that 30+ percent of the properties in large swaths of the city are tax exempt and generating no revenue. I will continue to work with our General Assembly delegation and advocates like REA to fight for additional resources from the state budget through revenue sources such as the Local Composite Index, facilitate investment and community centered development that increases our tax base, re-examine our existing budget to prioritize investing in our youth rather than incarcerating them, and embrace more targeted approaches such as further leveraging the cigarette tax and looking at alternatives such as a land value tax. Lastly, we need to continue to engage with our regional neighbors to collaborate on funding initiatives like the Regional Transit Authority, and to get our due compensation for utilities services we provide for the region. 

 

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 yosupport  toachieve the goals of fighting poverty and building community wealth?  

 

I absolutely support the goals laid out by the Office of Community Wealth Building. With respect to hiring of under-employed Richmonders, I think the city has already taken important steps towards creating more robust pathways towards employment by “banning the box”  anumber of years ago, and more recently I championed a resolution that would do away with the policy of mandatory drug testing of city employees for marijuana. Both of these previous barriers to employment disproportionately hurt our Black and Brown residents. We can continue to invest in an support successful elements of the approach taken by the Office of Community Wealth Building, such as its work with the Center for Workforce Innovation and the BLISS program, but also expand the scope of our focus by introducing stronger relationships with regional labor unions and apprenticeship groups to foster long term skills development and incubate careers in high demand trades. I’m proud to have the endorsement of LiUNA, the Building Trades, and other local unions, and I plan to introduce legislation to support Project Labor Agreements and Prevailing Wage standards for City bids, as well foster a closer relationship with Unions more generally to facilitate jobs training programs in our most underserved communities. I also support the Mayor’s proposal for a universal Pre-K plan to close the early childhood learning gap, and introducing more financial incentives to foster Black homeownership 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?  

 

Richmond is home to some of the oldest public housing in the nation, and it is in dire need of redevelopment. RRHA is responsible for more than 3,800 public housing units that house our City’s most vulnerable residents, and our approach to redevelopment must fully engage current residents and ensure that they are not displaced during the redevelopment process. I would support a resident input process by which individual residents and families were given the option to accept choice vouchers to relocate themselves and their families with the assistance of step by step counseling and integration of local community supports, or choose to remain in their existing community as the reconstruction of individual units takes place. I would support shifting our current funding source to Section 8, a better funded and supported federal program. I have also called for further funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund with an additional dedicated $10 million a year, and I would like to additionally further fund initiatives like the Maggie Walker Land Trust and ensure that more homes are set aside for residents in the lower ranges of the AMI.  

 

 

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?  

 

I voted against the Navy Hill development project earlier this year in large part because of the use of a “tax incremental finance” district that would have obligated future tax revenues from a major portion of the city towards paying off obligations to developers. The budgetary implications of COVID-19 have demonstrated that we can’t afford to tie up significant portions of our future tax revenue in a city that already has a large proportion of non taxable land, and an urgent need for investment in schools, infrastructure, parks, and transportation. I think we can all agree we need meaningful development of downtown, further investment in affordable housing in that area, and tax revenue from what are now underdeveloped and largely tax exempt parcels. That’s why I have laid out an alternative approach for community centered and fiscally responsible development that calls for a full analysis of the range of our options - including simply selling off the tax exempt parcels downtown - and that focuses on robust community input with an eye towards restoring a once thriving neighborhood that has been the victim of decades of racist and shortsighted disinvestment.  

 

We have successful existing models for authentic, grassroots community engagement through a variety of city adjacent programs and initiatives such as Richmond 300 and others. I believe we need to utilize existing community organizing infrastructures to facilitate a dialogue with residents that is authentic, accessible, and transparent. We need to be willing to invest in targeted and culturally competent methods of digital, in person, and integrated outreach that brings more Richmonders into the decision making process. Perhaps most importantly, we as public leaders have to be committed to a process by which we solicit and then support the community’s vision for Richmond, rather than simply creating our own notions of success and then engaging around that vision. 

 

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 needs of children outside of the RPS school day? 

 

We as a Council need to start from a place of collaboration and emphasize listening to those that are closest to our kids. I have long been in support of certain specific legislative goals, such as ensuring collective bargaining for our teachers and support staff, creating more formal methods for input on processes from teachers, and pursuing innovative solutions like school based health centers, but fundamentally I believe my role is to collaborate with my partner in the 5th on School Board to elevate the needs of teachers, families, and staff across the 5th District, and provide any and all resources necessary for our schools.  

 

I believe the Education Compact can be strengthened and more fully supported in our budgeting process, and I am in favor of robust third party audits to ensure progress towards asserted goals and benchmarks. We need to leverage the surplus school properties that we currently have in our inventory to both pursue more dedicated funding streams for RPS, and to pursue innovative solutions to issues like our affordable housing stock. We also need to continue to increase funding and support to our City Parks and Rec after school programs to engage our kids in holistic learning opportunities throughout the day.  And again, I also support the Mayor’s proposal for a universal Pre-K plan to close the early childhood learning gap.  

 

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’ve made collaborating with our General Assembly delegation one of my top priorities while in office, and my experience in the General Assembly has shown me that Richmond is frequently not at the table when it comes to budgetary discussions surrounding issues such as the local composite index, PILOT fees, and dedicated Capital Improvement Project funding. I believe going forward we absolutely need to commit as a council to be more present and engaged in the state budgeting process, and work in tandem with administration and our city legislative staff and lobbying team to develop more comprehensive legislative agendas that are responsive in real time to the dynamics of the General Assembly Session. We need to go after increases to local composite index for schools, increases in the PILOT fees paid by tax exempt entities such as VCU and our state agency buildings, and work out a long term funding plan to address our failing sewer system. We also need to build on progress we’ve made on issues such as the funding index for road projects, and continue to foster regional partnerships such as the Central Virginia Transit Authority.  

