State law forces Richmond Land Bank to rely on surplus city property for affordable housing

Since its inception in 2018, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, through the Richmond Land Bank, created a dozen affordable units on 10 vacant lots.
Published: Jul. 18, 2023 at 4:10 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Affordable housing on vacant land isn’t just a catchphrase for Flora Valdes-Dapena. It’s the mission.

“A piece of vacant land could be a house, or it could be a garden, or it could be a shop, or it could be something that is useful for people, but instead, it’s just sitting there,” said Flora Valdes-Dapena, Richmond Land Bank Coordinator of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust.

Since its inception in 2018, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust has created a dozen affordable units on 10 vacant lots through the Richmond Land Bank.

On that land, a high-quality home is built and sold at a subsidized price to buyers with certain income limits. A recent change in state law, though, makes tax delinquent foreclosures a bit harder.

“We’re trying to figure out what the best way for us to move forward because, like I said, there are some changes in state law that made tax foreclosure more difficult,” said Valdes-Dapena.

The foreclosures are the primary source of the group’s land. Now the city is using its surplus properties to help the nonprofit.

Six of the city surplus properties are working out, and plans to build on them are moving forward.

“Like big sewer alignments running through them that made them impossible to build on or like, you know, like legal descriptions that weren’t insurable,” said Valdes-Dapena

The city’s top planner says they are first working on compliance over vacant and derelict buildings but will take on the legal process to seize the land if needed.

“When we go in, we always like to have an exit strategy. So being able to work with a partner that can deliver something that is needed in the city, and in this case, it’s affordable housing,” said Kevin Vonck, the Department of Planning and Development Review Director.

The group also keeps ownership of the land even once the homes are sold to make sure any future sale price is regulated and affordable.