A regulatory snag is keeping HUD funding from flowing to Albemarle County to pay for nine homeless residents’ rooms at The Crossings, the Downtown single-room occupancy permanent homeless housing complex. (Photo by John Robinson)
On April 10, a dedication ceremony was held for The Crossings, a single-room occupancy, permanent housing facility located at the corner of Fourth Street and Preston Avenue. It was a joyous celebration of the opening of a building comprised of 60 efficiencies, half of which are available to low-income residents for a rent of $525 a month. The others are reserved for the chronically homeless, and funded by housing vouchers that allow the new tenants to pay a fraction of the overall $648 a month.
After years of bad luck, these homeless residents are being offered a fresh start, but for nine of the intended 30, the dedication was bittersweet. Because of a regulatory snafu between the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Albemarle County, they could not move in. Two months later, the “Albemarle 9”—as they are being called—are still waiting. “It’s messed up,” said Deborah Kolpack, one of the homeless represented by the county. She has been out on the streets since the end of March when PACEM’s winter shelter closed.
Meanwhile, the 21 homeless deemed to be city residents have lived in their new digs for more than two months. In 2010, Charlottesville pledged to pay for its citizens’ housing vouchers at The Crossings for up to 10 years, thus circumventing any potential difficulties presented by HUD. As a result, the city has already contributed an initial $41,000 from their housing fund for rent that was then administered through the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, an organization separate from the city.
The county, however, made no such arrangement. In mid-March, it was informed by HUD of technical and financial issues with the housing vouchers (some of it has to do with a confusing distinction between tenant and project-based vouchers). As a first step, the county was forced to edit its annual administrative plan to include the project-based vouchers, a process which required a public notice period and a public hearing.
That hearing finally took place June 6, when the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved the changes to its plan and then electronically forwarded it to HUD. At that meeting, county Housing Director Ron White informed the supervisors that HUD agreed to expedite a review process that can traditionally take as long as 75 days (there could be another waiting period after that). But, there’s another complication, as HUD also notified the county of possible financial pitfalls.
“We can’t even issue vouchers until we’re sure we have funding,” White told the six supervisors. After he sat down, the floor was opened to the public and Nancy Carpenter, a UVA Medical Center employee and homeless advocate, got up to speak. “You all should find the funds to get these people off the streets,” she said, imploring the supes to think “outside the box” and come up with a “short-term solution with long-term results.”
“I feel very sad for those people,” Supervisor Ann Mallek later said over the phone. If the HUD process breaks down, she said the county might appropriate funds but was unsure just how. “If it’s the will of the Board we should be able to accomplish it.”
“Albemarle routinely makes grants to housing organizations,” said City Councilor Dave Norris, the force behind the city’s housing fund that is paying the rent for the its 21 homeless. He offered an alternative. According to Norris, the county could simply structure a grant to Virginia Supportive Housing, the non-profit development corporation responsible for The Crossings.
That seems unlikely at this point. “The county has no legislative authority to provide rental assistance outside of HUD,” said White, reflecting an overall intent on the part of the county to let the current process play out.
As a result, the fate of the Albemarle 9 hangs in the balance. Terry Davis is one of them. Homeless for years, he has an alcohol addiction and suffers from seizures that require him to take four pills twice a day. He sometimes gets crippling migraines. After a recent one, he tried to sleep behind the rec center on Market Street but was arrested by police for trespassing.
An unfortunate side effect of the delay is the continued strain the homeless can place on the area’s emergency services, like the criminal justice system. “It’s less expensive to serve people within one spot,” City Councilor Kristin Szakos said.
Then there’s the toll it takes on the people themselves. “There’s a lot of wear and tear on your physical and mental health [if you live outdoors],” Carpenter said. Deborah Kolpack is a prime example. At night, she resides in a tent with her boyfriend somewhere off Main Street. During the day, the county resident sometimes hangs out in a room at The Crossings leased by the formerly homeless Earl McCraw.
“It’s terrible that the people from Albemarle have to keep waiting,” Kolpack said, sitting on a leather couch in McCraw’s room and dragging on a menthol cigarette, dirt showing beneath her fingernails. Curfew at The Crossings is at 11 every night, and no overnight guests are permitted, so she has to return to her tent. That she has a room reserved here but can’t move in is the real rub.
A few feet away, McCraw leaned back on his bed and watched a movie on his big screen TV. “I really like being here,” he said. Meanwhile, Kolpack talked of her life outside. A few days earlier, Charlottesville had weathered a deluge of rain that washed her tent away. It was set back up now, but she continued to talk of her other worries, particularly her fear that a snake would crawl in her temporary abode or of the general difficulties for a female existing on the streets. Eventually, she fell asleep on the couch, but not before expressing her most immediate desire. “Please Lord help me get this apartment.”