Richmond’s riches

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If Detroit is looking for a model of how city agencies can team up with nonprofits to produce a successful targeted investment strategy, Richmond, Va., has a template worth considering.

For six years beginning in 1999, Richmond funneled about 80 percent of the city’s federal housing dollars — some $6 million to $7 million annually — into small areas within seven neighborhoods suffering from crime and economic disinvestment. Along with the funding also came targeted building code and police enforcement. The goal was to bolster the neighborhoods enough to attract investment from the private sector.

The program, dubbed Neighborhoods in Bloom, wasn’t universally popular when it began. Opponents criticized Richmond’s city manager for cutting some city services while increasing investment to blighted neighborhoods. The program was also criticized for relying too heavily on demolition, though ultimately only 39 houses were torn down.

George Galster, an urban affairs professor at Wayne State University, worked on a study commissioned at the completion of the program by the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank. Researchers found that the $21 million that came into the Neighborhoods in Bloom areas led to a $51 million increase in neighborhood property values. But the growth wasn’t just confined to the seven Neighborhoods in Bloom areas. The study found that prices for homes within one mile of the targeted areas increased 5 percent more than the city average. Crime dropped in the targeted areas, in some cases more quickly than the citywide average, according to an analysis by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Galster estimates that increased property tax revenues over the next 20 years will equal the grant money that financed the program.

Detroit planning director Burney Johnson says she’s aware of the Neighborhoods In Bloom program, but that Detroit’s not considering trying anything similar.

“I don’t really know enough about it to know what might be transferable to Detroit,” Johnson says. “But we always like to look around and see how other cities have approached development with an eye toward borrowing best practices.” Send comments to [email protected]

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