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Richmond, Henrico officials celebrate new affordable housing community

Keith Conley, a U.S. Navy veteran and former Virginia Safe Housing board member, sitting outside the newly refurbished Cool Lanes Apartment Complex in Henrico.
Lyndon German
VPM News
Keith Conley talks about ending homelessness in the Richmond region as officials from the city and Henrico County celebrate the opening of multiple affordable housing units on Cool Lane near East Highland Park.

Officials remarked on the grand opening of 86 affordable housing units.

Thanks to a collaborative effort to help provide a supportive housing alternative for the region, a new housing community has opened near the boundary that separates the city of Richmond from Henrico County.

Officials gathered on Tuesday to celebrate the opening of a new supportive housing community.

Cool Lane Commons is a mixed-income apartment complex designed for unhoused and low income individuals in the region. Specialists from Virginia Supportive Housing will manage the 86-unit property and provide on-site case management services.

“We’re so excited to be here formally celebrating all the work that has made these 86 new supportive apartments possible,” VSH Board Chair Jason Snook said in a statement. “We’re celebrating every opportunity we have to end someone’s experience of homelessness or housing instability.”

VSH is an area nonprofit that works to end homelessness by providing community-based housing alternatives and works with residents on a case-by-case basis to ensure they remain sheltered. The organization provides numerous health, wellness and sometimes legal services; it manages just under 650 housing units in 15 communities across Virginia, with another planned project for the Richmond area.

Through its approach, around 95% of the individuals in the community served by VSH do not return to homelessness, according to the organization's data.

However, Homeward — an organization for unhoused services in the greater Richmond region — tracks and retains data about homelessness in the metropolitan area.

Their latest point in time count from January 2024 shows 681 people in the metro region were unhoused; with around 70% of those people sheltered, but around 30% — more than 200 people — were unsheltered.

That's a 9.6% increase from the number of unsheltered people in last year's count. VSH Executive Director Allison Bogdanović said the nonprofit is concentrating and reducing that number to zero by investing in long-term housing alternatives like Cool Lane.

“Homelessness is solvable,” Bogdanović said. “Supportive housing — like Cool Lane Commons, like our future building on Rady Street — is the solution.”

Bogdanović said the Cool Lane project was first suggested around 2018, as the nonprofit identified a vacant building owned by the city of Richmond, but located in Henrico as a suitable location for new housing development.

“This community has been a long time coming,” said Roscoe Cooper, Henrico’s Fairfield District supervisor. “This is how you give to those in our community the support and resources they need to be successful.”

Both localities were able to collaborate with VSH to make their idea a reality, as the nonprofit was able to garner approximately $24 million in funding provided by local, state and federal funds as well as private funds to develop the property.

“This is just an incredible day to be able to celebrate a partnership,” said Lincoln Saunders, Richmond’s chief administrative officer. “Eighty-six individuals will have access to a high-quality home that will include a neighborhood resource center as well as a new headquarters for Virginia Supportive Housing.”

Saunders also said that it was "a remarkable step" towards the organization's goal of eliminating homelessness.

Cool Lane supports all residents in the Richmond region who have incomes at or below 50% of the Area Median Income. Project Based Vouchers from Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority can be used with all 86 units.

Bogdanović told VPM News that Tuesday’s ribbon cutting was a momentous achievement as several residents have already been able to secure housing in the building.

“We've spent years working on this project. Just as much as it's about building the building, it's about the relationships we built, and the love that everyone has put into it to create the new homes for folks,” Bogdanović said.

Those deep-rooted relationships were on full display as many supporters gathered to tour the new site as it opened. Keith Conley was one of those supporters.

Conley, a Richmond native who grew up in Northside, was unhoused in 2012 and said VSH stepped in and changed his life.

Conley would go on to work in the nonprofit’s peer mentorship program and later serve as active board member in 2014. He knows firsthand the importance of the group’s mission to end homelessness and the impact they can have on individuals in need of assistance.

“I just can't say enough about what Virginia Supportive Housing does. It's not just the house…It also is the support services,” Conley said. “Whether it be alcoholism, whether mental disease, whether it be family issues, across the board, Virginia Supportive Housing has a hand in every asset and aspect of people's lives.”

“My life has changed dramatically over the years,” he added. “It’s been a ride. … My hope is that members of the community can become productive citizens of the community and give back too.”

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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