I sat down with Josh Williams 2 or 3 months ago for my first interview of the election season. It became a sprawling 90 minute conversation, and ultimately impossible for me to figure out how to write-up… After working to get this together, Josh agreed to let me off the hook and answer my email questions instead.
Josh Williams is a small business owner and has served in the Virginia Army National Guard for 10 years. He’s got a B.A. Political Science from VCU (2009) and attended Yonsei University with a focus in Korean Language and East Asian foreign affairs. Follow Josh online at @JoshDistrict7 (Facebook).
What draws you to public service? Why run for this specific office? Can you connect your background for us?
My leadership experiences over the past ten years serving in the military and consequent satisfaction of helping those in need at the individual and institutional level is what draws me to continued public service: serving as District 7 council representative. I have fought wildfires outside Roanoke, and supported multiple relief efforts in regions declared disaster areas in Virginia.
The time I have spent serving the people of Virginia has solidified my resolve to continue working and serving in the public sector. I am a leader with the ability to bring people of diverse cultures and backgrounds to work together for a better future. I am running for this specific office because this is where I can apply my skills and abilities best. I see public service at the City Council representative level as the best fit for my leadership, my talents, skills and tenacity to advocate and support District 7. Representation by District 7 lacks leadership and resolve to address and fix seemingly intractable problems within the East End and by extension across the City of Richmond.
For the East End, my neighbors, the home owners, the renters, the new and long-time residents — all want better neighborhoods, improved safety, timely responses to their needs and to get the basic and core services right, we need to be included in the planning and development of our area. They need a representative who will respond to them and take the initiative to fix the issues that are important to them.
What’s your connection to the East End? How long have you been in the area & what brought you here?
I am a native to Richmond. I have lived in many parts of the city and love the history and cultural diversity. The East End to me, rich in history, is one of the more culturally diverse areas of the city, and is where I call home. I moved out of the Fan onto Carrington street when I was completing my studies at VCU and I loved it. I expected to live in my 700 sq.ft. apartment on Carrington for a long time. though the Army had different plans and very suddenly, I had to pull up roots and move away for more than two years. Upon returning to the city, the Army had me on the move once again; I deployed to Iraq, and prior to doing so, I found an apartment on Grace Street. After spending only three days adjusting to my new apartment, I left for an extended deployment. After another year, I returned to the East End and reestablished myself on 24th St. I have settled down now in the East End, and love living in the area.
Running against an incumbent candidate says that you would bring something new to the position. How would you differentiate yourself and your goals from what you’ve seen from Councilwoman Newbille?
I will bring leadership and transparency back to the District and into City Council. Leadership that listens to the people of the East End. I will respond to you. Often times when we have concerns or have needs, no one listens, nor acts, and definitely does not respond, or show results. It’s as if the constituency is taken for granted. I will change this. You will get an answer. We will plan the development and the revitalization of our neighborhoods and be deliberate on the actions we take. I will keep you informed of the progress we make, and of course of the obstacles involved that hold up and otherwise stop progress. I will ensure transparency; there will be no more back door deals that surprise us and confuse the community as to who’s best interests are involved.
I will get the basics right. I will not ask volunteers to perform a basic core service that we have already paid for and that our city cannot effectively manage to execute. It is ridiculous; its incompetent, and most importantly, it is wrong!
I will not support policies that for years have left our communities at best stagnant, and at worst decaying. Purposeful and decisive leadership and action needs to be taken to support our communities for a path to success and lift them out of poverty. Currently there are discussions of future developments that would support further concentrated poverty, and when the community asks for answers and has issues with the current plans, we get silence. I will bring energy, passion and transparency to the office. We will get the basics right and pay attention to the potholes and the trash in the alleys. Most importantly I will not forget who I work for.
Can I get a quick take on: The redevelopment of Creighton Court
We have to redevelop Creighton Court and other areas in desperate need for revitalization. This has to happen responsibly and with care. There is no overnight fix, nor a singular solution; this will take time and persistent leadership. Mixed income housing is by far a much better approach than what we currently have or simply recommending large apartment buildings as the solution. I live in a successful mixed income housing project. It works. It will not work if we do not tackle the issue with our schools and develop a viable and sustainable pathway to better employment while not neglecting the other major issues. Bringing local business to the area is vital in the success of the redevelopment. Let us not forget Fulton Hill. This area is long overdue for attention and focus. An area with so much history and potential does not need to be subjected to continued neglect.
… Our neighborhood schools
Our Schools are in tremendous need. Let us be honest, the solution will not be overnight. It will be an effort that will be a hard road to travel. We need to tackle this issue on multiple fronts to have success.
I break these issues down into three major areas:
The Schools. We need to fund our schools and improve our teachers pay. We need to address our mid-level supervisor and administration leadership issues within the school system. We need to hold accountable our maintenance system to maintain our schools and stop the further degradation of our physical school building inventory and assets. Cutting the grass at our schools, while basic, is a simple aspect of the overall problem that we can get right immediately.
Concentrated poverty. This practice and policy of treating people poorly has to stop. The common denominator in school systems with poor results is poverty. Our city — previous City administrations along with City Councils — are culpable and responsible for neglecting this issue for far too long. We will begin the process of providing better houses and neighborhoods with mixed income housing and a renewed pledge and effort to home ownership. We will build neighborhoods that people will have pride in and make it their own. No more absentee landlords who don’t care or won’t respond to their tenant’s needs.
Better employment opportunities. It is not enough to simply build mixed income housing. We will build and strengthen our commercial corridors to attract and support new small businesses that support neighborhood employment. Growing up in a single parent home has allowed me to understand the challenges that our families face on a day to day basis. The challenges of working and taking care of a family at the same time, we can do more to support child care and be sponsors for employment opportunities. I will champion a sponsorship project that utilizes neighborhood business and affiliate business along with government employers to train and provide full time employment to those needing and wanting assistance. This is a structured avenue to homeownership and better living conditions.
One of the negative effects of gentrification is that we lose the culture of who we are. Through gentrification we continually push those who cannot afford to live in a certain area to the fringes. Eventually, we will not be the same community. My property taxes increased almost 8% this year, 8% the year before and 12.5% the year before that. These increases in property taxes will for sure promote gentrification and push those who cannot afford these insidious increases out. This has to be managed effectively. Property taxes is one simple way to encourage growth and keep our identity. The city keeps increasing property taxes along with increased water use rates as a source for revenue without considering the effects on the communities. Without getting property tax and related public services rate increases under control we will push our friends and neighbors out of their homes by means of increased rent and home ownership costs. I may have to move if it continues. Everyone wants to live in nice communities where the city takes action to fix the streets, picks up the trash and has good schools, the East End deserves these communities and gentrification is not the best answer if it means that we lose who we are.
… The Stone Brewing project
I certainly support more business growth and employment opportunities in our area. However, these deals and plans with new and potential business need to fit within the city’s development plans. Costs to attract new businesses and employment opportunities need to be thought out, and at no point should a development be undertaken that risks the city’s ability to perform basic services — especially when there are specific financial needs of our schools, public safety, and other infrastructure needs. I hope that the project will not result in taxpayer funding and subsidies that shows little return to community and the constituency, while seemingly filling the coffers of the developers.
What have I missed here? Is there something that we should know or that you’d like to add?
I want to get to work and represent the East End, demonstrate leadership, be transparent in my work, and get the results our community wants and deserves.