Can Richmond's Mayor Fix Poverty?

Richmond, Va, Mayor Dwight C. Jones has set an ambitious agenda in a city with a poverty rate of 26.3 percent.
October 15, 2013
 

Dressed on an unseasonably warm day, as ever, in a tailored suit, tie and pocket square, Mayor Dwight C. Jones, a fourth-generation pastor, arrived at a late-afternoon meeting this month to talk about his ambitious — some say quixotic — plan to subdue poverty in this city, once the capital of the Confederacy and now one of the nation’s poorest urban areas.

Many Richmond residents live in public housing, but the mayor has been promoting mixed-income communities.

“If this is something we can’t do,” he said, glancing around the room at members of one of the city’s seven antipoverty task forces, “we don’t deserve to be here.”

The plan, on which he is staking both his political capital and legacy, has the general support of the City Council but is making others jittery, rich and poor alike.

Emphasizing programs the city can afford on its $760 million budget, Richmond is considering pairing every at-risk child ages 11 to 15 with an adult mentor; razing public housing and replacing it with mixed-income units with the option of homeownership; setting up an intensive manufacturing training program that would give the unemployed the skills needed to work at one of the many local companies looking for workers; starting a farm-to-school program to promote adequate nutrition; and establishing an assistance program to help pay water and wastewater bills for low-income households.

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