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.
After years of planning, construction is well underway for the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville’s redevelopment of the Southwood Mobile Home Park in Albemarle’s southern growth area. Land has been cleared along Old Lynchburg Road to make way for the first phase of the project.
Andrew Baxter is the director of operations for Habitat and he briefed the 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee at their meeting on June 17, 2021.
“Last September as you probably are aware we had the ribbon-cutting, have owned the park for a number of years, invested a great deal in basic infrastructure and safety over the years,” Baxter said.
In August 2019, The Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning of nearly 34 acres of land from R-2 to the Neighborhood Model District, and the concept plan in the application is for up to 450 homes.
“We’re operating now under a 2019 approved non-displacement plan,” Baxter said. “That’s our primary commitment in this redevelopment, that we will not displace current residents of the park, unless they choose to go somewhere else.”
Baxter said the idea had been not to move any existing residents in the first phase, but issues with aging septic systems on the site forced a change.
“If you can imagine, a trailer park that was initially put in place in the 1950’s and 1960’s, about half the park is not on public sewer so that’s created some challenges,” Baxter said.
In all, 26 mobile homes are in the process of being relocated and that work is expected to be complete in August. Baxter said Habitat is complying with the federal Uniform Relocation Act as part of those efforts. (watch a video on the URA)
“The options vary from physically moving a trailer to an empty pad in the park and the family goes with it, to moving a family to a vacant trailer that we own, to moving the trailer off property to a location that’s identified and desirable by the family, by the homeowner,” Baxter said.
The first lots to be used for new homes will be ready this fall.
“That will allow for the construction of what we call Village 1, so Phase 1 Village 1, which will be a combination of duplexes, there’s one single-family dwelling in Village 1, and then four condo buildings that constitute twenty units total,” Baxter said.
Baxter said the process is also underway for existing residents to apply for Habitat’s homeownership program.
“And that is an incredibly detailed, individualized process for each family that involves financial coaching, to get those folks ready if they want to be homeowners,” Baxter said.
At the same time, the Piedmont Housing Alliance has been successful in their application for Low Income Housing Tax Credits for 70 units in what’s to be called Southwood Apartments. (2021 LIHTC rankings)
“So there’s very low rent units will be available for certain folks if they qualify as well,” Baxter said.
A second rezoning application is also being prepared for the rest of the park’s redevelopment.
Partners in the project so far are Faulconer Construction, Atlantic Builders, and Southern Development. Atlantic is building the condominiums and Southern Development is building the market-rate units.
There is other construction happening nearby on Old Lynchburg Road. After Baxter was County Planner Tori Kanellopoulos gave details on site plans that are under review, such as part of the Albemarle Business Campus development for which ground has already been broken.
“Block 5 includes a 103,500 square foot self storage building with additional retail space and restaurant that would be 3,800 square feet,” Kanellopoulos said.
(This piece originally appeared on Charlottesville Community Engagement as an article for paid subscribers. Please consider becoming one to ensure these reviews can continue!)
2021 continues to be a year where the price of single-family residential homes and lots is increasing in Charlottesville, seemingly with no end in sight. Interest-rates remain low, as does interest in making large financial investments.
I feel it’s important to understand what’s happening here parcel by parcel, transaction by transaction. That helps me have a better understanding, though this month’s list raises more questions.
What insights do you have? How do these real-world transactions affect consideration of the recently adopted Affordable Housing Plan? Were any of these transactions influenced by the not-yet-adopted Future Land Use Map? How many of these houses might have been purchased for their land?
At some point this year, we’ll know exactly how many people are believed to live in our communities when the U.S. Census is released. But, projections from the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia as well as their yearly estimates depict a growing region. As the cost of housing in Charlottesville and Albemarle’s urban ring continues to increase, many will choose or have already chosen to live in communities half an hour away or more. Data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows the vast majority of people commute to work in a single occupant vehicle? But does that have to be the case?
In May, the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership held a panel discussion on the topic. For background, housing is to be considered affordable if rent or a mortgage payment makes up thirty percent or less of household expenditures. Households that pay more than that are considered stressed.
“It works out that a cheap house is not truly affordable if it has particularly high transportation costs [and] if it’s located in an area where people have to spend a lot of time and money traveling,” Litman said. “A lot of experts now recommend that instead of defining affordability as 30 percent of household budgets to housing, it’s defined as 45 percent of household budgets dedicated to housing and transportation combined.”
