Councilmember Theresa Richardson’s son, Jet Richardson, wants to create a “tightly coordinated working relationship” with the city of Richland and the Habitat for Humanity group he runs.*
At the Aug. 1 special Richland City Council Meeting, Jet Richardson proposed the creation of a committee on affordable housing that would advise the council. The committee he described would include him, other developers, residents and city staff.
According to Jet Richardson, no other Habitat affiliate in the United States has such a group.
Relationship not disclosed
Neither Mayor Michael Alvarez or Councilmember Sandra Kent attended the meeting. None of the five councilmembers present mentioned that Jet Richardson was Councilmember Richardson’s son or that he had replaced her as executive director of the Tri-Cities Partners, Habitat for Humanity affiliate when she retired in 2019 after serving almost 10 years in that position.
The Observer reached out to Councilmember Richardson for a comment but she did not respond.
It’s not the first time, the Richardsons’ relationship has not been revealed at a city meeting. Jet Richardson was appointed to the Richland Planning Commission earlier this year. Alvarez interviewed Richardson with two members of the commission without telling them that he was related to the councilmember. Neither of them knew of the connection until they were contacted by the Observer.**
“Exclusive offer for Richland“
“It’s an exclusive offer for Richland,” Jet Richardson told Councilmember Ryan Lukson when Lukson asked if there were similar partnerships with other jurisdictions in the Tri-Cities.
“This is something that I was hoping Richland could spearhead and really show the other cities another way to get involved with affordable housing,” Richardson said.
Richardson pointed out that 32 percent of Richland renters have a “housing cost burden,” paying more than 30 percent of their gross income in rent, and 13 percent pay more than 50 percent.
Habitat’s history in the Tri-Cities
Habitat has built 151 houses in the Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties that it serves since the organization was created 28 years ago, and eight of the houses are in Richland, according to Richardson.
Habitat homeowners assist in building their homes and have mortgages that don’t exceed the recommended 30 percent of gross income, Richardson told the council.
Homeownership builds generational wealth, Richardson explained. To demonstrate, he showed a slide that listed 28 years of investment in the 151 houses growing from about $17 million to almost $30 million today.
Habitat is a Christian organization but Richardson said that applicants do not have to share that faith.
“What I would like to see Richland consider and my ask to the council is that you appoint a working group, that has staff contribution, to focus on housing and providing housing recommendations that are creative and diverse to the council,” Richardson said.
Richland could do more to create affordable housing in Richland by zoning for a variety of housing types and utilizing the city’s surplus property, Richardson told the council.
“It’s not economically viable to do as many single-family, detached home developments as we have traditionally done in the past,” he said. “We realize that we need a diversity of housing stock,” he added.
Richardson explained to Councilmember Jhoanna Jones that Habitat homeowners paid for their homes with sweat equity during construction and then with mortgages.
To Councilmember Shayne VanDyke’s question about “post home ownership financial counseling,” Richardson responded that it wasn’t something Habitat did consistently but they did maintain a relationship with all of their families.
“Thirty million dollars in the community, that’s remarkable. I had no idea it was that high,” Councilmember Richardson remarked during the question period.
“How many foreclosures have you had,” she asked.
“We’re the only affiliate in the country that has not had a foreclosure,”Jet Richardson responded.
“And I think that is a testimony to how you partner with the families. They really are connected to you and if they have a need, then they reach out to you,” Councilmember Richardson said.
Council reaction to the proposal
Although Lukson and Jones indicated interest in looking at the affordable housing issue, the five councilmembers at the meeting did not express any opinions about the proposed committee.