Jones Advances Anti-Poverty Efforts

Names Dr. Thad Williamson to city post as director of Office of Community Wealth Building

Mayor Dwight C. Jones today announced that Dr. Thad Williamson will serve as the central point of contact for the new Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building. The new office is a recommendation that grew out of the work of the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission, now known as the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty.

Mayor Jones established the Anti-Poverty Commission in 2011 to begin to lay the framework for de-concentrating poverty and transforming Richmond’s public housing. The Commission identified policy priorities, including:

-          Workforce development

-          Targeted economic development

-          Development of a regional transportation network

-          Targeted investments in education to improve school system outcomes, and

-          Achieving the redevelopment of our public housing communities to provide better neighborhoods

“I’m so proud of the fact that we’ve had the courage to face the long-standing problem of concentrated poverty in our City,” stated Mayor Jones. “Bringing Thad on to more directly help us with our efforts is going to advance our goals in immeasurable ways and underscores the high priority this is for us.”

Professor Thad Williamson and Councilwoman Ellen Robertson have worked closely as co-chairs of the MLW Initiative and developed an implementation strategy designed to build the capacity of the City to operate a sustained poverty reduction effort. Seven policy task forces consisting of city officials, academic experts, and community stakeholders were formed, and charged with developing concrete action steps the City should take beginning in fiscal 2015. Additionally, a Citizens Advisory Board was established to review and provide feedback on any proposals, and over sixty local residents representing a variety of stakeholders participated in this process.

“I am pleased that Thad has been named as Director of the Office of Community Wealth Building and have enjoyed working with him on the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission and the Maggie L. Walker Initiative,” stated Councilwoman Ellen Robertson.

Mayor Dwight Jones has included several action items brought forward by the MLW Initiative in his 2015 proposed budget, totally nearly $3.4 million.   A key recommendation included in the budget is $300,000 for the formation of the Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building.

“These budget actions represent a strategic investment for our City that will leverage additional public or private resources, lay the groundwork for larger future investments, and build the capacity of the City to execute and sustain a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy,” said Mayor Jones.

Other budgeted items include:

-        $1 million for capitalization of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund,

-        $200,000 for new service navigators in the public housing communities and to conduct a professionally facilitated process to establish binding principles for future public housing redevelopment, in a framework of mutual trust and respect,

-        $436,000 of new funding to enhance and expand the City’s Center for Workforce Innovation’s efforts to train residents for quality living-wage jobs and connect them with local employers offering real opportunities.

-        $255,000 for wrap-around parenting, child care, and transportation services for participants in the Workforce program.

-        $450,000 for investments in targeted economic development designed to attract employers in growth sectors that can provide accessible employment to City residents -- especially adults with a high school degree or less. Included is $150,000 for development of an innovative social enterprise strategy to create small businesses directly in the city of Richmond, leveraging where possible the economic clout of existing anchor institutions.

-        $350,000 for planning the development of the Bus Rapid Transit Broad Street line from Rocketts Landing to Willow Lawn. These funds will provide a needed match to access some $3.8 million in state and federal dollars, and also to plan the needed GRTC route changes to take full advantage of the BRT line and connect residents to employment opportunities. The Broad Street BRT is the first leg of an envisioned regional BRT system.

-        $357,500 in further education investments. These include $350,000 as part of a public-private partnership with MSR 2020 (Middle School Renaissance), which will provide high quality out-of-school time academic and social support programming for middle school age children as well as professional development for adults working with youth. $7,500 will be for a feasibility study to determine the parameters needed for a citywide Promise Scholarship program, aimed at assuring that all academically qualified RPS graduates have financial access to a college education or appropriate vocational education. 

“Taken together, these investments represent the launch of an unprecedented and historic effort to tackle the roots of poverty in the City in a holistic fashion,” said Mayor Jones. “We have the opportunity here in Richmond to build a national model for building an effective ladder out of poverty for our residents, and I look forward to working with Thad toward this goal.”

 Dr. Williamson has been granted leave from his post at the University of Richmond, where is Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law. He will be joining the Mayor’s team as of June 1st. Dr. Williamson is known locally as an articulate advocate for economic and social justice, and is known nationally and internationally as a political scientist focused on issues of urban politics and of social justice and social change. He is a 2012 winner of the university’s Distinguished Educator award. He is author, co-author or co-editor of six books, including two books about urban politics and policy, and author of many articles, book chapters, and essays for academic and popular publications. He earned an A.B. in History and Religious Studies at Brown University (1992), an M.A. in Religion from Union Theological Seminary of New York (1998), and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Harvard University (2004), where he was a doctoral fellow in the Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy at the Kennedy School of Government. His dissertation was co-winner of the American Political Science Association’s prize for best dissertation on public policy in 2004.  Williamson has been a volunteer with numerous community organizations and a volunteer basketball coach with Richmond Parks & Recreation at the Randolph Community Center. He lives in the 5th District with his wife (Adria Scharf); their daughter is a student at John B. Cary Elementary School.