Litman said transportation costs are more volatile for low-income households because of the unpredictability of fuel prices and maintenance costs.
Stephen Johnson, a planning manager with Jaunt, said the cost of time must also be factored in.
“If I can only afford to take public transit, but that means my commute to work is going to take five to ten times longer, then that’s time that I’m losing to spend on other things,” Johnson said.
Johnson said people also can lose jobs if a transit connection doesn’t work out. He said this community has public transit options, but they are not compelling for many.
“When we put ourselves in the shoes of somebody’s who is deciding to take transit or drive, there are four factors that one would consider,” Johnson said. “The first would be the financial cost. The second would be the time cost. The third would be reliability. Can I rely on getting there on time? The fourth I think would be flexibility. Will my transportation allow me to make a last-minute change to my schedule? To travel with a friend, or to bring home a bunch of shopping.”
Johnson said public transit is cheaper to use than driving, but the other three factors are more difficult. He said transit in the area could be reformed by greater investments and better planning.
“An Albemarle planner might come to me and say ‘we’ve got this community, it’s got a lot of cul-de-sacs, a lot of houses, and we’re really struggling with congestion. Can you put a public transit band-aid on this and fix it?’” Johnson said. “In that case, the game board is already set and there’s only so much we can do as a player but I think if we can expand our idea of what transit planning is, when we think about things like density, how can we take those A’s and B’s and cluster them together so that when we put a bus out there we can cover a lot of trips?”
Litman said a goal is to not necessarily encourage people to go car-free, but to work to create areas where more trips can be taken in a walk, a bike-ride, or by getting on the bus. This was more common before the middle of the 20th century.
“So if you go back to the older neighborhoods, they’re all very walkable,” Litman said. “They have sidewalks on all the streets. You have local schools, and park, and stores that were designed. The neighborhood was organized around the idea that at least some people will rely on walking. We lost that for a while and now there’s a number of planning movements and approaches that are trying to establish that.”
Litman said developers and local governments should be working together to encourage more than just single-family housing.
“If you’re building new neighborhoods, those that allow what we call ‘the missing middle’, compact housing types like townhouses and low-rise apartments are going to be far more affordable and therefore far more inclusive,” Litman said.
But back to transit. Jaunt mostly provides on-demand service, but does have some fixed-route service. Johnson explained what works best in what situation.
“Fixed route options are much more appropriate public transit option for dense urban cores and we see that in downtown Charlottesville and urban Albemarle County,” Johnson said. “Demand response is a much more appropriate technology for more rural areas and that’s the majority of Jaunt’s service area are the counties around Charlottesville and Albemarle.”
However, Johnson said transit in urban areas could be transformed if systems adopt on-demand tech. Jaunt has been working on a pilot project to provide service to Loaves and Fishes on Lambs Road, a site not accessible via Charlottesville Area Transit.
In this community, there are three transit systems. They are the Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT), the University of Virginia Transit Service (UTS) and Jaunt. In September, BRITE will begin the Afton Express service between Staunton and Charlottesville. How do all of these many pieces come together? Here’s Stephen Johnson again.
“Charlottesville and Albemarle are working together through the Regional Transit Partnership to try to help build a cohesive vision there of how Jaunt and Charlottesville Area Transit and UTS can all work together to provide a cohesive transit system for the residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle,” Johnson said.
The steering committee overseeing the Cville Plans Together initiative met on May 19 to take a mid-month review of the latest round of the public engagement efforts. To recap, Rhodeside & Harwell is overseeing an update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan as well as a rewrite of the city’s zoning code. They’ve already produced an affordable housing strategy that City Council adopted in March. (review the plan)
In February 2019, Council voted to approve spending up to $1 million to hire an outside consultant to take over oversight of the Comprehensive Plan. For background, read my story from then to explain the reasons behind the decision.
The work got underway in January 2020 and continued during the pandemic with virtual meetings. There were two previous community engagement periods last year in addition to the one underway now.
“We fully recognize there are folks in the community who may not have been aware of this process that was going,” Koch said. “We’ve been working hard to reach folks but it’s been quite a year… We’ve been doing a lot of virtual engagement for the past year and we don’t anticipate that will completely go away as we move forward but we also know it’s really nice to speak with people in person.”
