Regional housing group “Planning for Affordability”

(This newsletter originally was published in the June 29, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership is nearly finished with a plan intended to coordinate efforts to increase the number of below-market housing units across the six localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. The title of the document is Planning For Affordability: A Regional Approach. (download the draft plan)

“We felt that it was important to somehow identify what was particular to the region instead of just rehashing individual action steps that might be in the individual chapters for each locality,” said Anthony Haro, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. “And this led to some good conversations about how to track regionally these goals.” 

The plan is intended to foster collaboration that pools resources and improves communication about housing issues in order to reduce pressure on individual localities to shoulder the burden alone. But Haro said that won’t happen without coordinated implementation.

“This naturally led to the question of who is going to track these regional goals and who is responsible for overseeing the region,” Haro said. 

There’s also an additional chapter for each locality in the region. Each of these will be presented to the governing body in each before being approved by the entire Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Christine Jacobs, interim director of the TJPDC, outlined what would happen the June 23 meeting and that consideration for approval. 

“Between this meeting and when it would go before the Planning District Commission, we will be working with individual jurisdictions to get their feedback to present as they direct us to,” Jacobs said. 

Jacobs noted it was no coincidence that the recommendations for Charlottesville match those in the Affordable Housing Plan adopted by Council such as a commitment to invest $10 million a year in affordable housing.

“That is completely intentional to not have a document that is conflicting with or competing with the city’s affordable housing plan as approved,” Jacobs said. 

The partnership voted to move the plan on to the next step. Then they discussed their budget, which at the moment appears to be short for the next fiscal year. There’s enough money to begin, but they’ll need to find more money. Keith Smith of Fluvanna County is the chair. 

“Anybody wants to write a $75,000 check, we’ll be more than happy to take it,” Smith said. 

The partnership did not vote on a budget, but members agreed to return to their organizations and governments to discuss additional funding. Albemarle Supervisor Ned Gallaway is on the partnership’s executive committee and he said he understood the ask might be tricky. 

“I think everybody agrees though that the partnership is worth it and we want to see it continue, but it can’t be done without the resources,” Gallaway said. 

Before adjourning, members had the opportunity to let the others know what’s happening in their jurisdiction or at their non-profit. Sunshine Mathon, the executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, said housing nonprofits are still trying to determine how much funding will come out of the American Recovery Plan. That information may not be fully known until later this year. 

“Everyone remains optimistic that we’re going to see a really powerful surge in funding which is hopefully going to catalyze significant impact, but it’s hard to plan that far out as well,” Mathon said. 

In a future newsletter we’ll have more from the Cville Plans Together initiative and feedback on the Future Land Use Map. City Councilor Michael Payne said the real work will come when the zoning ordinance is updated. 

“I think there’s a question of whether as a city government and as a community we’re actually going to put out money where our mouth is and actually make some of those zoning changes that haven’t happened for a while for a variety of reasons,” Payne said.

The last rezoning was in 2003, which saw the creation of several mixed-use zones throughout the city, as well as residential districts intended to increase the number of University of Virginia students who could live closer to Grounds. 

The Future Land Use Map has caused concern from many in Charlottesville, as reported by City Councilor Lloyd Snook. 

“We are finding that an awful lot of our very good liberal friends are a little bit horrified to learn that we may be proposing to build an apartment building in their back yards,” Snook said. “There are some interesting tensions that are manifesting themselves at the moment.”

Snook said the Planning Commission has only looked at a draft report and it has not been approved by either the Commission or the Council. 

“And there’s lot of arguments to be had so stay tuned,” Snook said. 

Brandon Collins, an organizer with the Public Housing Association of Residents, acknowledged there is tension with some of the city’s neighborhoods. 

“Part of this is the leadership in the city hasn’t really gone to those communities and sold the idea of rolling back segregation and really presenting that as a positive to the community,” Collins said. “Honestly, myself and some other advocates aren’t necessarily the people to sell that to those neighborhoods. It needs to be other voices.”

Earlier this year, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority broke ground on the renovation of Crescent Halls, a nine-story building that recently suffered a watermain break on the 7th floor.  Brandon Collins is an organizer with the Public Housing Association of Residents.

“We’ve got renovation of Crescent Halls which challenge wise may wind up costing a whole lot more than anybody had even imagined even a few days ago and some of that is related to the supply issues,” Collins said. “Not just the costs but getting supplies in when you need them on your schedule.”

Collins also said there have been obstacles in dealing with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services. 

“We are still having a challenged relationship with the planning department at the city and we’re trying to work on that but it remains a work in progress,” Collins said. 

Finally from this meeting, and for this installment of the show, Anthony Haro said several agencies have received emergency vouchers to help with homelessness, but many continue to struggle to find places for them to be used. But he did relate this news. 

“We have an all-time low number of homeless veterans or veterans experiencing homelessness in our area which is really exciting and we’re on the precipice of being able to declare a functional end of homelessness which I really struggling say because it’s a technical term about the number,” Haro said. “But it’s hovering at five to six veterans experiencing homelessness where previously we’ve always hovered around 15 to 20. So that is a pretty significant shift in our system of care.”

Haro said the goal is to bring that number to three or lower by September. 

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