Council updated on CRHA’s sustainability plan

There’s a lot of activity happening at the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority as new housing units come on line and as the entity prepares to continue purchasing new properties. To guide the efforts, the agency hired a firm to help draft a sustainability plan. (view the presentation)

“It was a large process undertaking where we looked at our actual housing stock, current housing stock, the condition of that housing stock, and looked at what it would take to continue to maintain that property,” said John Sales, CRHA’s executive director. “And also what would happen if we redevelop and the options available for us to redevelop based on the market.” 

The report is not yet finalized but City Council got a preview at their work session on March 20, 2023.  This was led by Gina Merritt of Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures, a firm that acts as both a developer and an advisor.

“We have developed over 7,500 units of housing, over seven million square feet of development, valued at $2.1 billion,” Merritt said. “We’ve served over 19,000 residents and we have won 27 awards.” 

Their work to date includes a physical assessment of existing conditions, a market analysis of affordable housing, and a review of case studies of best practices across the country. They’ve been working with residents and staff on two specific sites and will eventually deliver a phasing plan for future redevelopment efforts. All of this will culminate in a strategy.

“The team will take the work product from all of these tasks and run financial models using a variety of financial sources and deal structures to determine the best financial approach for redevelopment and income generation,” Merritt said. 

The plan lists all maintenance and capital projects that need to occur in the near- to mid- future and offers opportunities to make planning choices about how to proceed. 

“What can you do with an asset if you are not going to redevelopment it right away, but you’d like save some money?” Merritt said. “If you had capital improvement dollars for example and you needed to wait five or ten years to redevelop a complete asset, there are things you can do in the interim to save yourself some money.” 

For instance, lights could be updated with newer bulbs to reduce energy costs, as well as replacing doors and windows. 

One of those two sites is the CRHA-owned property at the intersection of Avon Street and Levy Avenue. It’s a former automotive garage.

“So, Avon/ Levy? Excellent location,” Merritt said. “Six minute walk to downtown. There’s no grocery store within two miles so that is an opportunity. The challenge is that the site is small and compact and because of that requires structured parking.”

Merritt said that construction costs are currently higher than usual, which makes it harder to get deals done in the current climate.  She presented two concepts for this site including a 100-unit four-story building with commercial space. That would require about 240 parking spaces under current zoning. 

A rendering of the massing for Option A at Avon Street (Credit: Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures) 

The other site look is at Westhaven, where Merritt said there is the opportunity to build many more units should CRHA want to, but she listed one challenge.

“There’s no direct access to Main Street and as you know the site backs up to some parcels that do connect to Main Street so that’s a challenge,” Merritt said. “Definitely looking for opportunities to connect there. There’s a site that one of CRHA’s partners owns that hopefully we can work that to be able to connect to Main Street.” 

That site is 835 West Main Street which is owned by Fluvanna Holdings LLC which traces back to Riverbend Development. Merritt said if the population there were tripled, it would put a strain on the utility infrastructure. 

There are three options for Westhaven with 354 units and 89,000 square feet of commercial space in the first one option. That would include 553 parking spaces.  

What will actually be built will depend on resident engagement as well as figuring out what is economically feasible.

“So now that we have multiple options we’ll run numbers on all of the options and figure out what makes sense,” Merrritt said. “Especially because Westhaven is so large and we have to figure it out over time and there is a variety of product types. It’s going to take a little bit of time and effort to play around with the numbers and figure out what works.” 

The full report complete with a funding strategy will be presented to Council and the CRHA Board in the next few years. 

Sales said that Westhaven will likely be redeveloped as a site with below-market units, but Avon Street could be developed at market rate in order to provide revenue to subsidize the cost of other housing units in the CRHA portfolio.  

“We don’t see that as an opportunity for a lot of affordable housing due to the cost of developing that site,” Sales said. 

City Councilor Brian Pinkston wanted a definition of what “sustainability” means in connection with CRHA properties. Sales was able to provide one. 

“Looking at the units but also looking at the market,” Sales said. “Based upon our waitlist for [housing choice] vouchers and public housing and the studies that have been completed by the city, how many units are needed and at what income levels? And then how does CRHA’s mission fit into the number of units needed and what resources we can bring to the table to provide those units?” 

Sales said the work is part of CRHA updating its revenue model to allow for more sources rather than just rent from tenants and funding from the federal government. This involves a lot of changes to the way business has been done. 

“When a housing authority exits the public housing program they are given opportunities to build either new units or they can receive a voucher as a replacement unit for that public housing unit,” Sales said. “The housing authority has opted into receiving a voucher and then we’re using that voucher to place it on that site.” 

Current examples are Midway Manor and the current Friendship Court where units are subsidized by the federal government but the units are not public housing. When Crescent Halls finally reopens later this spring after its renovation, Sales said half of the units will be split between traditional public housing and vouchers.

“The voucher units are doubling or tripling the income that Crescent Halls was producing pre-development,” Sales said. 

However, public housing units provide more protections for tenants according to Sales. 

Toward the end of the discussion, Sales hinted at the forthcoming acquisition of more properties. He said these will also have vouchers added to them which will bring in more revenue for CRHA. That’s already the case with properties the CRHA bought last year on Coleman Street and Montrose Avenue. 

The sustainability plan being created by Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures will not cover the proposed acquisition of Dogwood Properties. Charlottesville will have to contribute $5 million but has not yet approved that expenditure. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 29, 2023 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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