First, members of the steering committee had the opportunity to weigh in. One of them is City Councilor Michael Payne, who will be one of five votes to adopt the Comprehensive Plan and the updated zoning code sometime next year. At this stage, he wanted to suggest a change in the title of one of the draft chapters.
“With the Economic Prosperity and Opportunity [chapter], I know it mentions community wealth building in the update but I still wonder if it may make more sense for the chapter itself to be focused on community wealth building, again to try to gear that chapter towards more system change thinking about things like community land trusts, community development corporations, [and] community gardens all interconnect as a system for wealth creation that’s different than the normal way of doing economic development,” Payne said.
Christine Jacobs, the interim executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, applauded language about regional partnerships. However, she wanted her organization to be more specifically referenced given the number of bodies it runs on which Charlottesville City Councilors serve.
“The TJPDC does have the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO,” Jacobs said. “It also has the Regional Transit Partnership and the Regional Housing Partnership.”
Diana Dale represents the leaders of neighborhood associations in the city, some of which have expressed concern about too much density. She drew attention to the chapter on Land Use, Urban Form, and Historic and Cultural Preservation.
“And I’m thinking in particular of goal two,” Dale said, reading from the chapter summary. “Protect and enhance existing distinct identitiess of the city’s older neighborhoods while promoting housing options, a mix of uses, and sustainble reuses in the community.”
Dale said some residents of neighborhoods are concerned that some of their portions have been changed from low-intensity to medium-intensity, such as most of the Lewis Mountain neighborhood and some of the Martha Jefferson neighborhood. That could allow between four to 12 units per lot, but that will remain unclear until it is time to rewrite the zoning code.
“What is aspirational? And what is actually codifiable?” Dale asked.
The zoning rewrite will be conducted by the firm Code Studio, a subcontractor whose work will be informed by the affordable housing plan and the Future Land Use Map.
“I’m not certain that we have a whole lot of the answers,” said Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio. “We were hoping we could work through things at the more generalized level of the Future Land Use Map and then begin to craft strategies for implementing those tools.”
Einsweiler said that each category on the future land use map will not be represented by a single zoning district.
“There would be two, three, four implementing zoning districts that might all have appropriate strategies for different types of the community but those can’t quite be figured out until we can understand where they are likely to be applied,” said Lee Einsweiler.
Dale remained concerned.
“The vagueness is not helping people’s confidence in the plan,” Dale said.
Dale also expressed concern about the impacts of a more people on the existing infrastructure. She said roads might need to be widened to accommodate additional traffic, and stated the city has issues delivering on infrastructure projects such as frequent buses and a consistent bike and sidewalk network.
“The guidance is recommending multimodal strategies, and that’s going to take time and funding to implement and that’s been a long struggle for a lot of improvements over time for those of who have been in the city,” Dale said.
There are 19 neighborhoods across the city, and the 2007 Comprehensive Plan contains an entire appendix of specific requests from neighborhoods that came from a city-wide design day arranged by a now-defunct non-profit called the Charlottesville Community Design Center. That approach was abandoned for the 2013 Comprehensive Plan and the 2017 process did not seek a thorough capturing of what residents of neighborhoods wanted.
Ashley Davies, who represents the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable on the steering committee, suggested an approach that built upon previous efforts to plan at a neighborhood level.
“I think people are hungry to give you feedback that is more specific to their area and I think it’s a shame that we can’t have the time right now to do the small area planning because I think that’s what a lot of people want to inform the land use plan,” Davies said.
There’s a lot of discussion of what role the Future Land Use Map plays. Is it advisory? If so, what does that mean? Ron Sessoms is with Rhodeside and Harwell.
“The future land use map is a critical component of a Comprehensive Plan and sets the stage for the city’s long-term vision of how it’s going to grow,” said Ron Sessoms of Rhodeside & Harwell (RHI). “You can think of this as the 10,000 foot view of the city and defining where there are opportunities for growth.”
Sessoms said the land use map is a guide for development, but is not binding like zoning.
“As we think about the future land use map, it’s much more broad and the zoning code is much more detailed with specifics of what it means to fulfil the future land use map,” Sessoms said.
The medium intensity residential category is new with this comp plan update, and encourages construction between four and 12 units per lot. Sessoms said that did not have to be out of scale with existing buildings.
