A Richmond HBCU Plans To Develop Local Housing Through a Historic Impact Investment

At least 130 residences are planned for a 2-acre parcel adjacent to Virginia Union University's campus.

Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia

Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Shaban Athuman / VPM News)

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Virginia Union University, a historically Black university in Richmond, has announced plans to develop a housing project in Northside Richmond – thanks to a partnership with a Black-led impact investment group.

VUU will work with The Steinbridge Group, a New York-based real estate investment firm, to develop a 2-acre parcel along the northern edge of its campus. The Steinbridge Group is backing the collaboration with a $42 million pledge — the largest investment in the university’s history.

Tawan Davis, Steinbridge’s founding partner and CEO, says the university will not have to take on any debt: “It’s also our estimate that the university will make in cash income roughly 3.5 to 5.5 times what it would make if it sold the assets today. It is our deep conviction that these great institutions shouldn’t be backed into having to sell their land.”

The two-party redevelopment initiative is geared toward introducing at least 130 residences to the general public for rental or purchase, according to VUU. It’s unclear whether those properties will be single-family homes or apartments.

VUU owns six parcels situated along Richmond’s Brook and Overbrook roads, including houses and the former Richmond Community Hospital. The ultimate fate of the abandoned building, once a historically Black hospital in Richmond’s East End, remains undecided. Discussions around either demolition or repurposing the building, to highlight the historical significance of the location, are on-going.

The development will serve as the inaugural phase of Virginia Union’s $500-million plan to revitalize its 90-acre Richmond campus by 2032. Beginning in 2019, VUU partnered with design firm Hanbury to develop its comprehensive plan. While specifics like building schematics and heights are pending, the university has set an ambitious timeline, aiming to break ground by the close of 2024. Completion of the collaboration with The Steinbridge Group is anticipated by the end of 2025.

“Because we are both a developer and an investor, we get to choose a diverse set of architects, designers and engineers all along the way,” Steinbridge’s Davis says.

The partnership’s aim is to ensure the university can engage in the new growth and development surrounding its campus, VUU President Hakim Lucas says. In a press conference, he outlined the need for affordable housing in Richmond’s Northside: “Why should we allow our students to come and rent in dormitories and not experience the opportunities to become homeowners in this great city of Richmond?”

The collaborative venture entails joint ownership of the planned property, with both VUU and The Steinbridge Group sharing in potential profits.

“This is the first time that two Black-owned corporations will turn and give the resources to the future of a Black college in the community,” added Rev. Franklyn Richardson, chairperson of the Virginia Union Board of Trustees. He asserted the need to protect the designated area from neighborhood encroachment, while underlining the university’s dedication to its heritage and the community.

Late last year, Steinbridge committed $100 million to aid historically Black colleges and universities and minority service institutions in an effort to unlock “the value” of underutilized land and assets. Its announcement noted that funding for HBCUs is about 30% lower than for other higher educational institutions, with endowments of a mere 1/10 the size of other institutions. Virginia Union University is the first recipient of the program’s funds.

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Barry Greene, Jr. is Next City's Equitable Cities Reporting Fellow For Reparations Narratives and a native of Southside Richmond, Virginia. Through his newsletter and moniker “density dad,” Greene is constantly working to spread awareness of the necessity to think of families with young children as well as seniors within the built environment. As a 2023 NACTO Transportation Justice Fellow, Barry aims to help Richmond return to its glory days of leading the industry in public transportation. You can catch him commuting by Brompton, bus or both in conjunction.

Tags: impact investingrichmondhigher educationvirginia

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