Photo by Adam Ewing
The city’s long-standing poverty problem won’t be rectified during Thad Williamson’s initial one-year term as director of the Office of Community Wealth Building, but the professor-turned-policy implementer is keen to start on it.
In April, Mayor Dwight Jones appointed Williamson, a University of Richmond professor, to head the newly formed office. It is tasked with coordinating follow-through on the mayor’s Maggie L. Walker Initiative, a plan to combat poverty and provide more opportunities for poor city residents. Williamson started in June, and the office opened officially on July 1 withthree staffers and a $3.4 million budget.
“There’s lots of challenges — one is continuing to communicate what we’re doing and getting the word out,” Williamson says of his new role. “In the broader society, there’s still a lot of misconceptions about poverty that are holding us back as a society. We need to educate the public on those.”
Williamson was previously a member of the mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission. The commission developed policy objectives outlined in a January 2013 report, which detailed a plethora of generational issues in a city where nearly 27 percent of residents live in poverty. The report laid the foundation for the Walker Initiative.
The new office will look to foster job creation, invest in additional affordable housing options and establish educational initiatives to benefit Richmond Public Schools students and graduates.
Succeeding starts with patience and a plan, says Williamson, who, after his tenure expires, can choose to continue for another year or step aside for someone else. “I’ve got a pretty clear sense of what the plan is and what we need to do in each policy area.”