“They can be integrated into the fabric of a neighborhood,” Sessoms said. “They don’t have to be five stories to get fourplexes or any of the medium intensity development types.”
Ashley Davies said she liked that the future land use map begins a process of reducing the amount of areas colored as low-intensity residential, but thought there should be some sense of what types of housing units are prioritized.
“It seems to me the strategy for adding units in the city and adding residential, maybe we need to talk about the hierarchy of that can truly happen in Charlottesville,” Davies said.
Dale said the Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association’s Board of Directors supports soft density by adding accessory units and permitting apartments within structures. But they don’t support being colored as medium intensity.
“Is there an opportunity to merge the ambitions of transforming Charlottesville to general residential, which is a big step to begin with, and to merge some of the intentions of the medium intensity?” Dale asked. “I recognize this may happen as you move to more strata, more levels of medium density.”
This draft also includes a name change for Low Density Residential to General Residential, which recommends up to three units per lot.
Lena Seville, a Belmont resident who is on the steering committee, wanted to know why General Residential didn’t recommend allowing four units per lot.
“There are plenty of little houses that are split into four,” Seville said. “At two stories, it’s four apartments. They’re easier to build. They mirror each other. They have the same footprint.”
Much of what is happening in Charlottesville is patterned off an effort in Minneapolis, where their City Council voted to permit duplexes and triplexes in all R-1 areas. Here’s Lee Einsweiler with Code Studio again.
“You may have followed the exercise in Minneapolis in which they began talking about four but ended up adopting three,” Einsweiler said. “Part of the conversation was about the likelihood that the existing house would be replaced as opposed to split. The three is most likely an additional building on the property and a main unit carved out of the main house.”
“While this process has been going on for a while now there are still many folks in the community that I’ve spoken to who have no idea about this process,” Washington said. “Is there any plan to really put some education out there for folks who are having difficulty understanding the planning process so they can better participate?”
LaToya Thomas of the firm Brick and Story acknowledges that many people are not knowledgeable in planning issues, but the Cville Plans Together initiative wants to educate more people especially as the pandemic recedes.
“We are reaching out to as many people that we can get connected to, but we also know that many of you are connected to folks and so we will continue to make ourselves available if there are groups of folks that you want to convene,” Thomas said.
Dale suggested a pause while people get caught up on the planning process. That would give people the chance to read the many recommendations in the affordable housing plan adopted by Council in March.
“Most of the community doesn’t really understand how it informs the plan,” Dale said. “It was previewed with the public last fall when everyone had their head down dealing with Zoom school and Zoom work and health care and everything else. It was a 100-year health event.”
S. Lisa Herndon is a Realtor on the steering committee who wants to see a map that depicts where redlining occurred which overlays areas proposed for more intense development.
“Going back to the history of Vinegar Hill and Gospel Hill, there [are] communities that were negatively impacted and now we’re going through redevelopment again and we see a lack of equity in terms of participation and I see nothing within this which shows where we were and how we’re going to prevent that negative effect in communities of African-American historical context,” Hernson said. “I don’t see that.”
Sunshine Mathon, executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, said he has been through this process in other communities where he has worked. He reminded people the intent of the initiative is to guide change.
“One of the things that gets lost in the translation is that change is constant and people have this assumption that their neighborhoods are a thing and have always been that thing which is fundamentally not true,” Mathon said. “One of the changes that we are seeing across the city regardless of the form of the city, one of the real changes is a dramatic increase in the cost of living in the city. That’s a fundamental change. The plan itself can’t be the change that solves that on its own, but it is an ingredient in that tool set.”
Comments will be accepted through June 13 now that a two-week extension has been granted. The Planning Commission is expected to have a work session on June 29.
The University of Virginia has begun planning work to implement their pledge to build up to 1,500 housing units to be designated for people at certain income-levels on land owned by UVA or the UVA real estate foundation. At a virtual event Thursday night, President Jim Ryan said housing is one of five areas identified for community partnership. The original announcement of the UVA housing initiative was made on March 10, and the news was quickly overshadowed by the World Health Organization declaration the next day of the COVID pandemic.
