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Richmond, Virginia: Mixed-Use Development Brings New Life to an Iconic African-American Neighborhood
Located immediately north of downtown Richmond, Jackson Ward was a thriving antebellum community of Black property owners and entrepreneurs that grew into a center of African-American enterprise and culture between the late 1800s and the middle of the 20th century. Construction of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike in the 1950s split the neighborhood in two, and portions of the neighborhood were later cleared to make way for large-scale institutions. Subsequent outmigration and disinvestment led to the loss of several thousand residents as well as numerous businesses and neighborhood institutions, including St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the city’s first African-American Catholic church. On the block where this church once stood, Enterprise Community Development (ECD) has constructed The Rosa and Van de Vyver Apartment Homes. This mixed-use development opened in November 2020 and received the Affordable Housing Finance Editors’ Choice Award the following year. The Rosa is reserved for residents of an outdated public housing development, and Van de Vyver includes workforce and market-rate housing options as well as commercial space. By providing mixed-income apartments and commercial space, this development helps revitalize the Jackson Ward neighborhood, now a National Historic Landmark District.
The Rosa and Van de Vyver
Around 2015, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) contracted with ECD (then the Community Preservation Development Corporation) to provide new housing for residents of a 200-unit senior housing project known as Fay Towers and for other tenants with the goal of rehousing residents to areas of higher opportunity. ECD acquired 2 acres on a block adjacent to Interstate 95, the current version of the turnpike, to accommodate both populations.
The Rosa is a 4-story apartment building containing 72 one-bedroom units with rents that are affordable to former Fay Towers residents whose incomes are less than 50 percent of the area median income. The building’s amenities include a large multipurpose room, arts room, library, fitness center, and resident services office. The Rosa’s residents also have convenient access to services and amenities in downtown Richmond. Van de Vyver has 82 apartments and includes 1- and 2-bedroom units as well as studios. Eight units are located in the former convent of St. Joseph’s, preserving, by neighborhood request, the last remaining building of the culturally significant church. Thirty-six of the apartments are reserved for residents earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income, and 46 units rent at the market rate. The property’s common areas include a patio, business center, fitness center, and large multipurpose room. ECD has signed leases with minority business owners to provide a restaurant and grocery store in the Van de Vyver commercial space.
Financing of the Rosa and Van de Vyver
Development costs for the Rosa and Van de Vyver totaled nearly $35 million (table 1). RRHA took advantage of the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program to tap into additional public and private financing for the Rosa. According to Matt Engel, senior director of real estate development at ECD, the Rosa was one of the nation’s first projects to use RAD funding to reconstruct public housing apartments at an offsite location. Both the Rosa and Van de Vyver also received funding from the sale of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) as well as from other federal and state sources. ECD also contributed its own funds to both developments.
Table 1: The Rosa and Van de Vyver Financing
|LIHTC equity (9 percent)||$7,600,000|
|Virginia Housing taxable debt||4,100,000|
|RRHA capital funds||750,000|
|Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta||500,000|
|Developer equity/deferred fee||1,050,000|
Van de Vyver
|LIHTC equity (4 percent)||$3,000,000|
|Virginia Housing tax-exempt debt||12,100,000|
|RRHA seller note||1,300,000|
|State housing trust funds||700,000|
Revitalizing a Historic African-American Neighborhood
With deep historic roots as an African-American neighborhood, Jackson Ward attracted free and enslaved Blacks, many of them skilled in trades and business, during the antebellum period. After the Civil War, the neighborhood’s entrepreneurs, property owners, and workers, along with the churches and beneficial societies that they founded, transformed Jackson Ward into one of the most influential African-American communities in the United States. The neighborhood proved resilient even after Richmond’s White politicians designated it as a city council ward in 1871 to concentrate Black political power in one district. The nation’s first African-American-owned bank was chartered in Jackson Ward in 1889. In 1903, Maggie Lena Walker, a local civil rights leader and education advocate, became the first African-American woman to found a bank, which remained Black-owned for more than a century. By the early 1900s, Jackson Ward’s streets were lined with African-American-owned businesses, including restaurants, drugstores, grocery stores, and hotels. As a thriving, self-sustaining economy in the Jim Crow era, Jackson Ward earned the nickname "Black Wall Street." Also known as "the Harlem of the South," Jackson Ward had a vibrant entertainment district anchored by the famed Hippodrome, a segregated theater built in 1914 where artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong frequently performed. Other prominent figures of the era, such as Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen as well civil rights leaders W.E.B. Du Bois and Mary McLeod Bethune, frequently visited Maggie Walker’s home, which is now a National Historic Site.
In the mid-20th century, the neighborhood was decimated by redlining practices and publicly funded redevelopment projects. Public housing developments such as Fay Towers replaced houses in the neighborhood north of the turnpike, known as Gilpin Court; south of the highway, the Richmond Coliseum, the Greater Richmond Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, and an expansion of Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus encroached on the neighborhood. In recent years, as the neighborhood did in the antebellum period and at the turn of the 20th century, local organizations and businesses have led community development efforts. The Jackson Ward Collective provides a venue for African-American business owners to find mutual support as well as mentoring services and technical assistance. The Hippodrome, which reopened in 2011 with live entertainment, is among the new businesses contributing to the neighborhood’s resurgence. The Historic Jackson Ward Association organizes residents to promote revitalization efforts in the community while maintaining the neighborhood’s historic assets. This association and other local nonprofits directly invest in Jackson Ward by building and rehabilitating housing units. Other organizations are dedicated to uncovering and sharing the neighborhood’s history and culture, such as the JXN Project, which organizes events to share the under-told story of Jackson Ward. Likewise, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia showcases the significance the neighborhood and the larger area has had in African-American history. Neighborhood leaders are also joining with city officials to pursue major initiatives to further revitalize Jackson Ward. HUD recently awarded RRHA a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant to stimulate affordable housing and economic development. The city is also studying opportunities to cap the interstate to physically reunite the two sections of Jackson Ward.