 

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 CityHall? Be as specific as possible in your answer.  

 

Yes, there absolutely has been improvement in terms of the day to day delivery of basic services to our residents. One of my first commitments when I ran last year was to keep on the same Council Liaison as was serving under my predecessor, and in conversations with her and with administration and agency staff, I have heard positive feedback about the fact that we no longer are dealing with bulk removal requests being severely delayed,  the availability of dedicated pothole trucks for targeted repair of potholes, more funding for paving and road repair, and more. To continue to improve, we have to invest. We need to rework our hiring policies and salary structures to ensure long term retention of quality staff, introduce more automated processes for services such as permitting, and commit to more equitable and responsive platforms such as RVA 311 and the new rva.gov portal that modernize our public facing interface and open up city government services to the public in a standardized and equitable way. We also need to invest in and pursue efforts towards participatory budgeting - a model that Councilman Addison has been a champion for - and commit to honestly educating our residents on realistic timelines, expectations, and commitments for city projects and services.  

 

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?  

 

In this past year we’ve seen the long standing disparities in our city along racial lines thrown into stark relief. A lack of stable and affordable housing during a pandemic, lack of access to affordable child care during remote schooling, inequities in policing, and extreme heat resulting from our built environment are all issues that have disproportionately impacted our Black and Brown residents in the 5th and across the City. We have to take a comprehensive approach to rectify centuries worth of disinvestment and systematic subjugation in our City. In my first year as the first southside resident to represent the 5th District I’ve patroned a southside economic revitalization plan to invest in small businesses in historically black communities, championed police reform measures and worked towards pay parity for public defenders, and focused on allocating more dollars towards affordable housing and protecting our legacy residents. Going forward I will support measures to increase Black home ownership, invest in universal early childhood education, ensure we rebuild George Wythe High School, and prioritize investments in transportation and infrastructure to ensure physical and economic mobility for all residents in the 5th.  

 

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  violentcrime?  

 

I have supported the Mayor’s efforts to enact common sense gun control measures, including mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms, banning firearms at permitted events, and banning firearms in public parks. The loss of Markiya Dickson just blocks from my home will continue to motivate me to tackle the systemic issue of gun violence throughout my term. I think we need to take a look at bringing successful programs such as “Gun 250” back and encourage buybacks to take more guns off of the streets in the first place. We also have to address root causes of violence such as poverty, housing instability, and lack of quality education. Investing in programs like parks and rec and other holistic approaches to supporting our youth can play a major role in deterring violence of all forms.  

 

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?  

 

We need a transformative rebalancing of the institutions in our public safety and criminal justice system. I’ve worked on Council to lift up the incredible work of community activists and reform groups and translate the protests and pain in our communities into policy. I’ve worked with my Council colleagues to introduce the “Marcus Alert” mental health crisis intervention hotline, start the process of creating an empowered Citizen Review Board with oversight capacity of RPD, and curtail RPD use of force towards protestors. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We need to continue to engage with our community members and activists, as well as the public safety apparatus, and commit to implementing the recommendations laid out by the Reimagining 

Public Safety Task Force. We also have to ensure funding parity between the Public Defender's

Office and prosecutors in the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office, demilitarize our Police Department, reform Richmond drug courts to direct residents into substance abuse recovery facilities and rehabilitative services, and transition away from the presence of School Resource Officers in our schools. In terms of re-entry, we need to build on the progress we’ve made in the areas of banning the box and doing away with marijuana testing of public employees, invest in the partnerships and processes laid out by the Office of Community Wealth Building, and partner with community organizations such as Nolef Turns to wrap support around our residents re-entering the community.  

 

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?  

 

We need to invest in the recommendations of the Task Force for Southside Revitalization, including expanding the Richmond port and investing in infrastructure development in that area, continue to work with community educational partners such as the Reynolds and RPS trades training initiative, and prioritize capital investment in small blackowned businesses. I believe we also need to immediately lift the hiring freeze and fill critical positions in departments such as DSS that serve our community and can employ Richmond residents. Longer term, I think we need to take a close look at our Enterprise and Care Zones, and review the recent JLARC feedback with specific lens towards improved outcomes in Richmond.  

 

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?  

 

I believe we did an admirable job as a city in terms of decisive action to close businesses and public accommodations to protect vulnerable residents, and emphasizing the critical and dire nature of the pandemic. We have seen fewer major outbreaks in our congregant care facilities as compared to our neighboring localities, and we have implemented robust community testing with an emphasis on equity and reaching every neighborhood in the City. I do however believe it was a mistake to delay the opening of Richmond businesses relative to the rest of the state given the lack of notice that was afforded to businesses. This crisis has amplified every major expression of inequity in our City, and nowhere more so than in terms of public health. To go back to an earlier point, I believe we need to fully implement the recommendations of the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, including the reinstatement of the “second responders” program that found great success at targeting mental health care interventions to residents that were in the most dire need. I also support the Mayor’s proposed expenditure of $500,000 in surplus Special Purpose funds towards funding a pilot program dedicated to addressing mental health disorders and substance abuse in underserved communities.