“So, a year later I’d like to begin by restating our goal upfront, and the goal is really simple,” Ryan said. “It’s to support the development of a thousand to 1,500 of affordable housing units across Charlottesville and Albemarle County over the next ten years. We’ll do this by contributing land and partnering with a third-party developer. I will say that financial profit is not at all our driver and that our goal has the support of the Board of Visitors and the entire leadership team at the University.”
UVA’s work will happen in that regional background, as UVA steps into a role they’ve not played before. Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis is serving as chair of the UVA Affordable Housing Advisory Group which includes community members.
“The goal for this initial phase of this work is to learn more about how you see the University contributing to affordable housing solutions in our community and to collect input that will help this stage,” Davis said.
No sites have yet been determined for where new units might be. A quick look at area GIS records shows that the UVA Foundation owns around three dozen properties in Charlottesville, and that the Rector and Visitors of the University own around 90. UVA-proper owns over 70 parcels in Albemarle and the foundation owns several dozen.
To sort through the possibilities and to establish criteria for hiring that third-party developer, UVA has hired Gina Merritt of Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures to work through this phase, which will result in the development of a “request for proposals.”
“My team’s role in the University’s affordable housing initiative is to help UVA to develop a framework for implementing this initiative,” Merritt said. “The University plans to solicit developers to help develop University property in a way that meets our collective goals.”
This will include market research, review of previous studies, and discussion of comparative examples.
“And once the sites are selected for development, we will evaluate zoning, determine what housing and income types should be located on each site, and then draw diagrams to show the potential scale of these buildings,” Merritt said. “We will run financial models to determine the best way to finance the development and identify possible resources to fund the project.”
Merritt presented three examples of developments she’s been involved with. One of these is the 70-unit Nannie Hellen at 4800 in Washington D.C. where one-third of the units were replacement units for public housing, and the rest were financed through Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).
The trio took questions from those on the virtual call. J.J. Davis asked the first.
“A lot of organizations are already doing affordable housing work,” Davis asked. “Where will UVA fit in so that they are not competing or duplicating efforts. Jim?”
“That’s a great question and in some respects that’s part of the community engagement process,” Ryan said. “The landscape is filled with people who are working on this issue already and we want to figure out the best way we can fit into this landscape so that we’re not duplicating efforts or competing but instead complementing the efforts.”
“Next question,” Davis asked. “When will the units be built?”
“Well, we want to get started as soon as possible,” Ryan said. “As I mentioned earlier, the goal is to complete a thousand to 1,500 units over ten years. Our thought is that we will start with one project. We are not that experienced with this so what we want to do is start with one project and take the lessons we’ve learned there when we move on to the second or third projects.”
Near the end of the presentation, Merritt took advantage of the poll feature in Zoom to take the pulse of those attending. Nearly ninety percent of those participating supported the idea of UVA developing housing for the community on its property.
President Jim Ryan concluded the event.
“UVA and our neighbors in Charlottesville, Albemarle, and the surrounding counties are linked together and our fates are tied together and one of the reasons for us to be a good neighbor is because of that. I think helping to contribute to… increasing the supply of affordable housing is one part of that,” Ryan said.
The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation has made its largest ever grant with $4.25 million going to Piedmont Housing Alliance for their redevelopment of land on U.S. 29. Piedmont Housing is working with the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless and Virginia Supportive Housing to redevelop the Red Carpet Inn site for a total of 140 units that will be guaranteed to be rented at prices for people with extremely low and very low incomes. Eboni Bugg is the director of programs for the CACF.
“This first came on our radar last April when we received a grant application from TJACH and PACEM and the Haven regarding wanting to ensure that there was a non-congregate option for our homeless community members so that they could weather the pandemic without being in congregate shelter,” Bugg said.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors rezoned the land for the project in February. The Red Carpet Inn will continue to be used as a shelter by TJACH in the short-term as the project moves forward. Bugg said the CACF’s investment is made in the spirit of community health. There will be an update on grant at an event on April 15.
How much of a role does local policy play in determining the cost of housing? That was one theme of a panel discussion held on March 18, 2021 by the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership. (watch the video)
“There are a lot of factors that go into making something affordable, many of which we just don’t control locally,” said Charlie Armstrong, the vice president of land development for Southern Development, one of the area’s most active property developers.
Every structure you see in America is reviewed at multiple levels of government to make sure the edifice conforms to rules. Armstrong said too much land use regulation increases the cost of housing and that localities can play a role through their own policies.