Stoney’s State of the City highlights ‘capital of compassion’
The Richmond mayor’s sixth annual address largely focused on incremental changes.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced new initiatives giving monthly payments to those returning from incarceration and graduates of Richmond Public Schools in his sixth annual State of the City speech Tuesday night. He also announced new surveillance technology for police, early childhood education program, and goals for affordable and other housing.
Stoney called Richmond “a capital of compassion,” in contrast to its history of enslavement and more recent failures to offer protections for LGBTQ residents.
“Our past is no longer leading our present. Now, we are leading our future,” Stoney said before City Council, city employees and other guests at Main Street Station. “A future that includes all Richmonders, no matter the color of their skin, whom they pray to or whom they love.”
The speech was the first held in person since 2020.
Stoney’s speech also differed in that it was more of an announcement of incremental initiatives, said Richard Meagher, a professor of political science at Randolph-Macon College.
“This was not the speech of someone chasing the next big, shiny project, and that's the mayor that we've seemed to have had in previous years,” he said. “One way to tell the story of his mayorality is it was an interesting and promising start that was focused on ... ‘let's fix things, let's do bureaucracy better, let's create a program that solves this particular problem.’”
Stoney proposed two new modestly funded programs that would provide cash assistance to people in life transitions and framed them in the context of his personal story.
“My dad had countless doors slammed in his face when he was looking for work. But he never quit,” the mayor said, referencing his father who had a conviction on his record. “He’s one of the reasons I’ve always been such an advocate for second chances.”
Stoney is asking City Council to allocate $250,000 to the Help Me, Help You program to launch a guaranteed income pilot program for those returning from incarceration.
Another program called The Pathways Program would give a monthly allowance to graduates of Richmond Public Schools. Stoney is calling on council to invest $1.5 million in the program this year.
“We're talking about kids who get a flat tire, can't make it to their hourly job, then can't afford their groceries, and everything falls off from there,” said Eva Colen, manager of the Office for Children and Families. “When we really look at those students who are most successful in undergraduate college or community college, it's folks who have that safety net and that income support from their families.”
Richmond gave dozens of families $500 a month for two years as part of a guaranteed income program called the Richmond Resilience Initiative.
Caprichia Smith Spellman, the director of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, said comparing RRI with these new pilot programs will help the city and policymakers identify who can benefit the most from guaranteed income programs.
“We're piloting all of these,” she said, “because we really want to see where the strongest cohorts will have the most success.”
Stoney was blunt about the city’s housing needs.
“We need more homes, period,” said Stoney, who added he and Gov. Glenn Youngkin were in agreement that housing density needed to be increased.
Richmond’s population — 226,610 in the last Census Bureau count — is growing more quickly than the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the greater Richmond area’s unhoused situation is considered a crisis by homeless service providers and city officials alike.
Stoney said he instructed the administration to create 2,000 new homeownership opportunities for low-income people by working with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which will put $2 million behind the effort.
He highlighted eviction diversion programs and recent plans for mixed-use, mixed-income developments such as the Diamond District redevelopment. The mayor also pointed to quicker approval processes: “Turnaround time for permit applications is down to less than five business days. This allows new housing units and businesses to open as quickly as possible.”
Stoney also claimed that Richmond invests more money and resources for people experiencing homelessness than any other locality in the region.
According to Meagher, that’s to be expected given the “mess” around Richmond missing its own deadlines to finalize cold-weather shelters. “It's not surprising that in a speech where he's going to kind of run down all of the little wins, he's not going to talk about the losses, right?”
Stoney announced the city would be launching a new Real Time Crime Center surveillance system using a $750,000 state grant.
He prefaced the announcement by referencing a shortage of Richmond Police Department officers. As of December, the city had 614 officers but could fund up to 724, according to a city spokesperson.
Stoney called RTCCs “force multipliers.”
RTCCs, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, often involve centralizing government camera feeds and sometimes justify “data-driven” policing strategies.
“I told y’all, when it comes to public safety, we’re throwing the kitchen sink at it,” Stoney said. “And this is what the kitchen sink looks like.”
The ACLU of Virginia has said predictive policing programs are “ineffective, lead to overpolicing marginalized communities, and ignore community and human needs.”
A spokesperson for the Richmond Police Department wasn’t able to answer questions about the plans for a new RTCC by publishing time.
Stoney said road safety was a priority in the public safety agenda, mentioning a RPD and Virginia State Police partnership to create sobriety checkpoints and efforts to improve pedestrian and traffic safety.
The speech drew heavily on the mayor’s personal history and was evocative of campaigns. Stoney appeared to become emotional when he discussed his father’s work to make Stoney the family’s first college graduate.
“It did feel campaign-y in that sense,” Meagher said. “But I kind of feels like that's a go-to move for Stoney. But to be fair, it's a go-to move in his campaigns right — both of his mayoral campaigns were focused a lot on his personal story.”