For many of us, what has long determined where we live is affordability, and what is available to families and individuals has increasingly become more difficult to secure. So, what do people do? We adapt. People have learned how to live with roommates, commute longer distances, and pay more for housing than ever before. Rising housing costs and limited availability are affecting a broader range of individuals, including college students, young professionals who rent, first-time homebuyers, and those who are aging in place or considering the alternative options. Housing impacts us all.

Despite the challenges of supply and demand and increasing costs, the Planet opened its doors this past summer, offering affordable rental rates to families and individuals who qualify. Located in the Jackson Ward neighborhood of the City of Richmond, 107 W. Duval Street remained a vacant city block for several decades as the historic district continued to transform old buildings into new businesses and opportunities. That was until a local nonprofit became interested in the site for its next big project. Better Housing Coalition (BHC) is one of the region’s largest nonprofit community development organizations, and it is known for revitalizing historic neighborhoods and creating new ones. BHC acquired the vacant lot in 2020, and secured major funding from Virginia Housing, City of Richmond, Virginia DHCD, and Locus. With UrbanCore Construction as the general contractor, they completed the construction of 67 income-restricted units this year. Named in honor of an African American newspaper founded in 1882 by 13 formerly enslaved men, the Planet commemorates the spirit of Jackson Ward as it pays tribute to its rich past and present as a center of African American culture in Richmond. The African American newspaper was founded by the Mitchell Family, who are still present in the community.

Virginia Santos, BHC’s Portfolio Director, says the organization’s goal for each of its projects is to “incorporate community into the development and daily operation.” Santos manages almost half of BHC’s portfolio of 1,567 units, including senior housing, throughout the greater Richmond region. Known as BHC’s leasing expert, she works passionately to make sure units are occupied and, more importantly, she collaborates with each community to determine which additional services might be needed. Santos gave Locus a tour of the Planet and shared some historical insights about neighboring landmarks like Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, which was established in 1867 and is still active today.

The three-story building is Earth Craft certified and offers its residents amenities like community rooms with highspeed internet, a rooftop garden/deck, and indoor bicycle storage on each floor. The 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units come with energy efficient appliances, including washer and dryers. Hallways and units are filled with natural light, and each resident has access to a personal patio or balcony. All 67 units are affordable for families and individuals with annual incomes ranging from $21,150 to $53,640. Additionally, twelve of the units are handicap accessible and another twelve are dedicated to the Housing Choice Vouchers holders. The Planet held its grand opening October 19th, 2023, and is expected to be fully leased up just in time for the holiday season.

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